Trailer care starts at purchase

July 1, 2010
MANAGER: Steve Zaborowski TITLE: Senior vice president-operations FLEET: Xtra Lease, St. Louis, MO OPERATION: Fleet of 90,000 rental/lease trailers, including dry vans, flatbeds, reefers, storage trailers and specialty equipment PROBLEM Trailers take a daily pounding in the trucking business. That's a fact. If trailers are frequently loaded by forklift, their sidewalls can get punctured not to mention

MANAGER: Steve Zaborowski

TITLE: Senior vice president-operations

FLEET: Xtra Lease, St. Louis, MO

OPERATION: Fleet of 90,000 rental/lease trailers, including dry vans, flatbeds, reefers, storage trailers and specialty equipment

PROBLEM

Trailers take a daily pounding in the trucking business. That's a fact.

If trailers are frequently loaded by forklift, their sidewalls can get punctured not to mention the merciless beating the floors take, significantly reducing life expectancy. Both lead to expensive repairs and downtime if the damage is extensive enough. And in regions that experience snowfall, trailer undercarriages and brakes can suffer from corrosion caused by the de-icing chemicals municipalities use to clear the roads.

As more and more fleets enter the intermodal market, new strains are being placed on trailer suspensions that aren't necessarily designed to be elevated by cranes and other equipment on and off railcars.

Even small items can add up in terms of maintenance dollars and downtime, says Steve Zaborowski, senior vice president-operations for Xtra Lease, pointing to tasks such as lubricating trailer gear components.

“We're dealing with trailers all the time, around the clock,” he explains. “Many times, we're handling the maintenance on them, but sometimes our customers are. So we're always looking for ways not only to simplify maintenance but to ease its impact on our longer-term ownership costs.”

SOLUTION:

To lower the trailer maintenance cost burden, Xtra Lease has ordered more than 3,000 composite dry vans and about 400 new reefers this year, with a larger-than-ever percentage equipped with spring suspensions versus the air-ride models favored for dry vans in recent years.

Spring-ride suspensions are easier to maintain, Zaborowski says, so Xtra Lease is spec'ing more of them in select applications. “Now, don't get me wrong; air-ride suspensions are still very, very important in trailer operations,” he explains. “In certain applications though, like intermodal, spring-ride models are more durable.”

That durability issue is also why Xtra is favoring composite trailers versus more traditional “sheet-and-post” designs. “Sheet-and-post trailers are designed with plywood liners, and they can puncture pretty easily when hit with a forklift. More punctures mean more repair work and downtime,” he says.

“Composite trailers, on the other hand, use galvanized steel, which makes them fairly puncture-resistant,” Zaborowski says. “We even add in an extra scuff liner to further protect the cargo envelope, making it more durable.”

Durability again influenced a spec'ing change two years ago, this time to help strengthen the trailer's floor. “We've added extra cross members to give the floor more strength and boost the payload capacity of our 53-ft. trailers,” he says. “Instead of cross members on 12-in. centers, we now have them on 10-in. centers, shrinking to 8 in. over the last 4 ft. of the trailer by the door, where forklifts enter and exit,” Zaborowski notes. “That's also boosted trailer payload capacity to 24,000-28,000 lbs. versus 16,000-20,000 lbs.”

Landing gear is now equipped with automatic lubrication systems to make it maintenance-free for the initial five years of a trailer life. Additionally, most of Xtra's undercarriages are spec'd with galvanized steel and coated with a variety of paints to help resist corrosion. This is also true of trailer brake shoes, which Xtra now buys with special liners to resist what's called “rust jacking.”

“The magnesium chloride and other chemicals they use to clear ice and snow off the road can get into the brakes and cause the brake shoes to crack,” says Zaborowski. “It's not a safety issue because we'd catch something like that during inspections when trailers enter and leave our yards. But it leads to shorter product life, costing us time and money to replace.”

About the Author

Sean Kilcarr | Editor in Chief

Sean previously reported and commented on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry. Also be sure to visit Sean's blog Trucks at Work where he offers analysis on a variety of different topics inside the trucking industry.

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