Maintenance Techniques To Lighten The Load

Automated diagnostics, components with blink codes, engines with electronic controls and computer controlled anti-lock devices for brake systems are a few examples of the latest truck technology.

And operators who are using these advanced systems report good news: Not only do they work, but they can reduce trucking costs - after an often steep initial cost.

Computers have revolutionized all business practices, including truck maintenance. They represent the so-lution to record keeping, which has been the biggest problem in truck maintenance for years. Equipment experts at truck and component factories have always complained about truck operators trying to manage their vehicles with few or no records even as the number of trucks in a typical fleet increased.

Despite some shortcomings, computers have made it easier to keep detailed records on everything from oil changes to part failures. Compu-terization affects every truck activity from controlling service work to judging models that are inefficient.

Automated Diagnostics Electronic controls have helped many new diesel engines meet the 1994 emission rule while improving fuel economy. Similar controls manage the new antilock brakes which will be required in the mid-90s.

This is only the beginning of the new and expanding role of electronic parts in truck management. Auto-mated diagnostics - trouble-shooting a vehicle's problems with a testing device that has a computer's giant memory - are the future of automotive maintenance.

Some console testers can be op-erated like a video game. The service technician inputs information on the truck's problem. Then the console suggests something to check until the problem is identified. The console can be viewed as an old-fashioned service manual that has been computerized.

Console testers cost thousands of dollars, and it has been expensive for engineers to refine diesels to work with them. A wide range of smaller, less costly testers that are often hand-held will automate a portion of the diagnostics job.

"Blink codes" are an even less ex-pensive way to experience the benefits of automated diagnostics. A number of major truck components that can report problems to a dashboard gauge are available. When a covered engine has a problem, the dashboard gauge will flash out a message to check the oil, engine temperature or another part of the truck.

Truck makers and component producers such as engine and transmission manufacturers make extensive training plans available to fleets. The training often is free and can be conducted in a fleet's terminal, guaranteeing continued business to producers who have sold some items to a fleet.

Many truck operators rely on en-gine oil analysis, a service management tool provided by oil companies. It can be free or offered at low cost to fleets that use oil from the sponsoring petroleum supplier. They take samples of used oil from the fleet's trucks and check for signs of developing trouble within the engines.

Alternative, non-petroleum fuels are being tested to curb air pollution and reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil. Mack and Volvo GM are studying the use of these types of fuel in refuse trucks in central cities. This year's meeting of the So-ciety of Automotive Engineers will fo-cus on maintaining trucks that use compressed natural gas as a fuel, a topic that is becoming increasingly important in the refuse business.

A new generation of trip recorders use computer chip technology to re-cord what happens when a truck is out of a manager's sight. The trip re-corders can report bad habits that affect fuel consumption, such as speeding and excessive idling. They also alert the fleet's shop about failing parts so they can be spotted be-fore a road breakdown occurs. These devices reduce the driver's record keeping and help prepare bills for customers. Rockwell International and CADEC, a unit of Cummins En-gine, are among the producers of re-corders.

Refuse hauling is one of the most taxing applications for trucks, but new automatic lubrication systems can reduce some difficulties. At the Society of Automotive Engineers meeting, the U.S. Postal Service and Air Products and Chemicals Inc. re-ported on the success of automatic lubrication. The two groups cited ex-amples of chassis parts that went more than a million miles without problems using this method.

Synthetic lubricants are another new development. The growing number of heavy truck component manufacturers who guarantee parts for thousands of miles when they are cared for with synthetic lubes confirms the trend. Although synthetic materials can be more expensive than natural greases, their slipperiness makes them the lube of the future.

Computers can also be used to or-der parts. Up-to-date records on the supply of parts in stock can keep costs down.

Back To Basics Each fall, truck industry magazines reiterate the basics of winterizing: replace the coolant in the ra- diators with antifreeze, check the batteries and so on. Keep in mind that antifreeze is now a hazardous waste and requires special disposal. Check with your local government for hazwaste disposal regulations. Always regulate the amount of anti-freeze.

In the long run, your initial investment in the latest developments will help you manage and maintain your truck fleet more efficiently.