The cheap guy buys on price and brags about the upfront savings. The wise man considers costs he's likely to encounter down the road, then specs his equipment to avoid running expenses. In the end, the wise man saves the most dough, and gets his reward every time he tallies up total operating costs.
He or his company saves money not only in maintenance that doesn't have to be done, but in revenue otherwise lost to downtime.
Over the years, suppliers have brought out various products that promise to cut maintenance and increase uptime for trucks and trailers. Time and experience on the part of fleet owners show that many of them actually work. Many cost just a few more bucks to buy on a new truck, and some can be installed on existing trucks. Take time to examine your specs to see if they'll help all through your ownership period. Here are some things to consider.
• Premium electrical components – Electrical problems still top most maintenance managers' lists of woes, and many could've been avoided with top quality wiring and lighting fixtures. On trailers, sealed wiring with plug-in connectors are the preferred type, and wiring gauge should be as large (e.g., with the smallest numbers) as possible throughout the vehicle.
The Technology and Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Associations has published recommendations on wiring; obtain copies from TMC at (703) 838-1763, or visit http://tmc.truckline.com, and build them into your specs.
Many buyers are seeing the light (so to speak) by ordering LED (light-emitting diode) products at most positions on tractors and trailers. They're available in red, amber and white, and emit rich rays that catch anyone's eye. Volume sales have brought down their prices, while they deliver the same benefits as when they came out more than 15 years ago – 10 times the life as incandescent lights while using one-tenth the current.
• Tire inflation devices – Tire failures are the single biggest category for road service calls, and most of these expensive experiences are due to low air pressure. After all, who takes the time and trouble to check all of a rig's tires every week and pump them up when necessary? Only the best-run fleets really do, and lots of managers only think it's getting done. Why not pick devices that monitor pressure and even do the inflating automatically? Yes, they cost money and can require maintenance themselves, but some manufacturers have customer testimonials that say the devices are worth it.
At the very least, consider stocking each tractor with a 50-foot air line fitted with a glad-hand connector, or better yet, plumb a quick-connect fitting into the air system to allow easy use by the driver.
• Extended-service brakes – Brake shoes with thicker lining and usually wider dimensions can extend the time between relining. Avoiding one reline can more than pay the modest premium for this option, and meanwhile the truck also stops better.
Maybe it's also time to consider air disc brakes, which are even more powerful, inherently self-adjusting and automatically balance themselves. Discs are available from a few truck builders, and more are expected to make them available this year.
• Integrated hubs – The old practice of separately spec'ing bearings and seals is being replaced in many cases by integrated hubs. Bearings and seals are precision-installed by the supplier people instead of individually by harried workers on a truck assembly line. This all but eliminates misadjusted bearings and damaged seals, which can be major headaches for truck owners.
One major leasing fleet says its switch to integrated hubs almost entirely did away with leaking seals, which usually soaked brake linings with oil and ruined them.
A variation on the concept is axle-and-suspension combinations, which appeared first on semitrailers. Virtually all parts – from axle tubes, bearings, seals and sometimes brakes to the air-bag suspension – are assembled by one supplier and shipped to trailer manufacturers. All that's left to choose are the wheels and tires. Aside from maintenance advantages, the integrated trailer tandem weighs less, often carries a longer warranty and will cost less than individually spec'd parts.
• Bypass filters – Standard oil filters do a good job of protecting an engine's innards, assuming the oil is changed per recommendations. Some users change oil more often than required because they just know they're treating the engine right. They're not wrong, but they're spending time and money they could save by installing a good bypass filter.
There are various types and one needs to be sure that a maker has test results to prove any claims, but in general, a bypass filter takes a small percentage of oil out of the pump stream and cleanses it of minute impurities – often down to just a few microns. Eventually, all the engine's oil is super cleaned and the engine stays extra healthy. And drain intervals can be extended by several times, though oil analysis must be done regularly to determine the correct mile or time interval.
• Low-restriction exhaust – A lower-restriction muffler and sometimes dual exhausts can cut back pressure, letting the engine deliver more performance and economy. Straight pipes can also help with back pressure, but the noise can be offensive to many ears. Check to see what's available from your truck builder. Come January '07 and diesel particulate filters, such options might not be available.
• Fuel heaters – The globe may be warming, but bitterly cold winters are still a harsh reality in northern climes. If you run up north, fuel tank heaters and heated fuel lines can keep fuel flowing and avoid clogging filters with wax. A heater will usually also remove any water in fuel, and some filters do the same. Of course a good fuel additive can accomplish the same things, but you've got to train drivers to pour in the correct amounts.
• Air dryers – They're standard on many trucks today, but be sure before you approve final specifications. Clean, dry air is absolutely necessary for the safe operation of brakes and the efficient working of a truck's various air-powered accessories (horn, seats, etc.).
• Premium paint – Standard paint on today's trucks will almost always stay shiny during the time the first owner has the truck, but it might begin fading soon after. That's the next guy's problem, but paint that's beginning to go dull can cut resale value. Base coat/clear-coat paints last longer, and a few builders offer other products that keep a truck looking good for many years.
• Anti-corrosion coatings – Regular paint is no longer sufficient protection against aggressive road salts, and corrosion is causing grief for many truck operators. So the wise man we mentioned earlier would be doubly smart to check into the availability of special coatings, especially in the undercarriage. Makers of brake parts, trailer landing gear and liftgates are converting their operations to apply e-coatings and other special finishes that better withstand the ravages of calcium chloride and magnesium chloride salts. We know of one specialty fleet that has pickup-bed-type coatings applied to the underside of its vehicles as they come in for refurbishing. Tough times call for tough measures.