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Proactive approach to wheel-end health

June 24, 2024
The importance of routine maintenance and tools to help your fleet stay on the road.

Effective fleet management involves more than just addressing problems or issues when they arise; it’s about proactively preventing them before they happen. The ways to do this are constantly evolving, with more AI-powered predictive and prescriptive maintenance deployed every day, but the best tried-and-true method to vehicle health is routine preventive maintenance. It’s the key to safe and efficient fleet operations and ensures peak performance for the fleet’s vehicles while reducing the likelihood of unexpected downtime and repair costs.

Preventive maintenance not only enhances the safety and reliability of fleet vehicles but also protects companies from penalties or legal liabilities for non-compliance with safety standards and regulations by catching issues before an inspector does. Violations mean more downtime, a drop in CSA score, plus you still have to fix the issue. Obviously, there are a lot of incentives to take PMs seriously, and when considering a revamp to your maintenance plan, you should start at the wheel end.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations 49 CFR 392.7 and 396.11 require both pre- and post-trip inspections of wheels, rims, and tires, among other vehicle components. These inspections are not just a casual recommendation—they’re the law. And they act as a last line of defense against safety infractions and, even worse, an issue that results in a wheel-off event and/or serious accident.

While their description might seem daunting, these tire and wheel inspections are straightforward and repeatable—and key to avoiding roughly 60% of the violations found during the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance’s 2023 International Roadcheck. These checks are mostly visual. On the wheel, for example, regulation 393.205 calls for a confirmation that the wheels and rims aren’t cracked or broken, stud and bolt holes are not elongated, and all the nuts and bolts are in place.

The tire is also part of the wheel-end, and as per 393.75, these inspections should include checks for leaks, exposed or separated tread/sidewall, and a minimum tread depth of 4/32”. Drivers should also check the brakes at this time.

Checking other issues is as simple as taking a brief walk around the truck to make a few observations and verify:

  • Do I see any oil leaks?
  • Do I see any signs of heat?
  • Do my tail lights and turn signals work?
  • Do I see anything under the truck that’s a cause for concern?
  • Is anything dragging or rattling?
  • Does anything smell “off”?

For further guidance, refer to the Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC) standards for maintenance practices, which require an annual inspection for trailers. These standards are determined by experts in the industry who agree on best practices for safety and maintenance standards. It’s wise to follow their recommendations.

By addressing minor issues before they turn into major problems, preventive maintenance saves significant costs in the long run. It comes down to risk management. Avoiding breakdowns, repairs, and fines for non-compliance with regulations translates to real cost savings and a healthier bottom line.

Longevity and sustainability

Well-maintained trucks and trailers are valuable investments for your fleet. Routine maintenance tasks such as oil changes, fluid checks, and pre- and post-trip inspections all contribute to the longevity of your vehicle. By extending the lifespan of their vehicles, fleet owners maximize their return on investment and reduce the need for frequent replacements or costly repairs over time.

An additional benefit is that properly maintained vehicles produce fewer emissions and consume less fuel, which helps lessen our industry’s impact on air quality and greenhouse gas emissions. By embracing more sustainable practices, fleet owners can directly contribute to a cleaner, greener future.

Data and fleet management technology

It may come as no surprise that automation is shaping the future of fleet management, including PM monitoring. The main reason is that automated tools and solutions offer consistency, accuracy, and efficiency for all users, allowing the fleet to stay proactive. In a competitive industry like ours, these key benefits can truly empower trucking companies to stay ahead of the curve.

Fleet maintenance systems, for instance, can track if PMs were done and double-check via electronic DVIRs that the driver noted no issues, ensuring wheel ends and other components are road worthy.

Another point to consider is that implementing quality data into your fleet operations can significantly impact overall fleet efficiency. Good data brings fleet owners and managers better visibility to identify problems or hidden costs that might otherwise be overlooked during an inspection. It can also help lighten the load of tedious admin tasks or other time-consuming steps that might be slowing your management processes down.

Getting better data starts with better sensors. To assist fleets in this area, STEMCO has recently launched the DataTrac SVT Electronic Mileage Sensor. This product is Bluetooth enabled, which allows a fleet to sync accurate, real-time mileage data to the cloud using the STEMCO Fleet Manager app. 

Advanced diagnostic tools and telematics systems can also provide accurate fleet vehicle health monitoring and efficient maintenance task scheduling. This technology continues to empower fleet managers to streamline their operations and manage resource allocation more wisely.

That’s why ongoing training and education for technicians will be essential to staying updated on the latest maintenance procedures, technologies, and regulations in the years ahead. By investing in the right tools and practices for their fleets, fleet owners can then dedicate time to one of the most critical aspects of their business—protecting their teams and their bottom lines for the miles ahead.

Make the roadways safer

Preventive maintenance is not just about mundane routines or checking boxes. It’s about fleet owners and managers positioning their fleet for the long haul. Remember, prioritizing safety, quality, and reliability is the wise way to go about managing a fleet. The long-term benefits of efficiency and safety far outweigh any immediate savings gained by neglect or cutting corners on standard maintenance cycles. 

About the Author

Todd DiMascio

Todd DiMascio is the Sr. Director of Global Sales for STEMCO. With over 15 years of heavy-duty trucking experience, he understands the issues that fleets and technicians experience, and utilizes his expertise to find solutions that fit the needs of each unique customer.

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