Truck maintenance has always been a less-than-glamorous occupation, but it has never been more vital than it is today. That's because computers are playing an increasing larger role in vehicles, controlling everything from the engine and transmission to the air conditioning system.
It's the dichotomy of using a computer to perform engine diagnostics one minute while getting underneath the vehicle with the wrench the next that requires technicians to be more flexible than ever.
“I like the challenge: you're faced with a different problem every day,” Mike R. Bogard, a Neenah, WI-based Technician Level IV for Ryder System, told me recently.
“I work on everything from light-duty gasoline and diesel vehicles Class 8 trucks, so not only is my workload different every day, the equipment I'm dealing with is different, too,” he said.
Winner of Ryder's Top Technician contest this year, Bogard went to work for Ryder 28 years ago after completing a one-year vocational diesel tech program. He compares the technician's job to that of a trauma surgeon in some ways: on the front lines, with his hands on the “patient,” but with the ability to call up specialists in any number of fields, including engines, axles, transmissions and brakes.
In fact, trucks have become so technologically advanced that the maintenance methods used by truck technicians are surprisingly similar to their counterparts in aerospace and other fields, says Tyrone “Ty” Cross, Ryder's vp-maintenance.
“The majority of my experience previous to Ryder was in aircraft and helicopters,” Cross told me in an interview. He started out with the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division Combat Aviation Battalion at Fort Bragg, NC, as a helicopter mechanic and paratrooper, and later worked on commercial aircraft and helicopters.
“I've been surprised at how [similar] maintenance practices have been between trucks and the military, aviation, and helicopters,” he says. “The equipment may be different but the importance of the technician and the maintenance they perform is consistent.”
Cross also feels that learning new skills is an ongoing part of the job for technicians. “Maintenance is a living program; we can't leave it stagnant,” he says. “That's why we not only value the tenure and experience of our technicians, we look to constantly improve upon it through training so we can stay ahead of changes to the equipment we're responsible for.”
Bogard is right on the same page, developing his own rules of thumb to help stay a step ahead of truck maintenance issues.
“The big issue for me is wiring corrosion. With so much of a truck controlled by electronics and computers, you have to be very aware of corrosion on the wiring that connects it all,” he says. “Another issue is how the rubbing of hoses and wiring bundles can, over time, increase wear on those components. So I always tug at the harnesses and hoses when a truck is in the shop to see how much rubbing they've been exposed to. It's the little things you have to watch out for.”
Cross points out that truck technicians have a great deal of responsibility. “Not only must they be dedicated to safety compliance and customer service, they have to be highly motivated individuals willing to take that next step, looking out for unexpected problems and be willing to grow and learn as new technology gets introduced,” Cross explains. “I strongly believe we have to engage the front line in this process, to get their input so as to help us stay on track with where we need to go. They are the ones out there every day.”