Spring is here… well, that’s the hope anyways. Some of us aren’t sure if it’s spring or just the start of the rainy season. The weather report shows warming trends in the south, it just didn’t say where it would be south of! Now, for that warming trend, that too may be a problem around here. We all remember what happened to Frosty the Snowman. Too much sun and lots of fun will make Frosty melt away. I think everybody has had enough winter this year, so let’s wave goodbye to all the cold, wet, and miserable days of March.
Show me some sunny warm days and clean trucks for a change. Shoot, I would settle for a clean windshield and 20 miles of clear roads with no salt spray. It never fails: I pull out of the truck wash and, before I even reach the highway, I find a pool of water to splash in. That or my shipper/receiver has a dirt lot. Well, you know what they say, “That’s truckin!” Another part of trucking is paying for all those washes and repairs, so that’s the direction I’m headed this month. Someone once said trucking is what most drivers do between paydays, and every day should be a payday. The difference is in who is getting paid! If we make a buck, we spend it before it has a chance to grow up. Not that all spending is bad, but sometimes we could help ourselves by keeping it in check.
April 1st isn’t a trucker’s holiday, but it could be. Some of us were fooled into buying that first truck. I’m never sure who was the bigger fool – them for telling me or me for believing them. “Buy a truck,” they said. “It will be fun,” they said. “And it’s easy to make lots of money.” Those may be true statements, just not all at the same time. Trucking can be fun, especially on days when there’s a truck show, or when a group of your buddies get together and convoy across the country. In the old days, that was an every night thing, and once the wagons were loaded, we headed into the wind together. We were rollin’ coal an eating concrete with a constant chatter on the old C.B. radio. Nowadays, that’s not so common. With the invention of the cell phone, drivers don’t socialize in the same manner. As for the making lots of money part, that too is questionable. First and foremost, what constitutes “lots of money” and just how hard should you have to work to keep it?
Without getting too long winded this month, I’d like to mention some tips for saving some of your hard earned pay. When your truck breaks down and needs to be repaired, and they all do at some point, there’s no need to be wasteful. What got me to start thinking along these lines was when I was recently a guest on John Testa’s weekly broadcast on Studio 10-4 Live. John had asked me about all the parts I’ve been purchasing and if I had a “Magic Checkbook” or something. Maybe he thought I was born rich and good looking? Actually, I think I missed out on all of those things.
Many of you know from watching Facebook I have been rebuilding, or maybe I should call it refurbishing, my old steady work horse. I drive a 2000 Pete most of the time, and it’s a lot like me – it’s old and a little bit rusty, but still salvageable. With the current freight rates in the tank and too much snow on the passes, I decided to take advantage of the slow time. I’ve had some heat related issues with my truck, so we have been trying to find the cause. Unsuccessfully, I might add. That’s a lot like chasing ghosts in the dark. As soon as I would fix one problem, another would spring up someplace else. After I had to drop the third load in three weeks, I decided it was time to get serious before it hurt my service record and damaged my good reputation. There’s only so much money you can throw at a problem before you realize you are losing ground.
I wasn’t too surprised when I couldn’t locate my troubles, as I had a fair number of miles on the old motor. I want to note here the “I” means I’m getting my hands dirty. Many of these repairs we have done are things most drivers can do with the supervision of a certified mechanic. I consider myself fortunate to have a superior one right here close to home. He is someone who is willing to work with me and allow me to help in the shop, which saves him from having to pay for additional labor to clean parts and sweep the floor. I may be an old dog, but I’m not too old to learn new tricks. I just can’t bring myself to pay these dealerships $150 or more an hour for someone to clean up the shop area, then question if the part they used was genuine CAT or some knock off.
Motor work is about the only thing I don’t do myself. When it comes to those repairs, I have people I trust to pull the wrenches for me. Why? Because they do good work, and if any part is substandard, they will recognize it and refuse to use it. These are people who have proved themselves to me and are willing to work on my schedule. I can hear the nay sayers now, complaining that it wasn’t done at a certified shop, so it won’t be covered by warranty. In some cases, that’s right, but not in all cases. I don’t always buy up the warranty, either, unless it’s a product I trust. Did you know most warranties don’t cover labor in the case of a repair, they only cover the parts? In the case of my engine, the parts are covered for two years, even if we put them in ourselves. In the case of my new transmission, it is covered for 48 states with towing, and all I had to do was fill out the paperwork. Most repair facilities won’t even tell you that.
I have had repairs done in many “truck shops” only to find out later they used off-market parts and, in general, they cut corners to save time and money. This is an expense none of us can afford. Wasted money is just that – wasted – it’s gone, and it’s not coming back! You are not going to get any future use from it. In fact, it may cost you more to fix the problem later on. Time is another thing that wastes money. Good luck getting reimbursed for that, even if you do have insurance. Excessive down time might be the difference between staying in business and ceasing to operate.
These big fancy dealerships and shops that look like they belong on the Discovery Channel didn’t get that way by giving their customers a good value. They calculated a hefty profit into every work order they performed, and you are just another job in a long, never ending list. Chances are they will leave your truck sitting in their yard for as long as it takes for them to get around to fixing your issue. Then, if there is a hiccup in the supply chain, they have no vested interest in getting you moving. Once again, time is money, so do your own research and find the parts needed for the repair. We finally located the cause of my heat related issues and, as we suspected, it was a blown head gasket. But that didn’t prove to be the cause – I had a cracked head – and that’s the fourth one I have put on this engine.
Caterpillar’s track record isn’t too good when it comes to reman heads. They are expensive to change, and I’m tired of the downtime, not to mention they cost more after the core charge than a brand new aftermarket one. Since I didn’t need a platinum overhaul kit, I wanted to save some money using what they call a gold kit. We were having some difficulty locating piston packs for my engine, so I made a couple phone calls and inside of 30 minutes there were parts on the way (I even arranged for custom balancing of the rods and pistons). Thank you to Diesel Freak of Gaylord, Michigan.
I wasn’t exactly sure what parts I needed, but with some basic instructions, I was able to help round up replacement parts before we even turned the first bolt. Along the way, I gathered information about possible items that might need fixing while we were already in the motor. I had most of the gasket kits and seals in my inventory, and with a day or two of watching videos and collecting source materials, I was able to ask the right questions for my mechanic to advise me. Sure, I spent more money than I had budgeted for, but we fixed a lot more stuff than I originally thought I would, like the front accessory cover, the bearing for the idler pulleys, and the bull gear.
How many of you have the Jake Brake (engine retarder) rebuilt when you go through the motor? That’s not traditionally part of a rebuild. Most rebuilders will wash up the valve train and set it aside until it’s time to reinstall. If you use a well-known shop, they will normally only fix the items on the work order. Seldom will a shop call you and ask if you want an extra issue fixed, since they will get paid again to repair it when it comes back, and that is future revenue for them. I was advised to check the rocker shafts on my Caterpillar for fretting or wear from chaffing. Again, not something normally found to be replaced at the time of a rebuild. But that turned out to be good advice, because mine needed it.
I’m not trying to be unnecessarily hard on the dealerships, but they would honestly rather do new truck warranty work, where they get paid book hours for labor at the company’s expense. I would advise anyone who is using one of these shops to stay on top of them. Visit them every couple of days unannounced to make sure they are actually working on your truck and, if not, find out why. There is no reason that it should take weeks or in some cases even months to get your ride back. In the time I took to build my motor and replace the clutch and transmission, I found myself in numerous different shops looking for and finding parts. And every one of them had vehicles sitting and waiting for parts. Some we’re waiting for the exact parts I was there to purchase. How is that even possible? I can get the part shipped there, but they can’t find it themselves. Once again, your personal involvement with your equipment can mean getting back to work or being unemployed.
I like to save money when I can, but I’m not out to break the bank or beat the salesman up, unless he tries to take advantage of me. As I have mentioned before, price shop your parts. Don’t just accept the price offered to you by your local vendor. Check online to see what the normal price should be, then, when you call around to get quotes, you can see if it’s a bargain or not. And don’t fall for the line, “If it’s a Freightliner then only Freightliner will have the right part.” And don’t be afraid to mention what the price is online. They will often give a discount to accommodate you.
I drive a Peterbilt, but I got the best price for my new transmission at a Kenworth store in Fremont, Indiana. I saved 700 bucks and upgraded from a 13-speed to an 18-speed. That’s when I realized I needed a new-styled bell housing to accept the halo oil ring. The salesman at Kenworth let me purchase it through them using their pricing, and all I had to do was drive 40 miles to pick it up from their vendor. Once again, I did much of the leg work, but I still saved a lot of time and aggravation. That’s not to say we didn’t have some mix-ups with wrong parts or missed communications, but since I was on top of everything, we never lost too much time waiting for parts to be shipped, because I did most of the running. But again, that saved me time, and time is money.
All good things must to come to an end, or so goes the story. I have spent all the “MAGIC” out of my checkbook, so now I will need to go back to work. I really have done a lot more to the old truck than I originally started out to fix. It’s called “value added” when I talk with my accountant. It’s all deductible on our taxes, but more importantly it made my “Just Steppin” truck dependable again. I can now count on her to carry me through my day, from dispatch to delivery, once again. There really isn’t a more gratifying experience than one where you can see the positive results from your time, money, and labor.
The reconstruction of our truck has started, and so far I have had help from friends, family, and neighbors, all of which I’m very grateful for. A big shout out goes to our star mechanic Phil Knowlan (AKA John Wayne). His talents are well appreciated, and his advice is always second to none. So, when time is money, and it always is, remember the ABC’s of trucking, and Always Be Conservative, 10-4!