A well structured semi truck maintenance plan is crucial to maintaining a thriving trucking business and sustaining a healthy profit margin. After all, you can’t make money if you’re broken down on the roadside. To assist you in caring for your truck and to help you keep those wheels turning, we’ve put together this guide with wisdom gleaned from generations of successful owner-operators and trucking companies.
What is Preventative Maintenance?
You’re probably familiar with the old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That saying couldn’t be more accurate when it comes to trucking.
Preventative maintenance is your “ounce of prevention.” Developing and sticking to a maintenance schedule will help you root out minor problems and fix them before they turn into major expensive problems.
The three pillars of preventative maintenance are:
- Perform systematic inspections (your daily pre-trip and post-trip inspections)
- Repair defects as soon as you find them, no matter how insignificant a defect may seem
- Invest in a scheduled maintenance program to keep your truck mechanically sound and in safe working order
The federal government has recognized the importance of preventative maintenance in the safe operation of commercial vehicles. They have addressed the issue with regulations that guide truckers toward conducting preventative maintenance to avoid having their truck placed out of service for mechanical defaults.
“Every motor carrier and intermodal equipment provider must systematically inspect, repair, and maintain, or cause to be systematically inspected, repaired, and maintained, all motor vehicles and intermodal equipment subject to its control.” - FMCSA
Each truck manufacturer provides maintenance interval information to help truckers establish their maintenance programs. Follow these interval guidelines to optimize your preventative maintenance schedule and consult a qualified professional before making any repairs or removing parts from your truck.
How Much Does Maintenance Cost?
It isn’t easy to specify an exact amount regarding maintenance costs. With so many makes and models of trucks available, many variables exist to consider. However, a good average is around $15,000 per year, although that amount scales upward as the vehicle ages.
Semi truck maintenance costs are one of the easiest costs to manage by taking a proactive approach. Small expenditures on routine maintenance will prolong the life of the truck and minimize the occurrence of major repair expenses. To further manage costs, compare the routine maintenance costs between dealerships and large truck repair chains, for example, Love’s, TA, and Ryder. Not only do these larger chains provide nationwide service, they are more competitive in their pricing than small mom and pop repair shops, and you have a better chance of receiving discounts.
The most common mechanical issues and repair needs include problems with:
Frequent inspection of these specific parts can help reduce your overall maintenance costs by spotting problems early. To manage your maintenance costs it may be a good idea to plan your maintenance budget per mile. Here are some at-a-glance numbers:
Semi-Truck Preventative Maintenance Schedule
Here is a list of common maintenance intervals. Be sure to check your manufacturer’s recommendations as these values differ between the various makes and models of trucks.
Seasonal changes bring hot and cold weather extremes, such as winter truck driving, that affect your truck differently from one season to the next. To optimize your maintenance schedule, we suggest adjusting your plan to compensate for climatic conditions.
- Air Conditioning: Check for leaks and debris build up
- Coolant: Drain, flush, and pressure test the system at least once a year
- Electrical System: Check the battery for corrosion and ensure that wires are secure
- Tire Pressure: Ensure warm air does not raise the air pressure of tires over safe limits
- Windshield: Check for chips and cracking, ensure wiper blades are clean and free of dry rot, and defrosters are working properly.
- Braking system: Ensure your ABS is working properly before starting a winter drive. Drum brakes can freeze overnight, so look at your tires as you pull your truck forward in the morning and make sure they are rolling to avoid damaging your tires.
- Fluids: Service your filters at manufacturer specified intervals. Check fluids daily, including engine oil, engine coolant, power steering fluid, and wiper fluid
- Tire Tread: Measure your tread depth on each tire to make sure they are compliant with federal regulations: A minimum of 4/32 of an inch on the steer tires and 2/32 of an inch on all other tires.
- Exterior: Visit a truck wash, for example, Blue Beacon, regularly. Road salt is highly corrosive and should be washed off to avoid shortening the lifespan of mechanical components, parts, and the truck’s frame.
Driver Pre-Trip Inspections
Driver pre-trip inspections are the core of a good preventative maintenance program, which aids in truck driver safety. A strict routine for each inspection will keep you from accidentally overlooking a maintenance issue and give you peace of mind throughout your work day.
In addition to your full pre-trip inspection, here are some areas of your truck to inspect every time you stop. Keep in mind while this list looks like it will take a while to complete, you can finish these inspection items in less time than it takes to top off your fuel tanks.
If you can’t stop because of a problem with your brakes, your truck turns into an 80,000 pound missile. To ensure your brakes are in good working order, inspect them every time you stop. Of all the parts that make up your truck, the brakes take the brunt of the daily wear and tear, and they are most likely to wear out the fastest. Knowing how to check that your brakes are in good condition is an essential truck driver skill to master. Here’s what to look for:
- When performing a walk around of your truck, listen for air leaks coming from either the truck or the trailer.
- Inspect every brake pad to ensure there is sufficient lining material. Immediately take your truck in for servicing if your brake pad linings have fallen below the minimum width set by the FMCSA.
- Whether you have drum brakes or disc brakes, inspect for any road debris or foreign materials that may interfere with or damage your braking system.
- Keep an eye out for any cracks or damage to the brake drums, brake pads, rotors, calipers, brake chambers, cam rollers, s-cams, and slack adjusters.
Frequent inspection of your tires can be the difference between getting to your next stop on time and sitting several hours on the roadside waiting for a service truck. Losing a tire can turn deadly in an instant, so keeping an eye out for problems is important, both financially and safety-wise. When inspecting your tires look for:
- Uneven wear, bulges, cuts, abrasions, punctures, penetrations, and cuts on the side walls and tread area of the tire.
- Check the tread depth on every tire using a tread depth gauge. For steer tires, the minimum tread depth permitted by federal regulations is 4/32 inch. It is 2/32 inch on all other tires.
- Use a tire air pressure gauge to ensure each tire is properly inflated to manufacturer specifications. Tire makers print the inflation specs on the tire. Keep an eye out for both underinflated and overinflated tires, and adjust the air pressure accordingly.
A fluid leak, if left unchecked, can have catastrophic consequences in terms of safety, repair costs, and unwanted downtime. It’s always a good idea to keep spare fluids such as oil, antifreeze, wiper fluid, and power steering fluid with you at all times and to keep these critical fluids topped off.
Keeping spare fluid handy is also helpful in the event of a leak, enabling you to limp your truck to a repair center and avoid a costly towing bill. Here are some tips for keeping an eye on your truck’s fluid levels:
- Watch for fluids dripping or pooling beneath your truck. If you notice either a puddle or a drip, attempt to locate the source of the leak and immediately seek repairs.
- Check your oil, antifreeze/coolant, power steering fluid, and wiper fluid levels frequently throughout the day as well as during your pre-trip and post-trip inspections.
- While on the road, monitor your fuel gauge, DEF gauge, oil pressure, air pressure, and ammeter (battery amperage). If any of these begin to fluctuate outside of normal ranges, immediately find a safe place to park and investigate further.
- Most of today’s trucks have additional warning lights to alert you of a problem with fluid levels and other issues. Pay attention to any light that comes on and seek repairs as soon as possible.
Your truck’s electrical system is another key component to safe operation and your mobility, since a dead battery or an alternator on the blink is going to leave you at a standstill. At the start and end of your shifts, here are some important elements of the truck’s electrical system to inspect:
- Perform a full 360-degree walk around your truck inspecting your marker lights, flashers, turn signals, headlights, and brake lights on both the truck and trailer. In addition to ensuring these lights are working, check them for damage such as cracks and holes in the lens.
- When performing your pre-trip or post-trip inspection, when you have your truck’s hood open for checking your fluids, check the wiring to your alternator, make sure it is firmly attached, and has no cuts, abrasions, or exposed copper wiring.
- Keep an eye on your ammeter, if it ever begins to show a negative discharge, your alternator has likely gone bad.
- Inspect your battery bank for corrosion, loose connections and be aware that if you ever smell rotten eggs near your batteries, one may have ruptured and is leaking, or has gone bad and will need to be replaced asap.
A diligent preventative maintenance routine means saving money in the long run, safer operations, and fewer breakdowns. Always consider semi truck preventative maintenance as a core part of being a truck driver, owner-operator, or company owner. Conduct daily pre-trip and post-trip inspections and follow manufacturer guidelines when it comes to maintenance: Change the oil on time, change the filters on time, and fix the minor problems before they become major problems. With a strong maintenance program in place, you’ll enjoy safe and profitable miles as you drive toward success.