Trucks at Work

'The Man'

Maintaining trucks today is a complicated business at best, a confusing nightmare at worst. Part of the probelm is while commerical trucks todat are packed with more electronics than ever before, it's easy to forget that they still require basic no-nonsense maintenance to keep on humming -- regular oil changes, tire pressure checks, etc.

That's why it's important to keep Darry Stuart's name handy in your rolodex, and not just because -- after a long and distinguished career -- he became the Technology & Maintenance Council's chairman this year. No, Darry earned his chops the hard way, working on everything from refuse packers to highway trucks for nearly four decades before opening his own firm -- Boston, MA-based DWS Fleet Management, which specializes in helping fleets solve maintenance issues.

Darry is a guy who walks and talks like a fleet manager, with a great craggy voice that gives even curse words some class. Best of all, Darry gets right to point -- and let's you know in plain, unvarnished English what you have to do to keep your trucks on the road, as what you better NOT be doing to them.

"You will spend money on maintenance - that‘s a given," Darry stresses to me every time we talk. "The focus for the fleet manager is where -- and where not -- to spend that maintenance money. Because you can go broke by over-maintaining your equipment, you have to determine the key areas on the vehicle you need to maintain.”

He adds that key maintenance details remain pretty much the same for almost all commercial vehicles [Something he goes into a lot more deeply on his web site,].

"You use the same basic maintenance management philosophy, altering it slightly depending on the needs of a particular application," he explains. "Using a truck to haul trash is really no different than using a truck to haul freight or whatever. All trucks have batteries, tires, engines, and other components that need to be maintained. The use-pattern of a truck‘s particular application just dictates what components you look at first and how often."

Darry maintains some simple rules of thumb for fleets, rules I've noted before in stories written for FleetOwner as well as our sister publication Waste Age . They are simple and, I think, effective ground rules for any fleet to follow, so I think they are more than worth repeating in this space:

Batteries: If the battery charge is low, the truck may not start and so doesn‘t even get out of the gate, he says. Stuart stresses that battery cables have to be disconnected and cleaned and load tested at each PM interval and to make sure a full charge is getting through. Of particular concern: low voltage batteries. Though they may get a truck started, low vlotage puts a lot more pressure on the truck‘s alternator and starter, leading to a shorter life cycle for those components.

Cooling systems: Truck engines today generate a lot of heat, due to the new emission rules which went into effect this year. So your cooling systems mustbe in top shape - not only can corrosion over time lead to internal engine issues, leaks in the cooling hoses, the high temperatures generated by the engine and other systems can evaporate any traces of coolant leaks, making a repetitive problem that much harder to find. So at every PM, regular pressure testing of the cooling system is a must.

Tires: This is probably one of the most expensive areas for truck maintenance. Darry says the key is to keep tires properly inflated and make sure the front axle is aligned properly to minimize abnormal tire wear. “I stress that you check the front axle ‘toe‘ at every PM, because it takes just 5 minutes to check,” he says. “If the toe is out of alignment, you have to adjust it, because that is what accelerates and wears tires out the most.”

U-bolts/fasteners: Darry is a fanatic about tightening chassis and axles u-bolts and wheel/rim fasteners at every PM because. “Trucks endure a lot of vibration from all the maneuvering, turning, heavy loading and unloading they do every day. Those bolts are holding your truck together so you have to watch them,” he says.

Oil and grease: Darry is a big believer in buying the best engine oil and component grease available, simply because they can help add life to your equipment. “Front ends, clutch linkages, and especially u-joints need the best grease you can buy; know what you are buying, buy quality not price,” he says. “If you don‘t grease a u-joint regularly, it‘s going to blow out on you, and when that happens you have to tow the vehicle in - that‘s expensive. That‘s why paying attention the small details helps you avoid the big problems in the long run.”

And avoiding problems is really what good fleet management is all about.