The dog days of summer are upon us, and all the issues that come with summer’s heat and sunshine are here to stay for a while. It’s the time of year when most drivers are thinking about time out of the seat and how to spend it – that’s why it is called a vacation and not unpaid leave! I’m a true owner operator and therefore don’t get paid time off. I can only think of maybe two or three times when we as a family unit went vacationing without a truck.
Truck shows were a large part of our summertime fun when my son was younger and still in school. Come Friday night, Aunt Barb, that’s my patient and understanding wife of many years, would load the Chevy Blazer up and drive through the night to meet me in some town for the weekend. Then, load everything up on Sunday afternoon and take everyone home after the event was over. I would, of course, collect some clean clothes and a big bag of groceries from her, as well, then go on my way. The true unsung heroes of truck shows are the people behind the scenes who make all the showmen and women look good. These people are amazing – they cook, clean, drive countless hours and seldom get mentioned in any of the magazines. Ain’t love grand?
Bet your wondering what truck shows have to do with hot, hotter and it’s cooking out there! First off, let me do something a little different this month. I just got home from a busy month. How busy you ask? I’m not expecting my logbook here till sometime next week. By then I should have some of my maintenance issues fixed. I call them “maintenance” because they are reoccurring and “issues” because they cause me massive headaches when not addressed in a timely manner. This year hasn’t been the best to be hauling refrigerated freight. That being said, we are still trucking, but in a different freight lane, and that throws all my normalcy out the window. There’s an old saying that says, “The hurriered I go, the behindered I get!” This month my life resembles that phrase.
When we spend too much time concentrating on one thing we can (and will) often forget something else. It’s always the little things that cause you most of your troubles. In this case, the little things are exactly that – little things. Those things we see every day and take for granted or don’t notice at all. I’ve been fighting with my old truck for a couple months now, and every time I come to a hill it tries not to go up it as fast as I know it can. But I just keep pushing it, saying, “I think I can, I think I can. I hope I make it to the top without a tow. I wonder why this motor is so damn hot!” It doesn’t matter how many years a driver has been out here we still fall in that category – the “why didn’t I think of that sooner” category. I’ve been using every trick in the book to cool my old horse down on the hills with little success. I was watching the water temp gauge like acne on prom night, and it became the center of my world.
First, I played it off as probably a thermostat sticking, because it only acted up on long hills and it’s only a couple times a day. I will slow down some and that should get me by. I bet if I turn the A/C off on those hills that too will help. Sure, I’ll pick a lower gear, as well, and run the clutch fan constantly, that’s the ticket! I knew it wasn’t, but I was just trying to get by for the day. Last week I finally hit the point where it was time to address the issue. Finding the time and a place to fix this was critical. I didn’t think it could be road repaired, but with a little luck, I could get it home.
I was convinced I had a radiator blockage and would need to replace or at least boil mine out. It wasn’t until I was reduced to driving 20 miles per hour up a two-lane road in Nevada that I realized something had to be done at the top of that hill. My solution was a bit extreme, but desperate times called for desperate measures. Not only did I shut the A/C off, but I removed the condenser from the front of the radiator. Do I need to remind anyone just how hot it gets in Las Vegas this time of year? That’s when I had my “Ah Ha” moment.
Remember earlier when I wrote we get so busy doing one thing and we forget to do something else? Standing on that hilltop, if I’m truthful here, I was melting on that lonely piece of road. It was 109 degrees and no shade was in sight, but it occurred to me I hadn’t cleaned my charge air cooler after the heavy love bug season in Florida. This could have been avoided if only I ran a bug screen. They may not look cool, but they serve a useful purpose.
Once I removed the A/C condenser the problem was obvious. I was able to sweep a couple handfuls of those critters (love bugs, fruit flies, even some big ol’ butterflies) off and then go on my way. Later, I removed the charge air cooler here at my shop and found even more of those critters. They had completely blocked the radiator, and had I done a proper pre-trip, I would have caught this before I had issues.
Maintenance issues don’t generally just happen – they build up over a period of time in small increments. Now, I have just spent almost a week working on my ride in the driveway. I don’t normally go to the dealership unless I need more parts. If you’re going to do this job as a career, it’s a good idea to invest in basic hand tools and have some working knowledge of how things come apart (and how to put them back together).
I learned a valuable lesson a few years ago from a very young and smart girl. You see, people are tools too, and learning what abilities a person has is just as important as using the correct wrench. All of us know someone who can be helpful in that time of need.
When any of us start our work shift, we are supposed to do a pre-trip inspection, right? How often do you really look at the coolant system, I mean the kind of look that you will do when you’re overheated and broke down on the side of the road? These are the little things I was talking about. Remember when you did your walk around at the DMV and how important it was to check all the components for leaks and cracks? That’s what you told the inspector. Oh, you didn’t mean every time – only some of the time – and then only if it was convenient and didn’t require any extra work on your part? Oh, I see.
Over the course of my time on the road, there have been many occasions when I was required to stop, look and listen. We have all been there – and the minute you pull over to the side of the road and open the hood, every driver you ever knew rolls past and looks over at you, shaking their head. Then, you will have to listen as they give you the raspberries for not catching the problem sooner. If you don’t want to be that guy, take a lesson here – take the time to look at all your hoses, gaskets and clamps.
I do my oil changes and services here in the yard. For years I did them outside in the driveway, on an old flatbed tarp, to contain any spills. When you use a road service (or any quick-change oil service) they only drain out the old and insert the new oil, spin on a new filter and send you out the door. Remember, there is a good chance that “Service Tech” was mowing grass just last week and now he is the person that you are gambling your future on. They aren’t going to check anything else, because that’s not what they do, and if they did find a problem, chances are pretty good they won’t even have the proper parts to fix it anyway.
We started this article with truck shows and summer fun, so keeping with that theme, I like to have a clean and detailed engine compartment. Notice I claimed to “like” one, not that I have one. I find it more important to keep things functional and clean than to short-change the obvious and go for the glitzy chrome parts. But, here on the homestead, I repeat common phrases like, “If it has heels or wheels, it’s gonna cause you heartaches,” and, “When you’re hot, you’re hot!”
But, before you run off on that well-deserved vacation, spend a little “me time” with the one who truly earned it. Your engine has served you well and needs a little loving, too. So, don’t put off today what you plan to do tomorrow, because dispatch has a way of calling before you’re ready to roll. Did you ever notice how they always have great freight leaving the house but not so much to get you home? If you’re going to be separated from your ride for a while that’s more than your required 34-hour restart, plan to have someone look it over, bend some hoses and check for leaking gaskets. This may not be in the budget under personal expenses, but if you don’t catch it in time, I can on good authority state next year there won’t be any money for vacation, since you could be paying for some major repairs.
I’m what you’d call a shade tree mechanic – I learned most of what I know by watching someone else perform simple and common repairs. You don’t have to know how to rebuild an engine, but if you intend to get a long service life from it, then you should learn what make it tick. Plan a day or two to do some touchy-feely things in the yard. Don’t wash the truck before you get home. As I always say, a clean truck tells no tales. Bring it in dirty and let the battle scars “talk to you” a bit. Plan to take some things apart and really look closely. And, while you’re there, replace as many rubber parts as you can afford – they are a lot cheaper when you’re not under a load or some other time constraint.
If you get a chance, after your through “fixing” things, break out the water hose and call some of your friends over for a good old summer cookout. Tom Sawyer got a fence white-washed that way, or at least it worked in the book. Who knows, maybe they will go to the truck show with you. If not, tell them to bring their rides and start your own. Time to go – my buffer is calling me back to finish polishing. When you roll a large ride, it requires a large commitment to represent. If you roll past and I’m setting under a shade tree, honk and wave – I’m not sleeping, just recharging. Till next time, I’m cooling off and waving a hand at ya, 10-4!