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Preventative Maintenance for Semi-Trucks

Preventative Maintenance for Semi-Trucks – A Comprehensive Guide For Fleet Managers

The fleet is the backbone of the transportation industry. Fleets vary in size and can be a small or big fleet. . However, any fleet with less than 50 vehicles is considered a small fleet, and anything more than that is considered large. Small or big, every vehicle needs to be maintained to ensure performance and get the maximum output. The truck and the driver form a cohesive team of man and machine. Hence it is necessary to have preventative maintenance carried out regularly to ensure the longevity of the trucks.

What is a Semi-truck?

A Semi-truck is a combination of a tractor (truck powered by an engine) that is attached to a trailer. The attachment is made with a fifth wheel called a hitch, a coupling device to haul or drag heavy cargo. The entire tractor-trailer unit is also known as the rig.

It is known as a semi-truck because the trailer, has no front wheels and is towed by a truck or tractor. The front of the trailer rests on the back of the truck or tractor. Semi-trucks are also known as 

  1.  Big Rig
  2. 18-Wheeler
  3. Semi-Tractor Trailer
  4. Semi-Trailer Truck
  5. Tractor-Trailer

Semi-trucks have two categories, sleeper and day cab. The sleeper has a bed in the back of the truck that is used, for long-haul trucking. The day cab is a truck without a sleeping area. Like all trucks, you have to do preventative maintenance for semi-trucks to ensure smooth long-term operations.

What is Preventative Maintenance?

Just as you go for annual medical check-ups to ensure that your body is functioning well, automobiles also require such check-ups to monitor their functioning more frequently. Trucks undergo the rigors of traveling on the most difficult terrains and climatic conditions. Hence, every truck in the fleet must be in top operating condition before each trip.

Preventative maintenance is regular vehicle maintenance or any assets to ensure proper functioning. This would prevent downtime resulting in losses and prove costly to the operator. 

What are the benefits of Preventative Maintenance?

Well-maintained vehicles form the pillars of any fleet. Frequent checks and maintenance reduce the operational hurdles, saving money and time and resulting in profitability. The benefits of Preventative Maintenance are manifold. Listed herewith are some of the benefits that will accrue:

1. Lower Downtime: Downtime is essential for any maintenance activity. Scheduled maintenance will reduce your downtime. A well-planned and scheduled vehicle maintenance will lower the possibility of breakdowns, resulting in the trucks being on roads more than in workshops. With the cost of capital continuously rising, lower downtime will save your money and benefit everyone.

 2. Increase in Overall Efficiency: Effective maintenance schedules will maximize the utility and output of the vehicles. An effectual fleet management system will go a long way in the performance of your fleet and increase truck drivers’ confidence.

 3. Truck & Driver Safety: Preventative maintenance helps guarantee the safety of your vehicles. Poor maintenance will put your trucks and drivers at risk. The damages will not only be confined to the goods but may also result in impairing injuries or fatalities of the drivers.

4. Increase in Fuel Efficiency: Trucks guzzle gallons of fuel, and preventative maintenance is one way to ensure fuel efficiency. With fluctuating global fuel prices, small savings will be a financial life saver for your vehicles. A tight vehicle maintenance schedule can help you achieve this goal.

 5. Cost of Replacement savings: Big fleets face constant breakdowns. It is always better to be prepared upfront and prevent breakdowns, as the cost of on-road repairs is very high. Moreover, some parts may not be available at the place where your truck might break down. Sometimes, the replacement cost is so high that you may find it difficult to bear. A preventative maintenance plan will help you tide over these unexpected situations.

What are the different types of Preventative Maintenance?

There are different types of preventative maintenance practiced. However, many find it hard to understand which method best suits them.

 Following four types of preventative maintenance are followed.

1. Time-based Maintenance: Also called calendar-based maintenance, it is done at periodic intervals. It’s a simple and commonly used maintenance, whereby vehicles undergo regular inspections. It’s preferred because it is relatively inexpensive in comparison to other types of vehicle maintenance.

 2. Meter-based Maintenance: It is also known as performance-based maintenance. This maintenance would include an engine oil change after a specific number of miles is covered.

3. Failure-finding Maintenance: This maintenance involves only finding a fault or defects in the truck. The objective is to find out if there is an existing problem and address it to prevent it from compounding in the future. It does not involve any replacement of parts. For example: Generating smoke near a vehicle to trigger its smoke alarm. In case of failure, the smoke alarm needs to be changed. 

4. Predictive Maintenance: Predictive maintenance is neither done periodically nor as a reaction to any malfunction in the truck. This technology-driven vehicle maintenance works on an algorithmic prediction. Due to this early detection, your vehicles can address any problems before they occur, resulting in cost savings for your organization.

What is a Preventative Maintenance Checklist?

A preventative maintenance checklist is a systematic program for vehicle maintenance and should be an integral part of your fleet management system. There is no defined checklist in the trucking industry. Every company has its own set of maintenance checklists suitable to the type of vehicles they own. However, as per industry standards, the following points listed herewith form a part of almost every preventative maintenance checklist.

  1. Engine
  2. Under the Hood, Fluid levels
  3. Chassis
  4. Brakes
  5. Driveability checks
  6. Emergency equipment

How to Create a Preventative Maintenance Checklist?

1. Your preventative maintenance checklist needs to be concise and not try to focus on too many things at a time.

2. A comprehensive checklist will keep the preventative maintenance process in check and control.

3. To be most effective, you need to have a list of each part that includes even the tiniest nuts and bolts integrated into your preventative maintenance checklist.

4. It is also necessary for you to have the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) manuals wherever possible. It will ensure that you are not missing out on anything important.

5. You need to check historical records of your fleet and factor instances of using non-original parts, apart from those mentioned in the OEMs. In case of such exceptions, your preventative maintenance checklist should have provisions for recording the same.

List of Activities in a Preventative Maintenance Checklist for Semi-Trucks

There is a wide range of activities that form a part of the preventative maintenance checklist for semi-trucks. Following are some tips that can be included in your list to help the fleet function more effectively and efficiently.

1. Make a Fleet Inventory

Firstly, the Preventative maintenance checklist should include details of the vehicles. You should note the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number), brand and model, year of acquisition, and current mileage of each truck. You need to ensure that every semi-truck should have this checklist in its cabin. The activities should be separated, depending on their frequencies. There have to be separate checklists for Daily, Weekly, Monthly, Half-yearly, and Annual activities.

2. Engine

The engine is the heart of every automobile and needs the utmost attention. You need to take special care to ensure it is in good condition. Following inspections are required while checking the engine for preventative maintenance for semi-trucks.

  •  Check engine for oil, fuel, and coolant leakages
  •  Check power steering level
  •  Check radiator mounting for cracks or looseness
  •  Check A/c condenser mounting for cracks
  •  Test antifreeze protection
  •  Inspect coolant hoses and test the cooling system
  •  Inspect coolant recovery and pressure test radiator cap
  •  Check engine wire seals and connectors for damage

3. Check Fluid Levels Regularly

Fluids are essential for vehicle maintenance. You must check all fluids, including engine oil, brake oil, coolant or antifreeze, and power steering. Verifying the levels of these fluids does not take a long time. The fleet manager must ensure these requirements have been adhered to. In this way, any visible leakages between checks can be arrested immediately and fixed.

4. Changing Fluids

Changing fluids is critical to your vehicle maintenance. The frequency of changing fluids depends on the distance driven and the weight of the load carried by the truck. You need to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for changing fluids. You should specifically instruct the truck drivers not to compromise on the quality or brand of fluids in case of a top-up requirement during the journey.

5. Check Air Filters

The air filter is an integral part of vehicle maintenance. The air filter protects your engine and oil from outside particles and pollutants that contaminate and damage the engine eventually. As the air filter gets clogged, it will reduce the amount of air getting into your engine and impact its performance. Changing the air filter would depend on the type of routes your truck takes. If you drive in less polluted cities, the air filter needs a change after 20000 miles. In case of dusty roads, you need to change it between 10000 to 15000 miles.

6. Inspect Brakes

The most critical part of any vehicle maintenance is brake inspection. Brakes are life savers and have to be in the best condition. The brakes face the maximum brunt, and they are most likely to wear out or damage fast. You need to constantly monitor the brakes of all the vehicles and replace them immediately on the first signs of wear. Take your truck to the workshop if the brake pad linings are not compliant with the minimum width set by the FMSCA (The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration). Brakes are of two types Air brakes & Hydraulic brakes. You need to consider the following points while checking brakes:

Commercial Vehicle Maintenance Checklist - A Complete Guide
Source: doForms

 Air Brake Inspection

  • Inspect air lines and front brake chambers
  • Inspect front brake lining/pad condition and thickness
  •  Inspect front brake drum/rotor condition
  •  Perform ABS (Anti-lock brake) self-test

Hydraulic Brake Inspection

  • Inspect master cylinder and fluid condition
  • Inspect both front & rear brakes and lines
  • Inspect front brake lining/pad condition and thickness
  • Inspect all valves, hydraulic lines, hoses, and fittings for leaks

7. Tires

Tires need frequent inspection as they are prone to wear out soon. You have to look for bulges, uneven wear, cuts, abrasions, and cuts on the tread area and the sides of the tires. You need to check the tread depth by using the tread depth gauge on each tire. You should ensure that the tires are compliant with the minimum tread depth permitted by federal regulations. Make sure you have semi-truck tires installed in your trucks. You need to do the following inspections of tires as a part of preventative maintenance.

  • Inspect for sidewall damage and cuts
  •  Inspect for irregular wear-out patterns
  • Check wheel bearings and lube cap
  •  Check and record the tire pressure
  •  Check for loose lug nuts
  •  Inspect for damaged or cracked wheels
  • Check and record tread design
  • Check wheel bearings and axle flange seals for leakages

8. Electricals

Electricals are very important in preventative maintenance activity. You need to check whether the headlights, flashers, turn signals, and brake lights on the truck and trailer are in perfect condition. Check if there are any cracks or holes in the lens. Check whether the all-around wiring in the truck has no cuts or abrasions. Additionally, check the batteries for loose connections or corrosion, and replace them immediately for any leakage.

9. In-Cab Inspection

Cab inspections are vital, as it is here that the drivers of the semi-trucks spend most of their time. The cabin must be comfortable and conducive for long trips. You need to consider the following points while performing preventative maintenance:

  • Check ignition key and start button
  • Check seat belts, seat suspension, and overall condition
  • Check dash lights and gauge illumination
  • Check dash gauges
  • Check horn operation
  • Check defroster and A/c heater controls
  • Check clutch pedals
  • Check steering operation
  • Check parking brake operation
  • Check wiper blades
  • Check mirror & brackets
  • Check window glass and operation
  • Check and lube doors

10. Apart from these, there are some checks that you need to perform based on hours spent on the road. The following table gives a break-up of the points that need to be a part of preventative maintenance for semi-trucks:

Sr NoHours Spent on RoadActivity
1For every 250 to 500 hoursBasic engine checks include the following oil ChangeOil filter change engine air filters change fuel filters change
2For every 1000 to 1200 hoursChange cabin air filters replace coolant filter (if required)Inspect air dryer (if required)
3For every 4800 to 5000 hoursHydraulic oils – Change or fill if required hydraulic filters – Replace at 80%Inspect pins and bushings for play or if they have worn outCheck radiator check hydraulic tank

11. Advanced technology has made the preventative maintenance process digital. A comprehensive fleet management system can streamline the entire process. Installing such a system in the vehicle will have manifold benefits mentioned herewith.

  • A GPS tracking solution can track driver routes, locations, and distances.
  • These fleet tracking solutions will send customized service alerts to the fleet manager. The configuration of these alerts can either be on distance traveled or any other criteria.
  • DTC (Diagnostic Trouble Codes) track problems detected by a computer onboard the vehicle and can be generated in no time. It will help in alerting the fleet manager of any critical issues faced.
  • Hardwired GPS trackers in the truck engines help managers schedule maintenance based on mileage. The fleet management system also assists the drivers and managers decode the DTC code and understanding vehicle trouble.
  • All the preventative maintenance checks can be logged and documented in the software and retrieved whenever needed.
  • An exhaustive, preventative maintenance schedule for semi-trucking can help you automate the entire system and keep your vehicles and drivers in the best condition for the roads.

A good GPS tracker will benefit fleets in the long run. Matrack offers the best range of GPS trackers. MA-Hardwire is one such tested device that is tamper-proof and designed for Fleets management. With its compact design and direct battery connection, this real-time tracker will be a boon to your business..

Conclusion

A preventative maintenance checklist for semi-trucks will help keep your vehicles in good condition and avoid costly repairs and downtime. It is a mandatory requirement. The FMSCA requires at least one annual period of maintenance inspection. A good preventative maintenance policy will go a long way and benefit fleet managers, truck drivers, and the management in the long run.

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