Years ago there was a TV commercial in which an auto mechanic looked into the camera and said, “Pay me now, or pay me later.” The message was, you can pay him to maintain your car now, or you can pay him a lot later to repair it. It was good advice then, and it’s still good advice today–especially when it comes to maintaining a big rig.
Sure, they’re built tough. In fact when it comes to an engine that’s a real workhorse they’re about as tough as they come. They can run for hundreds of thousands of miles and with incredible reliability– if they’re regularly and properly maintained. For all their strength and brute power, big rigs can be quite demanding. That is, they can be taken out of commission if they don’t get the attention they need.
That attention comes in the form of preventive maintenance. To keep that big rig on the road, preventive maintenance and a pre-trip checklist should become a ritual. Before turning a wheel, be sure to check:
- All fluid levels including oil and coolant
- Tire pressure
- Coolant, hydraulic and vacuum hose leaks
- Brake fluid and visual check of brake drums and brake lines
- Visual inspection under and around the tractor and trailer for leaks, puddles or loose fittings
Because diesel engines operate at a compression rate about three times that of a gasoline engine, they generate a lot more heat. It’s an efficient system that provides a lot of power and as much as a 40% increase in fuel efficiency. But generating all that heat comes with a price. It puts some big demands on the engine’s cooling and lubrication systems. A breakdown in these systems can mean a breakdown on the road and an expensive trip to the repair shop. The good news is, nearly all those problems can be prevented with regular scheduled maintenance. It all comes down to the basics.
Changing the Engine Oil
Change the engine oil and filter on a regularly scheduled basis. Some owners change the oil every ten to twelve thousand miles, or after 300 hours of driving depending on driving conditions. Synthetic oil can be changed less frequently, but does cost more. The important thing is, no matter what the schedule for changing oil, stick to it. It’s one of the least expensive things you can do to extend the life of an engine.
Changing the Air Filter
Just like an athlete during a hard workout, a semi needs a lot of air to keep it running efficiently and at full power. To keep that massive amount of air flowing, change the air filter every fifty thousand miles, or sooner, if driving in dusty conditions. Having a clogged air filter is like choking the life out of a big rig. A clean air filter also keeps contaminates out of the engine.
Cleaning Fuel Filters
Of course it takes a steady flow of fuel for an engine to put out all that power. To keep it flowing, clean the primary fuel filter and replace the secondary filter, when there is one, according to the manufacturer’s recommendation. A dirty fuel filter is proof of how important this small part is in keeping your truck running. Without it straining contaminates and small particles out of the fuel, all that dirt would find its way into the engine.
Checking Temperature Levels
A properly maintained cooling system is at the core of keeping a big rig working hard. For all the tough working conditions they can handle, what they don’t handle well is overheating. When a big rig overheats, it can mean big trouble and big repairs. Many trucks are equipped with both a warning light and audible alarm on the dashboard to warn the driver that the engine is beginning to exceed its normal operating temperature. Check them regularly to be sure they’re in working order. Besides checking the coolant level, check to be sure it’s clean. It’s also a good idea to check the ph level of the coolant with a paper test strip to make sure it hasn’t become corrosive to the engine.
Checking and Maintaining the Brakes
With 80,000 pounds of semi truck coming down the interstate at 70 miles per hour, that’s one load that can’t be stopped on a dime. It takes a really powerful braking system on the tractor and trailer to stop straight, fast and safe. The brakes are probably the most important safety feature on the truck. Brakes generate massive amounts of friction and heat every time the driver steps on the brake peddle to slow or stop the truck. Eventually that takes its toll on brakes and they need to be replaced before they fail. A brake failure at a critical time could be catastrophic. Being sure the brakes, brake fluid, hoses and connections are in good shape is a top priority.
Other Routine Tasks
Other routine maintenance tasks are important for safety reasons. Keep the suspension and steering systems greased. Some operators grease all steering, suspension and chassis components every twelve thousand miles or so and check them monthly. Make sure bolts are not loosening and have the proper torque. The constant vibration of being on the road may cause them to loosen.
When it comes to truck maintenance, little details can make a big difference. A moment of carelessness or neglect could result in costly repairs or a tragic accident. Our country depends on truckers and the safety and dependability of the trucks they drive. Keeping to a regular maintenance schedule will go a long way in keeping a truck working on the road where it belongs and out of the repair shop.