The weather is changing, and we survived winter again! Well, I survived with a few extra pounds and some new aches and pains. My truck, on the other hand, I’m not too sure about. Hopefully, we have seen the last snowstorm and the grass will begin peeking up from under last fall’s blanket of leaves. As most drivers transition from snow season to construction and orange barrels season, they are thinking more about polishing the chrome and shining up their paint. We all like to ride clean and bright, but, and I stress a large BUT, that’s not all springtime represents.
What’s the biggest thing to happen every March? Okay, put your thinking cap on now – what have you been waiting for all winter? I will give you one hint: it happens in Louisville, KY. Need more help? Okay, one more hint to jog your memory: it will include everything you ever wanted to have or purchase for your truck. Come on, you know what I’m talking about, MATS – the Mid-America Trucking Show – the official kick off to spring and the truck show season. I don’t know about you, but I have been setting a few dollars away all winter for when the weather breaks and I can once again slide through the truck wash and shine up my pride and joy.
For those of you who have never attended one of the trucking conventions, there is much to see and do while you are there. Anything that’s truck-related will be there, and the best part is, so are the people who make and design the parts. For those of you who are prepared, it’s a bargain hunters dream. I write down lots of questions I have about repairs, and even ideas for refinements to parts that maybe didn’t live up to my expectations. If you know what you are looking for, there are some great bargains to be found on the show floor. I plan on doing a fair amount of purchasing for the coming year and, with a little luck, there will be a lot of savings there, too.
This month’s article, I hope, is timely for you since most of us have put off doing any repairs that weren’t crucial. It wasn’t that long ago we said Santa was making a list and checking it twice. Well, I am too, only Louisville is like Christmas on steroids for us truckers!
Living up here in the northern coast of the United States in a place called Michigan, we play a game called “Tax and Spend” – that’s where the state taxes the daylights out of us for road repairs and then spend it on everything but the roads. The end result is a lot of potholes and stress joints that double as swimming pools and drainage ditches. Our old governor was rumored to have said, “Now that we are running three lanes of traffic on I-94 we will be able to increase the potholes by 1/3!” All jokes aside, these roads are killing our trucks.
We rolled the clocks forward a couple weeks ago and that’s my cue to do maintenance. Remember the phrase “Spring Forward Fall Back” – that’s a great reminder to pay special attention to your equipment. I like to go over the entire area in front of the fuel tanks in the spring and concentrate on the rear parts in the fall before the cold weather really begins. Sure, I do my Pre-trip just like the rest of you, but is that enough? Not by a long shot.
Spending the last few days rolling around under my truck, I touched just about everything. Some problems are easy to spot, while others are not. And this isn’t just for owner operators, as company drivers should be doing this, too. “Why?” You ask. Because you are the one that will be sizzling in the sun alongside the street waiting for the wrecker. We all know shop time is expensive in dollars and in lost time, and often it’s time you don’t have to spare. What? You drive for a big company and they don’t care how much it costs to get it fixed in the shop. That’s fine, but what about your time – that is time stolen from you. Even if you are compensated for it, I’ll bet you would rather be fishing or doing something else fun – maybe even going home, for a change!
I have been getting the raspberries all week since I don’t wash my truck before I put it in the shop. I used to. Any time it went in, I cleaned it, so the mechanic didn’t have to deal with the remains of my last week’s dirt. I have since changed my way of thinking about that, because most of the time I’m the mechanic. I normally get washed at least once a week in bad weather seasons and less when it’s warm and dry. I drive an older conventional Peterbilt, and between its age and the rotten roads I am subject to, well, stuff happens!
This week I noticed spotting on the sides of my trailer, and as the week went on, the spots appeared to migrate forward. I had some difficulty locating the cause and it drove me nuts. It wasn’t until I stopped to get some Indian tea at one of my regular fueling points that I found it. I didn’t buy fuel, so when I stopped, just to run inside, I left the truck running long enough for the problem to drip on the pavement. Most drivers wouldn’t notice that, but I did, since I was looking for something, I just didn’t know what or where it would be.
Well, it turned out to be a leaky transmission cooler. One of the lines had not been properly tightened when it was worked on last. No one to blame there, since I was the last one to work on it. Every time I fueled or stopped to load or deliver, I would shut the engine down and the pump would stop pressuring the line. I could have washed the truck and went on my merry way without finding the source of the leak, but would it have caused a problem? Sure. At some point I would have run out of transmission fluid and there I would have been – the first one to the scene of the breakdown.
A few of you are still wondering what this has to do with springtime. Well, I will tell you. If you are running north of the frost line (that’s I-40), it’s cold and miserable to work outside in the winter. Unless you must, fixing equipment is postponed until better weather. Most of the owner operators I know don’t have heated shops or even a dry place to get out of the wind. Anything outside of oil changes and tire repairs gets pushed out to a later date. Finally, the ground is visible, the snow has melted down to grass and mud, and now all those “will do” repairs need to be done.
If you are a regular reader of my words, then you have heard me beat the drum of “learn about your equipment” often. All of us have access to the web, and there are lots of sources for reliable information. The 10-4 Facebook page (Ten Four Magazine) is a good place to ask questions and see if you get any response. Even old hands like me call for help when I get stumped or I’m not sure I remember the right way to install some parts. One of my most important rules is the first tool out of the box and the last one back in is “knowledge” – a little research goes a long way.
A clean truck tells no tale. By coming in dirty, I can see all kinds of tell-tale signs. Rust streaks often mean loose and worn bolts. Oil spots or runs can mean broken or loose clamps. Streaks of green slime running down the side of your engine or the radiator can be signs of a cold-water leak (loose clamps or a hole in the hose). This is when you really should look things over – even if you never turn a wrench, it’s your responsibility to make certain things are in top operating shape.
I make a point to spend time on my axles. They are often overlooked because they look fine. There are hidden places that can and will cause you stress. Wheel seals are the most prevalent cause for axle-related breakdowns. I may get a little carried away, but who wants to sit on the side of the road waiting for T/A or Love’s repair wagons to arrive. They are expensive and, let’s be honest, a lot of their help has limitations. Your Pre-trip includes checking the wheel seals and the brake shoes, but be honest, do you ever look at them? How about shaking the tie rod? Did you know there are two ends that wear out from time to time?
When I started my week, I thought I was in good shape and not much would need attention. Fix a line and hammer down, right? Not a chance. This week was more like an infomercial… “But wait, there’s more!” I had a little bit of uneven tire wear, so I fine-tuned the front drive axle then looked over the steer axle thinking the bearings might be loose. As they say in the comics, “That’s where the train ran off the tracks” and everything went downhill from there.
Winter is giving up its death grip on most of the country. That means we should be able to experience warmer weather soon. With the temperature rising, you will soon reach for the air conditioner switch and crank the temp to cold. Maybe it will work, maybe not. Did you remember to service the unit? Is your engine fan working properly? Do you need to have the freon charged? You have been so busy keeping ice off the windshield and your wiper blades it never crossed your mind that spring and summer are just around the corner.
The warmer temperatures are nice, and we all look forward to rolling down the windows and letting the wind blow through the cab. With the snow melting and the grass turning green, we need to take a closer look at temperature-related components and address anything that might fail. That includes belts, hoses and air lines. Now that we have the driver’s needs met, don’t forget to keep your engine cool by checking and testing your coolant. I saved that tid-bit until last, because it never fails – the first hot day I see just as many trucks shut down on the side of the road as I do during a severe cold snap. Now, I’m all set to ride into warm weather, knowing I don’t have any hidden or pressing issues.
Most maintenance related repairs are cheaper when done on your time schedule and at a place of your choosing. Road repairs often don’t fix the problem, they only allow you to get back to your home base and then fix it properly. All that extra expense can be avoided if we just follow through with the prescribed maintenance requirements. A little grease goes a long way if it is applied before the part failure. The same goes for all your other fluids, and even your tires. Sure, I lost some revenue this week because of shop time, but next week I can run with the confidence of knowing my load will get to the destination without any major and/or unnecessary problems.
I started this rant of mine on spring cleaning because of a spotted trailer. This was going to be a ten-cent fix, right? But wait, there’s more… and more… and even more little things to address before I’m ready to go strolling down life’s open highway. But now I think I’m finished with my spring fling. I’ve peeked, pried and even touched some parts never seen by anyone outside the factory or my little shop here on the dirt road. I have completely rebuilt the front axle and steering components on my ride because I don’t ever want to find myself in the uncomfortable position where the tires are headed for the ditch and the rest of me is sure to follow.
The time has come for me to take off my coveralls, wash the grease and oil from my hands and change back into some proper driving gear. Both me and my truck are ready to once again drink some high-test fuel and eat concrete. As always, speed safely out there, and I hope to see many of you in Louisville at the truck show. Now I gotta go – the highway is calling, 10-4!