Golden oldies

by James Menzies

TORONTO, Ont. – So, you’ve got an older engine. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, in the right hands, an older engine can be as reliable and fuel-efficient as the newest technology. Sometimes, even more so.

We caught up with some successful owner/operators who run older engines by choice – not by necessity – and wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I am very fussy about engine oil and filters,” asserts Stephen Large, whose heavy-haul truck is a 1990 Kenworth with more than two million miles and 60,000 engine hours on the Cat. “I don’t believe in extended drain intervals.”

Large religiously changes his engine oil at 200 hours or 20,000 kms and even earlier if he has been hauling heavy loads. He uses nothing but brand name filters and Shell Rotella T 15W-40 engine oil.

“I could save a bit of money by using (lower cost) filters, but in the end, I have found that he way I am doing it, I am getting far more life out of my components than almost anyone else,” he says. “The repairs are expensive and the downtime is a real killer. I feel that I am thousands of dollars ahead after many years with very, very few repairs using the name-brand filters and parts than if I had been trying to save a few bucks by buying cheaper filters and offshore parts.”

Large, who hauls heavy equipment behind his ’90 Kenworth W900 for Stephen Large Trucking, has another golden rule for extending equipment life. “I will not start a diesel engine when it’s cold,” he stresses. “It either stays running or gets parked in a heated shop in winter. When I start the engine, the truck does not move until the coolant temperature is at 180 degrees.”

It seems to be working. Large suffered from a stroke a couple years ago and took the opportunity to review his repair records for the W900. After well over two million miles and 21 years, Large found he had invested less than $40,000 into the truck. Replacement parts included: two sets of cylinder kits, bearings and gaskets; a new cylinder head; a few water pumps; a couple turbos; and resealing of the Cat retarder and rear structure.

“I also changed the thermostat half a dozen times and the exhaust manifold twice and a couple sets of injector nozzles and had to rebuild the injection pump about 10 years ago,” he adds. The head gasket failed recently, but Large blames himself for not replacing it in 2005 when he was last working on it.

“If you do the math, $40,000 over two million miles is two cents a mile and that truck has never been towed home or to a shop,” he says. “It always made it to my dad’s farm when it needed repairs.”

Michael ‘Motor’ Rosenau owns two Freightliner FLD120s, a 1997 day cab and 1998 with sleeper. They’re both powered by Cummins engines, with the 1998 recently rolling past 1.3 million kilometres without any problems.

While Large believes in frequent oil changes, Rosenau takes a different approach. He has a Kleenoil bypass filtration system that he says allows him to change the oil about once a year; and that’s running a lot of city miles.

“I do oil samples every time I change my filters and take them in to make sure there are no shavings in the oil,” he says. “Even when I do change my oil, the samples are coming back showing the oil is still okay and I could keep running with it if I wanted to. But I rarely change oil.”

Besides regularly submitting oil samples for analysis, Rosenau is vigilant about checking hoses, belts and fluid levels. He also washes his engine regularly.

“I was the engine as well as the truck,” he says. Rosenau says he uses soap and a pressure washer when the engine is really dirty and other times it’s a simple dusting. Finally, he suggests always listening for peculiar sounds that may be a precursor of troubles to come.

“Listen for stuff as you’re driving,” he advises. “Listen to the truck and see what it’s telling you. Listen for things that might not sound right. You may have to turn the radio down.”

Having crossed the million-mile mark in his 2001 Western Star with Cat C15, Howard Brouwer has one piece of advice for owner/operators running older equipment. Replacing the fuel lines has allowed his C15 to run like new, and has restored about three-tenths of a mile per gallon, he insists.

He likens the procedure to a bypass surgery for humans.

“I find now, the truck performs like it’s brand new because it’s got the full supply of fuel that the manufacturer designed it for,” he says. “I was just stunned by the difference once we changed those fuel lines.”

Brouwer noticed his engine was losing some power and making noise when he was pulling a grade. His fuel mileage was also being compromised. So he took it to the shop, “and I told the guys, any line that has fuel, I want a brand new line.”

On his next trip through the hills in West Virginia, the noise was gone and the engine had more power. It’s too early to say for certain, but he’s also noticing improved fuel mileage to the tune of nearly a half-mpg.

When the fuel lines were replaced, Brouwer cut open one of the old lines and could see residue that build-up along the inner diameter had choked off some of the supply.

“You could see the difference between the brand new hose and the old hose as far as the internal circumference,” Brouwer says. “That can’t be good for your engine when it’s starving for fuel. If you’ve got an old truck, change your fuel lines.”
It doesn’t have to be expensive, either. Brouwer said it cost less than $500 including labour. He suggests keeping the old fittings if they’re still in good shape to further reduce the cost, as fittings can be pricey.

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