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Is ‘maintenance-free’ reality or myth?

MARKHAM, Ont. -When it comes to fleet maintenance, there are myriad components available today offering extended maintenance intervals, but the reality is, you'd be hard-pressed to find any product that is totally "free" of any maintenance...


MARKHAM, Ont. –When it comes to fleet maintenance, there are myriad components available today offering extended maintenance intervals, but the reality is, you’d be hard-pressed to find any product that is totally “free” of any maintenance requirements, at one point or another of its life.

The 2010 Canadian Fleet Maintenance Seminars, which took place May 10-12 in Markham, Ont., featured a session covering maintenance- free components, and the reality of working with them.

The seminar featured panel speakers Jake Francis, body shop sales and administration, Carrier Truck Centres, Jim Pinder, a licensed truck and coach technician with Superior Propane, and Richard Sharpe, v.p. of fleet services with MacKinnon Transport. The session was moderated by Todd Dennis of Cargill.

“The philosophy behind low maintenance products was done with the idea of extending maintenance intervals. In general the manufacturer has done a great job of that,” said MacKinnon’s Sharpe. “I think it’s massively important that technicians put their eyes on something, if not the grease gun. We try to maintain proper service procedures using the manufacturer’s recommendations for installation. If a lamp connection fails, for example, it’s frequently because of the installation, not the harness,” he added.

Above and beyond provisional equipment operations, there are many things you can do to prolong service intervals and provide good service, noted Sharpe.

And manufacturers are also more than willing to give you training and to offer guidance on their products, said Superior Propane’s Pinder.

Sharpe added that drivers should also be kept up to date on what to look for in terms of wear on components.

“Our drivers are our last line of defence. If they don’t see these things on a trip inspection, we are opening ourselves up to a lot of issues,” he said.

“If you’re looking for grease or lubricant loss, you’re looking for corrosion.”

“Early stage detection means less cost and opportunity for events that will bring in the inspection people,” added Pinder.

But if a spec’ is supposed to be ‘maintenance-free,’ are there policies on them that even exist?

“Each component does and should have an inspection process. Wear takes place, even if something is ‘permanently lubed’. Even in a maintenance- free battery, while you can’t service the battery, you can service the connection,” said Sharpe.

“A battery is sometimes not secure. If it’s loose and worn through, with fluid leaking out, you might find yourself with a roadside (breakdown). A lot of the pressure has been from vehicle owners, to reduce maintenance intervals. It’s an awareness thing. If the driver feels comfortable telling you that there is something wrong, when he brings it to the attention of the fleet manager, it’s going to get addressed,” said Pinder.

With some components, said Sharpe, it’s not that they’re “free” of maintenance requirements but that they are designed to be maintained after a given period of time.

Ironically enough, some of the equipment that “doesn’t go very far” in terms of accumulating actual mileage may require more maintenance than equipment that is running all the time, said Pinder.

“Shocks are another maintenance issue that get lost on our chassis. A lot of ‘maintenance-free’ is about doing it once, about training, about explaining. Don’t take for granted that (your mechanics, for example) absorbed it the way you intended it. Your maintenance staff can be constantly evolving,” he said.

“It may be hard to check if your shocks are overheated but you can certainly check for leaking,” said Carrier Truck Centres’ Francis.

“It’s your responsibility to maximize a product’s use, as obtained from the manufacturer,” said Cargill’s Dennis.

“You need to know what the manufacturer recommends and when. If you’re getting the product, get the literature to go with it,” he said, noting that fleets need to contact manufacturers on a regular basis when issues come up.

“Fleet managers should maintain relationships with their OE reps. Generally they are very forthcoming with information,” said Sharpe.


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