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Preventive truck maintenance tips for efficient autumn operation

Sept. 15, 2022
Preventive maintenance can have a very positive effect on vehicle uptime as well as fuel economy. Seasonal preventive maintenance may be another item to add to your maintenance arsenal.

Recently, I experienced some trouble with the air conditioning in my apartment. I work from home, and as I sat at my desk, sweat was pouring off me. Air was blowing out of my window unit, but it was rarely cold. I checked the filter, and it was spotless. I deduced that the problem must be occurring before the air hit the filter.

I called my landlord to investigate the problem. He in turn called a skilled technician who removed the unit, and promptly told me that it was clogged with cottonwood seeds, which he said was a common occurrence with window air conditioning units. My landlord noted that this also happened with another tenant the week prior. I am happy to report that the unit worked perfectly after the cleaning.

This incident led me to think about preventive maintenance. If my air conditioner was likely to get clogged with cottonwood seeds each year, why hadn’t my landlord setup a routine maintenance in the spring, especially if this problem occurred with more than one tenant? Why wait for a failure to occur?

Preventive maintenance (PM) can have a very positive effect on vehicle uptime as well as fuel economy. Seasonal preventive maintenance may be another item to add to your maintenance arsenal.

Similar to an air conditioning unit, the harsh conditions of summer can take a toll on vehicle systems, including tires, lubrication, and fluid systems. Heading into autumn, use the following checklist of items that may be affected by summer heat, and create a PM program to examine these systems.

  • Tires: A tire’s worst enemy is heat. Excessive summer heat and sun exposure can cause the rubber in tires to deteriorate, which can lead to several tire problems, including separation, air expansion, and bursting. Air expansion can lead to overinflation, which can negatively affect fuel economy, and an extremely overinflated tire can explode. Tire prices continue to increase due to the high price of raw materials; closely examine tires for any signs of heat damage and take corrective action as necessary to alleviate a tire malfunction and to achieve optimum fuel efficiency.
  • Lubricants: The viscosity of lubricants including engine oil, transmission, and axle oils can be affected by hot weather. As temperature increases, lubricants become thinner and oil viscosity becomes lower. Thicker viscosities work better in the summer because of this thinning effect. It may be time to consider a thinner viscosity for the fall months; proper lubricant viscosity will increase fuel efficiency.
  • Fluids: Maintaining proper fluid levels is important, especially in the warmer months. Excessive heat can cause levels to drop, so checking fluids regularly and topping off as necessary is important. Once summer is over, however, a fluid flush would assure that the fluid is fresh, as well as at a proper level heading into the cooler months
  • Batteries: Summer heat can cause batteries to deteriorate, however, you may not notice a problem until the cooler months. The heat can cause a battery to overcharge, which will hasten grid breakdown and degradation of other components, which could lead to a no-start condition in the fall and winter. As the weather cools, be diligent about battery inspection, maintenance, and service processes. You don’t want to head into fall and winter with a failing battery.
  • Filters: Like the air conditioning unit, truck filters may become clogged with summer debris such as pollen, cottonwood, and other airborne contaminants. Clogged filters can prevent systems from optimal operation, which could damage systems as well as increase fuel consumption. Inspect filters for clogging and replace as needed.

Based on your fleet experience, you may find additional items to include on your seasonal PM checklist.

There is a direct correlation between preventive maintenance and vehicle uptime and fuel economy. Taking a little bit of time to check systems as seasons change will give you peace of mind that the vehicle will be safe on the road, and as fuel efficient as possible.

Kim Ehrenhaft is design director at the North American Council for Freight Efficiency. In this role, she works on NACFE’s Confidence Reports and Guidance Reports and is responsible for its social media efforts. Ehrenhaft has been involved in the trucking industry since 1993 and has worked on various trucking industry related publications.