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Chemicals that keep roads clear of snow and ice also attack chassis, running gear, electrical systems, cabs, and cab hardware, eating away at metal components like this aluminum fuel tank. Photo: Technology and Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Association

When we entered the 21st Century, a well-equipped Class 7 or 8 straight truck cost $90,000 to $110,000. Inflation should raise that to $100,000 to $120,000 today.

But something happened on the way to 2010.

EPA imposed ever more stringent emissions regulations in 2004 (moved up from October 2002), 2007, and 2010. The first pollution controls, exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) and better control of fuel delivery, added about $2,000 to the cost of a heavy-duty truck. In 2007, diesel particulate filters (DPFs) added another $6,000; and this year's selective catalytic reduction (SCR) systems add still more: $9,000.

Even International Truck and Engine Corp.'s SCR-free system carries increased charges of around $6,000 for Class 8 dump, mixer, and hauler platforms. Thus, over the last decade federal requirements have added roughly 30% to the base sticker price of the largest work trucks. Increases in the beginning price of medium-duty trucks are just a bit less.

And that's just for the emissions controls. Next year, federally required improvements in heavy-duty brakes will boost starting prices even more.

With these increasing costs of new vehicles, it makes sense to keep your current fleet operating for as long as possible. Toward that end, dialog between manufacturers, members of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), and volume truck users at The Maintenance Council (TMC) — now the Technology and Maintenance Council — of the American Trucking Association started in the mid-1980s as a series of “Tomorrow's Truck” white papers. As a result, fuel mileage improved 40% to 50%, engines last hundreds of thousands of miles longer, and cabs look showroom new after a decade.

In the late 1990s, however, a new villain arose to make extending asset life even more challenging. New salt combinations (calcium- and magnesium- as well as sodium chloride) and brines brought great efficiencies to snow removal. But they soon demonstrated a downside: They attack chassis, running gear, electrical systems, cabs, and cab hardware.

WAYS TO AVERT AN ‘INVASION'

Truck bodies are better protected now than ever, due to galvanized steel and polymer paints. Today's urethane base clear-coat systems, when properly maintained, protect against abrasion from sand and gravel and keep their gloss for the life of the truck. At least yearly and preferably more often, polish your truck with products made for commercial vehicles.

Avoid automobile paint systems without catalyzed basecoats. They're not tough enough for commercial service. Neither are most car waxes and polishes. Look for specialized protection designed for trucks.

Inspect to be sure doors, door frames and hardware, hinges, linkages, support hardware, and fasteners are corrosion-free. Latches and handles should operate smoothly. Lubricate to maintain smooth operation.

Salts and chemicals are electrolytes that, when in water, form conductive paths between dissimilar metals. Aluminum cabs on steel chassis are most vulnerable. Even a steel bolt can cause galvanic action and corrosion with aluminum components. Plated fasteners are covered with less aggressive metals that resist corrosion.

Fiberglass doesn't corrode, but mounting hardware does. The key to minimizing rust is to find and break corrosive paths. When corrosion is found, inspect metals around the area. If necessary, disassemble the parts and remove all corrosion. If it's widespread, it may require sand blasting or cutting out and replacing the damaged metal.

Don't just reassemble. Try to identify the corrosive path, and then take steps to break the path. It may require insulated bushings or gaskets to isolate non-structural fasteners. If fasteners must be torqued to specification, use plated fasteners rather than gaskets. Coatings are available that can be applied over rust to neutralize it. But they're short-term corrections, not long-term fixes.

To minimize corrosion and maximize durability, some manufacturers are chemically bonding dissimilar metals to eliminate metal fasteners. When repairs are needed to bonded surfaces, they're best done by experienced professionals.

TMC's Recommended Practices (RP) cover specifying, inspecting, selecting paint systems, preparing surfaces, and even washing and cleaning. You can get the complete RP Manual, including both engineering and maintenance practices, free with a TMC membership (for details, visit www.truckline.com/federation/councils/tmc).

Even if you don't join, get the manual. It's the best maintenance guide you can get.

— Paul Abelson (truckwriter@anet.com) is a former director of the Technology and Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Association, a board member of Truck Writers of North America, and active in the Society of Automotive Engineers.