How a solid PM program saves cost over the long haul
Although you can certainly argue preventive maintenance is an expensive cost of doing business, routine PM is less costly than unexpected equipment failure and unplanned repairs. In addition to losing time on the road, you risk increasing the severity of equipment failures when they eventually happen.
Sticking to a plan
A solid maintenance plan only works well if you can put it into action and then keep up with it. Your goal should be routine PM that properly maintains your equipment, reduces the chance of breakdown costs, and extends the life of your engine. The simpler the plan, the more likely you are to keep on top of it.
At a minimum, your maintenance plan should include engine oil, coolant, filters, tires, wipers, lights, belts and hoses. A plan that includes brakes, batteries, exhaust, drive axles, wheel seals, driveline, suspension steering, clutch, transmission and engine would be ideal but would also require more technical skills.
No matter your plan, you should know your truck thoroughly. You don’t have to be a mechanic to familiarize yourself with which components can fail under which circumstances. Your truck’s manufacturer will recommend a standard PM schedule for your model, and PM guidelines are also available from the American Truck Association for tractors and trailers. Following these schedules will help reduce the chance of failure.
In addition to substantially slashing breakdown costs, a properly maintained engine will use less fuel. Take advantage of other fuel-saving PM practices, such as adjusting the overheads after the break-in period and then at required intervals, to also prolong valve and injector life.
Paying attention to maintenance can also extend oil life. Oil is costly, especially if you’re not getting maximum use. What are the keys to extended drains?
Filtration practices: Use the correct filter based on manufacturer specifications and change it at the recommended intervals.
Oil grade: Choose a high-quality, extended drain-capable oil.
Oil analysis: If using extended intervals, an oil analysis should be performed at every drain by a qualified lab. Your supplier or dealer can provide information on a reputable lab.
When you can DIY
If you don’t feel comfortable doing a job, take it to the shop. If you have any questions or need advice, talk to an expert first. Also, before you begin, you should always ensure you’re not voiding any warranties by completing maintenance or repairs yourself.
With that in mind, do-it-yourself jobs can include routine tasks such as work on basic components like belts, hoses, wipers or lights. You can also tackle fluid and filter changes. Jobs such as greasing, cleaning connections and cables and changing fuel filters make take some of your time but are also relatively simple to complete.
Dealing with dealers and service departments
When it’s time to take your rig in for service, it’s the relationship you’ve established beforehand that will serve you best. Like any other relationship, communication is critical to avoiding conflict and ensuring a positive outcome.
It’s important to make an appointment, even if you’re pressed for time. You’re not going to be the only customer faced with an emergency, so taking the basic minimum steps to provide the dealer what they need to help you is crucial to getting you back on the road.
Remember to have your service and warranty records available, and thoroughly explain the problem to ensure a clear diagnosis. Documentation through photographs can be helpful as well if the problem has been ongoing. If necessary, be prepared to authorize a prearranged amount of labor for diagnosis as opposed to experimenting with repairs, to keep costs down.
Know when to trade
The ultimate benefit of a good PM program is extending the life of your rig. However, like almost anything you own, the time comes when you spend more to keep it up than you would to replace it. So, how do you know when that day arrives? By keeping thorough maintenance records.
When you start your PM, track your expenses. You’ll quickly develop a good idea of what you should be spending, and you’ll be able to budget for expenses over time. Knowing how much you’re spending – and how much you’re supposed to be spending – will also alert you to when that number rises too much. A good place to start is when your total maintenance costs reach 15% of your gross revenue.
Consult with your financer to discuss truck purchase options and with your insurer to determine how an equipment upgrade will impact your premiums. Your accountant will be able to crunch the numbers for you and tell you where you stand on a truck purchase.
Overall, you should think about an upgrade when the costs of your current vehicle – including principal, interest, maintenance and operating costs – are higher than the comparable costs of an upgrade to a new vehicle. Considering the resale value of the old vehicle combined with manufacturer’s incentives on the new truck may make a trade an attractive option.