And at the American Trucking Associations' Technology and Maintenance Council annual meeting, they even have a special forum to do this, called Fleet Talk.
Held yesterday afternoon at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Fla., the forum was for fleets only -- no associate members, aka OEMs and suppliers. They do let members of the press in, but the goal of this forum is for fleet maintenance managers to be able to speak freely about "what keeps them up at night," as the moderators put it, so I'm not going to be naming any names here.
But here's a brief look at some of the issues on the minds of some of the country's top truck fleet managers.
Wheel bearings. Questions were raised as to whether there truly is a problem using wide-base tires with 2-inch-offset wheels and standard axles, rather than wide-track axles and zero offset wheels as is being recommended by some suppliers. Some fleet managers said in their experience, the real culprit may be wheel bearing issues. It just happens that they show up faster on wide-base tires and wheels.
One representative from a New England fleet, one of the first to use wide-base tires, said they are finding mismatched wheel bearings installed at the OE, some from offshore. To help combat potential problems, they are spec'ing a premium wheel bearing, and have made wheel bearing maintenance part of their regular PM inspection process. "If you're running duals, you probably have a wheel bearing issue and you don't realize it," he said.
Wheel bearing failures are "an issue that never dies," said Darry Stuart, principle of DWS Fleet Management, former TMC chairman and moderator of the Fleet Talk session. "About five to 10 years ago I inspected wheel bearings from 1,800 trailers and got an education on wheel bearings that was incredible. If you don't look at them when they're changed, you need to start. There is a distinct difference between an average bearing, a high-quality bearing, and [a low-quality] offshore bearing."
DPFs. A number of fleets reported finding damage to diesel particulate filters when they pulled them off the trucks for cleaning at about 350,000 miles. The DPFs, as well as the DOCs, are often cracked or melted inside and must be replaced instead of simply having the ash buildup cleaned from them.
Some of the potential culprits suggested for this problem were injector failures and EGR cooler failures. One private fleet manager said they are emphasizing with drivers to make sure to report anything unusual, such as the engine not pulling right, or excess DPF "regens."
Landing gear failures. Several fleets reported landing gear failures. One speculated that because trailers are much more likely to have loaded backhauls than they used to, they are seeing more abuse when dropped by yard jockeys, since there is now weight on the trailer when they are dropped on the landing gear.
Build quality. Now that production on trucks is ramping back up, fleet managers say they are seeing more quality issues with new trucks arriving in their fleets. Stuart noted that at one time, fleet managers would spend eight to 10 hours going over each new truck before putting it in service. Quality in recent years has perhaps made fleets complacent.
TMC has started work on a recommended practice for pilot inspections (where the first truck in an order is inspected before the rest are built), which can help head off some problems at the pass but is still not a substitute for a careful go-over of each truck at delivery.
Tire prices and availability. It seems like every time we turn around, a tire maker is announcing a price increase, and fleet managers say they're even hearing predictions of shortages. One said he had heard rubber prices are expected to go up 120 percent in the next couple of years. He also noted that in the past, his fleet has been able to lock in prices for two years; right now they're doing good to get 90 days.
One fleet manager said prices aside, it's important to have supply agreements in place to make sure you'll be able to get new tires, spelling out order levels and time limits on delivery. Over the next 2-3 years, the projected rubber shortage is about 500,000 tons. Last month, the price of rubber surged to a record as a flood warning in Thailand, the world's largest supplier, spurred purchases, raising concerns that shortages may worsen.
What equipment and maintenance issues keep YOU up at night? Please leave your comments below.