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Need for reefer maintenance heats up in summer

June 5, 2024
Keeping reefer trailers, and the cargo they carry, cool is a critical operation during the summer. But it’s made easier with consistent inspections and preventative maintenance that focuses reefer components and temperature monitoring.

With temperatures rising during the summer, the stakes climb higher for refrigerated fleets when it comes to maintaining equipment uptime. After all, with perishable foods and sensitive pharmaceuticals in tow that need to travel at consistent temperatures, transportation refrigeration unit (TRU) breakdowns don’t just risk a late load, but a lost one.

“If the reefer fails in the summer months, maintaining the desired setpoint becomes increasingly challenging due to higher ambient air temperatures, potentially leading to spoilage or damage to the cargo,” said Greg Schueller, District 6 service manager for Thermo King. “This could result in lost loads and financial losses for both the shipper and the carrier.”

To avoid such a scenario, fleets need to ensure refrigerated equipment is routinely inspected for issues, routinely monitor TRUS' power and temperature, and check that preventive maintenance has been performed properly and on time.

Inspect for success

Edward Goh, senior director of Strategy and Services, Global Container Refrigeration, Carrier Transicold, noted that technicians and drivers must pay special attention to refrigerant levels when inspecting their reefers before a trip.

“Check [the] refrigerant levels to ensure that they are adequate and that there are no leaks in the units, as low refrigerant levels can reduce cooling efficiency and cause the unit to overwork,” Goh advised. Schuller also noted that refrigerant leaks, if left unchecked, can lead to a system failure.

Additionally, make sure no dirt or debris are obstructing the condenser or evaporator coils, as this can reduce the cooling capacity as well. This precaution extends to cargo within the trailer too, Schueller warned.

Read more: Reefer maintenance strategies to address cold chain challenges

“Ensure there are no obstructions in the box promotes proper airflow, enabling the reefer to evenly distribute cold air and maintain consistent temperatures,” the service manager cautioned.

Worn, loose, or damaged components may also be a sign that a reefer isn’t ready to hit the road, especially if the damage is due to “acid contamination, since buildup in the refrigeration system can damage components and degrade performance,” Schueller said.

For drivers, keeping an eye on engine revolutions per minute can also be a sign of dropping efficiency and a need for service.

Providing power

Especially since batteries can lose some capacity and resiliency in extremely warm temperatures, it’s important to keep a careful eye on a reefer’s power supply and cargo temperature throughout the summer.

Telematics systems are a great way to do this, with programs such as Carrier Transicold’s Lynx Fleet telematics system. Using solar panels on a reefer to support these monitoring systems can also help extend a refrigerated trailer’s lifespan.

“Solar panels help maintain the battery charge (units should be >12.2 vdc), ensuring the TRU starts reliably when needed, even after extended periods of inactivity,” Schueller said. “For customers who use telematics, this is even more important.”

But for both cooling and electrical components, Carrier Transicold's Goh recommended shops use OEM parts to increase vehicle lifespan and efficiency, even if they’re a bit more expensive: “In contrast, with grey market parts, there is a higher risk of compatibility problems and performance standards, leading to potential reliability or starting issues and these can pose significant risks, especially in critical applications like transporting pharmaceutical products or high-value goods.”

But overall, if reefer fleets and shops keep up on their inspections and preventative maintenance, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to keep cool for the summer.

About the Author

Alex Keenan

Alex Keenan is an Associate Editor for Fleet Maintenance magazine. She has written on a variety of topics for the past several years and recently joined the transportation industry, reviewing content covering technician challenges and breaking industry news. She holds a bachelor's degree in English from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. 

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