Trailers, like tractors, wear out in time; maybe five years, maybe 10 or 15. Truckload carriers tend to have the shortest trade cycles, while some grocery companies keep trailers 12 years or more, says Darry Stuart, contract fleet maintenance manager and a former general chairman of the Technology & Maintenance Council of American Trucking Associations.
“The food service fleets will keep trailers in service for a long time because they build them to last in low-mileage, high-cycle operations,” he says. ”The truckload fleets build them light and cheap, and after five years, they are done.”
Maintenance practices differ accordingly. Trailers tend to run fewer miles than tractors in truckload service because of tractor-to-trailer ratios, so running gear won’t wear out as fast. Electrical problems can be greatly reduced with high-quality wiring harnesses, but electrics are subject to impact damage and often improper repairs, Stuart warns.
“The harnesses are not the issue,” he says. “The suppliers are building good product today, but we still see problems with the connectors after five years. The problems usually start where somebody has made an ugly repair on one of the wires. Moisture gets in there once it’s opened up and the wicking starts. There’s not much you can do from a spec’ing point of view, but a lot of fleets could do with a review of their trailer electrical repair procedures.”
Stuart says the trailer spec really depends on a fleet’s maintenance program. If it’s spotty, then spec’ing more reliability into the trailer will pay off, such as automatic tire inflation systems and air disc brakes. “Neither will eliminate the need for regular maintenance, but they might get you through longer periods without touching the trailer,” he says. “Fleets that see trailers regularly might not see the benefit of up-spec’ing equipment.”
There are a few ways to spec more reliability or durability into a trailer, but of course there will be an upcharge:
Galvanized running gear: At this year’s Mid-America Trucking Show, there were several galvanized trailers, including vans and flatbeds. Some had galvanized wheels, too, something new to the market. “Galvanize everything under a trailer,” insists Stuart. “People are smart enough now to know that trailers rust out. If they don’t galvanize everything, they are making a huge mistake.”
More batteries and solar panels for liftgates: “When you add a liftgate, you need to think about the reserve capacity of the batteries or even add batteries,” says Joe Puff, vice president of truck technology & maintenance at NationaLease. “In many cases, spending an extra few hundred bucks up front on more or better batteries, higher output alternators and even solar panels can save thousands of dollars over the life of the asset. People will often blame a failed component for a breakdown, but the problem often starts with not understanding the duty cycles and the demand on a component when spec’ing the truck.”