As you’re aware, trucking is not a nine to five operation. This has implications on many aspects of both your personal and business life, including trying to schedule routine maintenance of your truck or trucks. It’s not easy to get an appointment with a shop at a moment’s notice, so you try to plan ahead, then Murphy’s Law comes along and all your plans fly out of the window. Is there a solution? Well, yes there is: good old-fashioned DIY.
Doing it yourself isn’t for everybody, but for those with a little mechanical knowledge who don’t mind getting their hands dirty, working on your truck can be very rewarding, both in terms of time management and knowing that a job is done right. Let’s cover time management first. Instead of fitting loads around your maintenance schedule, you can fit your maintenance into your work schedule.
If you’re approaching your chassis lube interval, you don’t need to take a short run to get back –you just pull into to a truck stop or rest area and pull on the coveralls, break out the grease gun and in less than 30 minutes you can be on your way with a freshly greased truck. You can even do it as part of your pre-trip inspection; not only will this allow you to be more productive, it also gives you the knowledge that the job has been done properly.
There is no better way to get to know a truck than crawling around underneath it. When you’re under there, you can check other things that a regular pre-trip will miss: loose or chafing wiring or air lines, and rust streaks that are a telltale of loose bolts and cracks. Spotting these things as they start to develop can significantly reduce cost and downtime, and that is just as important as putting miles under the bumper.
Another bonus to this approach is that you will need tools. On the surface, it may appear cheaper to just roll into a shop and pay the $50 for a chassis lube, but the tools you buy will last a long time and in the long run it will be far more economical to splash out in the big boy toy shop. You can also put them down as a business expense and get the relevant tax break on them, so they are a very good investment.
What about if you don’t really know what you’re doing? Well, nobody is born with mechanical knowledge; it’s all learned, so learn. You can use social media sites to ask questions.
You’ll find groups specific to different trucks, engines, etc. Some have video tutorials, which are useful. You can learn a lot very easily.
One other thing that DIY has an impact on is your bank balance. Every hour you spend on the truck is going to save you at least $100 in labor costs. Add that to less time spent waiting for appointments when you can be out there earning money, and it starts to make even more sense.
As I said, it’s not for everybody. You need to do the work properly or you could end up costing yourself a fortune. A grease job is pretty simple, but something that looks easy often isn’t, like changing belts for example. The old worn ones come off with a sharp knife, yet the new ones will need to be threaded over the fan. This can leave your hands looking as though you stuck them in a blender and if something goes wrong, your only option is a call-out, so you need to feel confident before starting a job.
I started driving trucks when they used to fall apart on a daily basis. I was often in a European country where they spoke a different language, so fixing things myself was often my only option. So far, I’ve always managed to get myself home, or to a place where I could get a proper repair, but some of the things I’ve done in the past would land me in hot water with the DOT nowadays. In today’s world, the only way to do a job is to do it right. The idea is to save money and do it properly; just because you can do a job, doesn’t mean you should. Sometimes the best option is to leave it to the professionals.
A fourth generation trucker and trucking journalist, Mark Lee uses his 25 years of transcontinental trucking in Europe, Asia, North Africa and now North America to provide an alternative view of life on the road.