The Road Less Injured

Thanks to the new emission control technology to reduce exhaust pollution, the cost of refuse trucks is about to get higher — maybe $5,000 to $10,000 higher. As a result, haulers will be looking at other ways to save money in the operation of their trucks.

To save money in the face of higher base chassis prices, solid waste haulers cannot focus only on the initial purchase price of their equipment. In fact, paying more initially for a vehicle spec'd with more durable components — from extra chassis cross members for greater payload support to larger brake packages — and adhering to a rigorous preventive maintenance program can actually save refuse fleets more money over the life of the truck than paying a lower purchase price.

“Refuse fleets want durability with low maintenance cost, so the choices a fleet makes on the front end of a vehicle's life — from chassis structure to engine selection, cab layout, tires, etc. — can pay back in less maintenance cost and more uptime on the back end,” says Melissa Gauger, vocational marketing manager for Warrenville, Ill.-based International Truck & Engine.

“It's really very simple, in a lot of ways,” says Darry Stuart, president of Wrentham, Mass.-based DWS Fleet Management Services. “The key is to buy the right truck for the right application, then set up a preventive maintenance [PM] program and stick to it. To get a truck to last for the long term — whether your ownership expectancy is eight years, 10 years or 15 years — is to treat the truck the same every day and manage its needs from PM interval to PM interval.”

Front-end work

Refuse fleet managers first need to get a better grasp of potential life cycle savings by looking at the breakdowns and failures of components, says Matthew Stevenson, manager of product strategy for Redford, Mich.-based Sterling Truck Corp.

“Life cycle costs must be put together with [maintenance and repair] data covering at least eight years; it cannot come from warranty claims alone,” he says. “Maintenance plays an important part, but failure rates and downtime are the primary life cycle cost indicator.”

Robert Johnson, the fleet management liaison for the Farmington Hills, Mich.-based National Truck Equipment Association (NTEA), says analyzing fleet maintenance records, and the detail they contain, is critical to establishing a basis from which life cycle value and savings can be determined. “Are you tracking enough of the right information to make informed maintenance decisions?” he says. “For example, simply recording that ‘front end work’ was completed on a vehicle does not give you enough information to detect failure trends for individual front-end components.”

Johnson stresses that details are critical to gathering information. “Your [maintenance] records should indicate at least the make and model of vehicle, date and mileage at time of service, and services performed to specific components,” he says. “But all the records in the world won't do a thing for you if you don't analyze the data.”

Spec'ing larger and heavier components on trucks that are going to be carrying maximum payloads is one way to reduce maintenance costs over the long term, says Jim Zito, manager of vocational sales for Denton, Texas-based Peterbilt Motors. “Brakes are the number one maintenance expense on refuse trucks year after year,” he says. “So spec'ing larger brakes or systems to help reduce brake wear can save on maintenance expense over the life of a refuse truck.”

It is also critical to factor the type and application of refuse truck into the life cycle equation, says Bob Wood, Peterbilt's national environmental sales manager. “Take the automated side loader trucks versus the more traditional manually loaded rear packer vehicles,” he explains. “A side loader is going to have much more wear and tear because it can serve 1,200 homes a day, meaning it will usually be loaded up to capacity. By contrast, a manually loaded rear packer can at most visit 500 to 600 homes a day simply because of all the extra time required to pick up refuse.”

The key is to focus on the components that are going to get the most stress over the life of the vehicle on the front end, Gauger adds. “If you are going to keep the truck for 10 years, you need to look at things that lower your overall cost of ownership over that time span,” she says. “As time goes by, maintenance costs are going to get higher, but how high they go depends on what you've done on the front end. If you spec'd lighter weight but lower cost components to get the initial price down, the trade off may translate into more expensive maintenance down the line.”

After-purchase care

Life cycle costing becomes a lot more critical as operational costs go up, and revenues remain flat, leaving less money to reinvest in new equipment, says Brian Lindgren, vocational marketing manager for Seattle-based Kenworth Truck. “Two things happen in this situation: fleets try to extend the useful life of their equipment while also trying to maximize its uptime and productivity as well. That means hauling more per load, meaning that most are going to try and haul the maximum payload limit of the vehicle every time.”

Lindgren says roll-off chassis require different life cycle costing strategies compared to their front-loader, side- loader and rear-packer brethren. “For example, for a productive life of Class 8 trash transfer tractor, you're going to need a truck that operates efficiently on the highway yet is robust enough to off-road through landfills in dusty, harsh conditions,” he says. “It also has to be light enough to haul the maximum payload to generate the most revenue per load.”

Resale value is not something most refuse fleets worry about as they develop life cycle plans, Lindgren says. “It's not a strong need in that market; refuse fleets tend to hold their trucks longer — a 10-year life cycle is normal — and they move the truck to different parts of their operation to maximize the value of their investment.”

“Resale is not a factor in refuse,” Stevenson adds. “That's why tougher frames for increased payload, numerous customizations to meet specific applications and ease of maintenance are all critical in this market.”

“Basically, refuse fleets try to run a vehicle until its useful life runs out,” Zito says. “They want to run these trucks as long as they can — between seven and 12 years in most cases.”

To do that successfully, all the greases and fluids must be analyzed for long life on the front end, too, Lindgren says. “The sharper fleets in this market use long-life synthetic lubricants, from engine oil to engine coolant, transmission fluid, even axle grease,” he says. “[One hauler] in Los Angeles installed an engine oil heating system, so he could warm up the engine oil before starting. Doing things like that can help significantly extend the useful life of a refuse fleet's equipment.”

Maintenance matters

Stuart, a former fleet manager who spent five years with the former Browning Ferris Industries, says PM intervals vary depending on the type of truck being used, its application and operating environment. As a result, truck manufacturers can require different maintenance intervals, calculated in either miles or hours of service.

Johnson stresses PM's value but also says that one size doesn't fit all. In the NTEA's maintenance primer for vocational fleet managers, Five Steps to Optimize Maintenance, Johnson notes that, “Far too many companies have one preventive maintenance schedule. But what's right for one vehicle may be too much for another vehicle and not enough for a third. There is no one magic number for every vehicle in your fleet — and, just because you've always done it, doesn't mean you have to continue doing it.”

A good measure of the efficiency of any PM program is the number of “touches” technicians make on a vehicle, Johnson says. A fleet may schedule a vehicle three PMs per year, but actually pull it in for service a total of six times — three times for scheduled service, plus another three times for safety or emissions inspections.

“Every time a technician touches a vehicle, it costs you money and represents possible downtime, because, on average, every vehicle ‘touch’ takes a minimum of an hour of labor,” Johnson says. “In this case, proper scheduling could have rolled all of PMs and inspections together. That's why proper planning can help minimize maintenance costs.”

To maximize the effectiveness of PM, fleet managers should use maintenance records to calculate the average service life for various components so they anticipate when they will have to replace them.

“For example, say you find that Brand X alternators on Brand Y vehicles fail at around 85,000 miles on average,” Johnson says. “Now, your preventive maintenance schedule calls for 8,000-mile service intervals. All together, then, your service schedule should include an alternator replacement as part of the first preventive maintenance service after 77,000 miles.”

It is also possible, however, to set PM services too close together, adding maintenance dollars to the vehicle's total life cycle cost. It's critical that PM intervals be based on the type of vehicle application, usage (mileage, hours, operating environment, etc.), OEM warranty and government regulatory requirements, Johnson says.

“If your PM intervals for your particular vehicle are more frequent than the manufacturer recommends, try conducting a lubricant analysis, primarily of engine oil,” Johnson says. “Also check to see how much residual lubricant is present in unsealed joints at each service visit. If the oil analysis shows the oil is still good and there is still plenty of lubricant in each joint combined with good component life history, you may want to consider extending the service interval by a month, then check the same factors again.”

A solid preventive maintenance program can help vocational fleet managers keep vehicle repair costs and downtime to a minimum, says Johnson, but an inefficient, poorly designed program can cost time and money — torpedoing a fleet's attempt to save on life cycle costs.

In the end, it's all about getting the maximum amount of life out of your equipment, which is estimated at 10 years for a commercial front-loader, 12 years for a rear-packer residential truck, and 14 years for a roll-off dumpster hauler. And, it all begins with a truck that is properly spec'd and maintained over its life cycle.

Sean Kilcarr is senior editor at Waste Age's sister publication, Fleet Owner.

TAGS: Trucks