With the need to meet the ever-increasing “just-in-time” demand for delivery timelines, changing logistics, and sweating the assets in longer life cycles of duty, it’s easy to slack on the preventive maintenance schedule.
As an operator, having the best tools in your toolbox to solve common problems and knowing when to make needed repairs is the key to meeting your target’s deadlines and keeping your rig rolling on schedule. That means that you’ve got to know all about the requirements of truck repair. Let’s explore some of the more common repairs that fleet operators see with today’s trucks.
1. ENGINE OVERHEATING
An overheated engine can cause many residual effects on a truck. For example, the issue might be a blown gasket, or something related to the fuel tank. Regardless, over time, this can lead to engine failure if the problem is left too long. Therefore, working with a maintenance professional is crucial to review and address signs of overheating on your vehicle. In the long term, this can prevent failure at a critical time and save you big bucks.
On average, here is what you will pay for “check engine” related repairs per state:
Starter mechanisms should be reviewed more often as the colder weather approaches. Starter failure can become a common problem in the winter months. Clear signs of issues with a starter will likely be noticed by the operator first, and the ignition will only get worse as the temperature outside gets colder. During the motor start phase, nonessential components (such as radios) should be turned off in order to diagnose the problem.
U-joints are necessary for power to transfer to the differentiator from the transmission. The U-joints must be lubricated to minimize wear and tear, and if the U-joint is about to fail, a driver may notice a clicking sound. Another sign of imminent U-joint failure can be vibrations at higher speeds. If a driver experiences either of these signs, at the earliest convenience, the U-joint has to be replaced.
4. BRAKE ISSUES
A comprehensive strategy for brake maintenance is critical. On a regular basis, likely due to the pressure from today’s larger payloads, modern trucks frequently experience issues with brake pedals or the braking system. Brake fluid leaks and even total brake failure can occur if trucks have not been maintained effectively. Fortunately, if one brake fails, the independent brake system still allows the driver to stop using the other brakes.
5. WHEEL BEARINGS & TIRES
In order for your wheel to move along the road with as little friction as possible, important components called wheel bearings are necessary. While they’re moving, if the driver notices an unusual amount of noise generated from the wheel wells, the bearings could be degraded. Another sign could be unstable road movements or a jerking feeling of the truck. Even if your tires are properly inflated, these types of problems are extremely common. Make sure to always replace worn out tires and keep plenty of spares on deck.
Federal safety regulations require all semi-trucks to have a full inspection by a qualified inspector annually. The inspection must meet the federal guidelines, performed by someone with the proper training, certifications, and experience.
Having a five-plus year plan of what you will need to replace could aid in planning and avoiding a show-stopping price tag. In addition, with the current post-COVID-19 climate, finding OEM assets required can be challenging in an emergency. Being prepared and aware of your options can be very critical in a crisis.
Semi-truck maintenance can be expensive and unpredictable, but it’s a necessary evil that comes with ownership. It’s tempting to put off repairs until damage occurs, but regular maintenance is crucial to preventing more severe problems down the road.
Want more information? Check out our blog, Everything You Need to Know About Annual Semi-Truck Maintenance.
Are you ready for a hot semi-truck summer? The warm weather is already here in some places, and truckers need to prepare their vehicles for what lies ahead. While most of this information may seem common sense, it serves as a good reminder for even experienced truckers to take proactive steps to prepare for the coming months.
With more than 15 million trucks and 2 million tractor-trailers on the road, owner/operators need to take special care of their equipment at all times. Here are some things truckers should keep in mind this time of year:
1. Do a summer maintenance checkup
Truckers traditionally make preparations for the harsh winter weather, while summer conditions are sometimes overlooked. Hotter temperatures may mean a new set of measurements and calibration to ensure each component is set to work properly.
Colder temperatures compress air within the tires, giving off the impression that the tire pressure is too low. Some drivers will put more air into the tires to account for this change. However, once the weather begins to warm up, the air decompresses and can make tire pressure too high. As temperatures rise, do a tire pressure check to set a new normal.
Battery and Engine
Batteries struggle to work their best in cold weather, so keeping a solid charge during the warmer months is usually not a concern. Truckers should double-check their battery, though, heading into summer to ensure it works properly. Sometimes excessive heat can drain a battery, so monitor its charge regularly. Truckers also need to verify their truck engines stay cool as well. Inspect the truck’s coolant levels and hoses to avoid overheating and replace any suspect parts before they break.
Spending all day in a truck without air conditioning sounds like a nightmare. Check internal cooling systems as summer starts, looking for leaks or cracks in the tubing. Get any parts replaced in order to have a comfortable ride no matter how hot it gets outside.
2. Be ready for emergencies
All experienced owner/operators know to be ready for whatever comes their way. That includes creating an emergency kit that can help when something goes wrong. An emergency kit should include items to help truckers survive and recover whenever an emergency happens.
Some key things to have in an emergency kit:
Several days of food and water
Cellphone and charger
Toolbox with tools of varying sizes
Swiss Army knife
It’s also a good idea to keep a first-aid kit in the truck. Use the beginning of summer as an opportunity to check that everything in the kit is current and replace any items that may have expired.
3. Take care of your health
It is vital that owner/operators take care of their physical and mental health at all times. During the summer months, truckers should wear sunscreen each day, even if they do not plan to spend much time out of the cab. While some truck windows protect from harmful UV light, truckers may often find themselves outside and need that layer of protection.
Truckers should also stay hydrated, drinking water and other healthy drinks while avoiding soda. Staying hydrated will help keep drivers alert while driving and avoid any possible distractions from feeling thirsty or dehydrated.
It’s also important to focus on regulating emotions on the road. The summer typically means more drivers on the road, especially on weekends. This may lead to increased traffic or more inexperienced drivers trying to navigate the increased traffic. Truckers must remember this fact and attempt to stay calm during stressful driving situations.
Preparing for a Busy Year
With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to fade away, more and more people this summer are expected to travel. Even with increasing gas prices, there is expected to be a significant amount of traffic on the road as people want to leave their homes after spending much of the past year stuck inside.
Both owner/operators and other truckers must be prepared for this surge and ensure both their trucks and themselves are prepared for what comes ahead. For many truck drivers, the summer season may be seen as a respite from the snowy and icy conditions of winter. Summer brings its own challenges, but by taking the steps mentioned above, they can feel prepared and ready to take on the coming months.
Why it’s important to choose the right tires for your semi-truck
Every trucker has heard it a million times: The tires are the only part of the truck touching the road, so take care of them at all times. This advice has become so commonplace that it likely gets overlooked among the wide range of safety and performance checks drivers make each day before hitting the road.
It is imperative, though, that truckers ensure their tires work at peak performance at all times. A damaged tire presents an immediate safety concern for the driver and other motorists on the road. Let’s take a minute and look at what truck drivers should look for in their tires and the best ways to maintain them for safety and efficiency.
How to Pick the Correct Tires for Your Truck
The best tires for each driver depend on the type of truck piloted and the driver’s typical routes. Advances in tire technology continue to provide benefits, but even then, truck drivers may not be comfortable with some of the performance or cost tradeoffs that happen.
The traditional dual tire structure remains the most popular, but wide-based low-resistance tires continue to grow in popularity. As their name suggests, these tires provide less resistance than traditional tires, offering drivers improved gas mileage. When the price of diesel fuel is low, these types of tires are used less, as they need to be replaced more often; however, when the price of fuel climbs above $4 per gallon, they may become more cost-efficient over time.
How to Take Care of Your Truck Tires
No matter what type of tires you use, it is vital they work properly. Here are some tire maintenancechecks all drivers should regularly make.
Check air pressure.
Over- or under-inflated tires can reduce the performance of a truck and alter how it drives or reacts in an emergency. Drivers should manually check their air pressure before every trip to ensure it meets the manufacturer-designated standards. Larger fleets should consider using tire pressure monitoring systems (TMPS) and continuous tire inflation systems (CTIS) on trailers. While they bring an added cost, these systems ensure tire pressure remains safe and consistent.
Along with air pressure, the depth of tire treads should be checked before every trip. The standard way is to put a penny with Lincoln upside down between the treads. If Lincoln’s face is visible, it is time for a new set.
Based on where they are on a truck, tires can receive uneven wear and tear on the tread. Rotating tires every 6,000 to 8,000 miles can help expand their life span. Along with rotating tires, complete a full three-axle wheel alignment as well. While these measures may seem tedious, they go a long way in keeping tires on the road.
Ensure proper wheel torque.
This is easier than it sounds. Wheel torque is the simple act of adjusting the lug nuts on your wheels. Wheels that are either too tight or too loose can cause damage while driving, so take a few minutes and check each one before you start a trip.
Practice good habits.
Tires are designed to perform a certain way. Driving too fast, making hard stops, or accelerating too quickly can quicken tire deterioration. Continue to drive in a safe manner that follows all road laws and best practices to protect tires and other valuable equipment.
Fix problems when they happen.
For busy truckers, it can be easy to neglect small items that need fixing. Too often, these smaller problems grow into larger ones that can increase the cost of repairs. If you notice something is wrong with a tire or any part of your truck, make an effort to fix it as quickly as possible, so it does not turn into a larger problem.
Stay up to date.
New information about tires and other preventative safety measures constantly change and are continually updated. Even experienced drivers need to ensure they have all the latest training and adhere to new standards and laws when driving. Drivers can never have enough training, so put yourself in a continuous learning state to enjoy long-term success.
Drivers today must work within several standards and regulations to properly operate on the road. This can feel like a lot at times. These steps are important, and taking smart care of your truck and its tires will provide sustainable financial benefits for you and your operation.
Working as a long-haul owner/operator is a difficult, dangerous career not meant for the faint of heart. Ever-changing road and weather conditions, unfamiliar locations, 70-hour workweeks, and almost total isolation—the modern owner/operator faces unparalleled challenges day in and day out. As the winter season creeps in, drivers have their work cut out for them as they deliver all of those unbelievable Black Friday deals and Santa’s nice-list promises. With that in mind, it’s imperative that owner/operators plan ahead for the harsh winter weather and prepare their trucks for what is sure to be one of the busiest holiday seasons to date.
Here are five tips for winterizing your semi-truck to stay safe and save money while on road:
1. Inspect Your Battery
Many people don’t know this, but extreme weather can zap the charge from a vehicle’s battery. According to Farm and Dairy, “Cold temperatures wreak havoc on batteries because they slow the chemical reaction inside of the battery. Though batteries can function under myriad conditions, the cold weather tends to degrade high-quality batteries and may render subpar batteries useless.” The last thing an owner/operator needs is to wake up to a dead battery as their truck sits in a parking lot in the middle of nowhere, therefore losing valuable driving time and increasing expenses. Avoid battery problems by inspecting the battery connectors for corrosion, securing the mounts, and checking the electrical components. If the battery is over two years old, consider replacing the battery prior to peak season.
2. Install an Electric Block Heater
Diesel engines require significantly more heat to turn-over than their gasoline counterparts—the combustion range for gasoline is 700 to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit while the range for diesel is 1,000 to 1,200. In cold enough temperatures, a diesel engine may struggle to turn-over, and during the most inclement winter weather, there may be no viable way for the engine to reach the necessary temperatures. This can be avoided by installing an electric block heater to keep the engine warm while the vehicle is off overnight, ensuring it rolls over on the first try regardless of the weather outside.
3. Check Your Tires
Ideally, drivers should inspect their tires religiously as tire blowouts account for roughly 6% of semi-truck accidents. The need to inspect tires increases with the colder weather as worn-out, damaged, or underinflated tires can struggle to gain traction in snow and ice, creating unsafe driving conditions. Additionally, owner/operators need to pack the correct size and number of tire chains in case their route takes them through a state where semi-trucks are required to use chains. Tire chains are an owner/operator’s best friend when driving on icy terrain; they can make all the difference between reaching your destination safely or sliding into a ditch—or worse. Stay prepared and plan ahead.
4. Inspect Your Cooling System
A semi-truck’s engine cooling system has to work overtime during the winter months. This is due to the fact that the harsh winter weather forces the engine itself to work significantly harder than in the warmer months. The cooling system should be thoroughly inspected and tested by a mechanic prior to the winter season to make sure no hoses are worn or damaged, hose clamps are tight and secure, and the radiator has no damage or leaks. If the cooling system fails, the entire engine will fail along with it, costing you precious dollars and quite possibly your deadline. The last thing an owner/operator wants is to be stranded on the side of the road with no fix other than replacing the cooling system completely.
5. Prepare an Emergency Kit
Sometimes, no matter how much you plan, or how much you prepare, you still run into the proverbial—or literal—bump in the road. If an owner/operator finds themselves stranded in harsh winter climates while in route to their destination, it can be incredibly dangerous without the necessary supplies to ensure your safety and survival. Always prepare an emergency kit to protect yourself from the weather or other threats you may face while on the road. We recommend including the following items in your emergency travel kit:
● Extra blankets
● First aid kit
● Flashlight and extra batteries
● Canned food and bottled water
● Snow boots
● Snow shovel
● Flare and flare gun
● CB Radio
● Extra coolant, washer fluid, engine oil
● Extra fuel filter and fuel filter wrench
● Spare Diesel fuel
● Tire chains
These items will make sure you are safe, protected, and have extra supplies on-hand in case the problem can be easily solved—such as low oil levels or running out of fuel.
Picture this: You’re on the road and the inevitable happens… You get stopped for a roadside inspection. Such blitzes can happen at any time but are particularly enforced during certain times of the year. For example, Operation Safe Driver Week took place in July 2020. During that time period, law enforcement observed over 66,000 drivers engaging in unsafe driving on roadways and issued 71,343 warnings and citations.
There’s also the annual International Roadcheck. In this three-day period, the emphasis is placed on compliance with federal regulations, and inspectors use the North American Standard Out-of-Service Criteria to spot any violations. Last year’s International Roadcheck revealed staggering results. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, of the 3.36 million inspections conducted, 952,938 driver violations were noticed, of which 199,722 were out-of-service (OOS) conditions.
At some point in your trucking career, you will be flagged down for a roadside inspection. Passing or failing inspection, however, is ultimately contingent on your preparedness. Listed below are the top four ways you can plan ahead to pass a roadside inspection.
1) Make Sure You Have Proper Documentation
There are a total of eight inspection levels. Level III inspection is specifically centered on the driver’s credentials, which includes but isn’t limited to a CDL review, medical examiner’s certificate, plus the record of duty status, and more. Among the top 25 truck driver violations last year, driving without a valid medical certificate ranked at #2. This is merely a one-point violation, but it’s easily avoidable when owners/operators keep themselves organized.
Unfortunately, when you’re in a rush to hit the road, staying up to date with important documents can easily fall by the wayside. It’s helpful to already have a binder or folder consisting of the documents the inspector will need. Such documents include a driver’s license, registration, vehicle insurance, medical examiner’s certificate, record of duty status, annual inspection records, hazardous materials paperwork, IFTA card, and permit credentials.
2) Have a Pre-trip Checklist Ready
During a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) Level I Roadside Inspection, there are some equipment problems that can lead to trip delays, citations, or worse yet, an OOS order. In order to avoid the three aforementioned issues, make it a habit to address the following items daily: replace/mend deflated or worn tires, adjust brakes or other brake-related problems, secure your load, take care of oil leaks, and repair any damaged lights or windshield.
Another facet of the checklist needs to include understanding how your electronic logging device (ELD) works. In the event you’re flagged for an inspection, you’ll need to know how to email your e-logs to the inspector. This will help expedite the entire process quickly, so you can get you back on the road.
What if you covered your checklist, but encounter an issue and an unexpected inspection on the road? Be transparent with the inspector about anything that may cause further inspection. This can mean the difference between a waiver of citation(s) or incurring a violation. If you recently discovered the issue, tell the inspector and take steps to handle it promptly.
3) Keep up with the Maintenance of Your Truck
This tip goes hand-in-hand with having a pre-trip checklist. Staying safe on the road for you and others is the top priority—besides passing the roadside inspection. And the key to safety comes down to the upkeep of your truck.
When you start your semi-truck, take time to do the following:
Check the tires for punctures, pressure, and air leaks.
Ensure all your lights are working properly. This is not to be taken lightly. A broken light is a six-point violation, and in some instances, can result in an OOS.
Make sure your truck’s windshield is clean. Not only is this highly important to your safety and that of others, but it also can make or break your chances of getting pulled over by law enforcement for an inspection.
Perform a Driver’s Vehicle Inspection Report (DVIR) to ensure you’re meeting the law’s standards for your truck. This includes checking things such as your battery, clutch, exhaust, and more. Covering all your bases by paying attention to detail can help you not only pass a potential inspection but will also help you stay safe.
4) Don’t forget to conduct a post-trip (and en route) inspection
Let’s face it: Roadside inspections are part of being a trucker in the U.S. Whether you’re a rookie or an expert truck driver, you need to get into the practice of conducting routine inspections en route and post-trip. A solid post-trip inspection gives you time to address an identified problem before the truck makes its next trip. Much like the pre-trip checklist, the post-trip inspection list is equally important. Though it’s time-consuming, such a task will help in keeping you safe for your next trip and possible inspection. So, take time to check major details such as the functionality of your brakes, windshield wipers, steering efficiency, and tire condition.
Trucking can be an expensive ordeal. This is especially true when you own or lease your own semi instead of driving a company-owned truck. Not only is the upfront cost expensive (hovering around $150,000), but the maintenance and annual expenses also pile up, usually costing around $180,000 to keep a commercial truck in a fleet every year. While many of these costs are unavoidable, there are several things you can be doing to minimize your operating costs to be as low as possible. Here are a few of our suggestions.
Slashing Fuel Costs
Fuel is one of the most expensive parts of semi-truck ownership, making up to 39% of operating costs. Depending on the area of operation, diesel can easily add up to over $70,000 a year alone. If you’re new to the industry, you might be unaware of the extent of this usage. To put it in perspective, the average car uses 500 gallons of fuel per year. In contrast, the average semi-truck uses 20,500 gallons annually, a staggering difference.
To help keep this lofty cost to a minimum, one thing you can do is to maximize your fuel efficiency. Every truck has a “sweet spot” where you’re going fast enough to make all of your appointments on time, but slow enough that you’re not burning unnecessary, excess fuel. To find your sweet spot, try monitoring your current fuel efficiency, and adjust your average speed accordingly.
Another way to cut down on fuel costs is to shop smarter when filling up the tank. As it does with normal automobile gas, diesel prices fluctuate drastically depending on the area. The U.S. national average cost per gallon of diesel hovers around $3.17. This changes by a few cents depending on the exact station and area, but there are a few ways to avoid overpaying. In general, diesel is more expensive on the West Coast. This is mostly due to the famously overpriced California. If you can, try to plan out your route so that you can avoid filling up in this expensive area. Additionally, if you have the resources to do so, alternatives to diesel fuel could potentially help you save on this massive expense.
Getting Affordable Insurance
Insurance is another sizable cost of operating a semi-truck, as there are over 9 different policies to buy and consider. The costs of these policies are usually around 4% of overall operating expenses, which may seem like a small fraction but is really thousands of dollars. While you don’t have a choice in whether or not you purchase these insurance policies, there are a few things that you can do to lower your rates and get the cheapest possible insurance deals.
One of the most important things you can do to lower your insurance rates is to keep your driving record as clean as possible. Drivers without any major infractions are considered less of a financial liability for insurance providers, and this trust translates into lower rates. While adhering to safe and orderly driving practices is important for the wellbeing of the public, it’s also essential for the wellbeing of your pockets.
Avoiding Unnecessary Repairs
Truck repairs can really add up, adding thousands to your annual bill. While it may sound counterintuitive, one of the best things you can do to minimize these costs is to pay more upfront. Being diligent about regular maintenance can actually lower your overall costs by preventing emergency repairs or paying for an accident resulting from faulty equipment. Waiting until equipment malfunctions or breaks down results in having to replace it all together rather than just taking proper care of it to preserve it.
Breakdowns due to poor maintenance can also lead to bigger issues affecting other tuck parts, or they can even leave you vulnerable to accidents that endanger you, the public, and your entire rig. Schedule regular maintenance to keep your semi in pristine working condition.
Schedule Your Routes Carefully
Since most truck drivers are paid by the mile, one of the best ways to optimize your pay per hour is to reduce idling time or time spent sitting in traffic. Any time where the truck isn’t moving is money right out of your pocket. While the conditions might not always be in your control, you can always make your best effort to avoid it.
Try to plan out your routes to avoid heavily congested areas during busy times such as the morning or evening rush. If you have the freedom to do so, take less popular roads during these times to try to skirt around traffic jams. While you might take a slightly longer route mile-wise, it will improve efficiency by allowing you to complete routes faster. Additionally, this can result in safer traveling due to clearer conditions, as traffic jams are often risky in terms of fender benders.
When it comes down to it, driving a semi-truck is your career, and we all want to make a living wage. Keeping operating costs low is the best way to squeeze the most out of your salary. There are several invisible strains on your operation that you might not even realize. For example, truck stops sell more coffee than convenience stores, and the majority of these sales are to big rig drivers. Something as simple as streamlining daily purchases can make a difference in your daily profit margin. While you won’t necessarily be saving thousands by skipping that second cup of joe, making small changes can add up into healthy financial habits that save you big money later on.
For more information about how to get the most out of the trucking industry, check out Mission Financial!