I would like to use this column as a way of sharing some of the things I’ve learned over the years, mostly about improving fuel economy and lowering maintenance and operating costs.
Coming from the UK, where diesel fuel is extremely expensive and rates are low, it’s a subject dear to my heart.
I’ve done extensive research, had many hours of training from industry experts and put a lot of what I’ve learned into practice, so it would be very simple to hit the keyboard and e-mail the results to the editor – money for old rope, really.
However, I just can’t. Something always comes up that changes things and there seems to be a pattern to that something.
Yes, you’ve guessed it, emissions. Or to be more accurate, the failure of the emission control systems on modern trucks.
A good friend of mine runs a trucking company with 20 trucks. His fleet is all under three years old, with the exception of a couple city trucks. If you knew nothing about modern trucks and listened to this guy talk, you would think he was jinxed or was paying the price for misdemeanors in a previous life.
In the last six months there has not been a single week where he has had his whole fleet out on the road earning money.
Some weeks a quarter of the fleet is in a shop somewhere in North America and every single problem is somehow related to EGR, the DPF or SCR.
As I write these words, he has three trucks off the road. These three trucks have been off the road for over a week. Two of them had spent a week in the shop before this visit too.
One of them had a new SCR system fitted and was off the road for a week. It then went 1,200 miles before shutting down, this time with a DPF fault.
It needs a complete new DPF system fitted; the only problem is that there are only two available in North America, one in Chicago, the other in Canada. The truck, meanwhile, sits in Texas.
The second truck also needs a new DPF system, despite having a new one fitted the previous week. It is currently on day seven in the shop and the light at the end of the tunnel is conspicuous by its absence.
The third truck has SCR issues, so far three days in and the shop has gotten as far as diagnosing that it has SCR issues, but they do not know the specifics.
I’ve spoken to all three drivers and they tell me they are not alone, there are other drivers in the same position at each of the dealerships.
And to make matters even worse, each of the trucks has a different brand of engine.
Two different truck manufacturers are involved too, so these problems are not isolated. In my opinion, the whole EGR, DPF, SCR thing is a disaster.
Worse still is the sad fact that not only are there big problems with the systems, when they do go wrong, nobody seems to know how to put them right.
They keep throwing parts at the problem hoping that it will go away.
And to add insult to injury, the parts are never in stock, in one case last year at this specific company a truck was waiting for parts for three weeks.
Out of the 15 new trucks, not one of them has been trouble-free. Two have needed engines rebuilt with less than 300,000 miles on them, both caused by EGR cooler failure which led to excessive bearing wear caused by coolant in the oil.
These two are part of a batch of three trucks that are pre-SCR. The third one is suffering from low oil pressure, a sure sign of bearing wear.
The only good thing about any of this is that the work is all covered under warranty. The loss of earnings, layover pay and hotel bills are not, and this sorry saga is having a major effect on my friend’s business.
He did have plans for expansion, the work is there, but he doesn’t want any more headaches than he already has, so no more trucks will be added in the near future.
Not until somebody, somewhere, can get a grip on these malfunctioning emissions control systems and he can send a truck down the road, confident it will be able to return without spending a week in the shop along the way.
Now to finish on a positive note, he has four trucks that are trouble-free, the two city trucks, which are old over-the-road tractors with the bunks removed.
They have pre-emission engines and he also has two gliders with pre-emission engines: no EGR, no DPF, no SCR, no breakdowns. A coincidence? I think not.