DOG DAYS: Driving in the summer is a lot less enjoyable if you don't have your air conditioning system running smoothly.
CALGARY, Alta. – With the dog days of summer just around the corner, it’s a good time to ensure your truck’s air conditioning system is working properly.
Since modern A/C systems have numerous sensors and switches built into them to protect the system from damage in the event of a refrigerant leak or failure, some truckers consider the A/C system to be a maintenance-free component.
But with many fleets and owner/operators extending their buying cycles while the newer low-emission generation of engines proves its worth, it’s more important than ever to subject your truck’s air conditioning to an annual system check, says Bob Causton, president of Etobicoke, Ont.-based Computrux.
“The first rule for an air conditioning system, especially in a truck where you’ve got lots of vibrations, is to have it checked regularly,” says Causton.
A system check ranges in price from $24.95 right up to $100 or more, so it’s a good idea to shop around.
Shops that specialize in the A/C system have equipment that’s specially designed to detect leaks and measure pressures that tell the tale of the system’s overall health.
“The pressures that are within the system indicate the health of the system,” says Causton.
“If there are leaks, they can be fixed but a little leak can develop into a larger leak.”
Far and away the most common problem to affect A/C systems is refrigerant leaks.
The most common area for refrigerant leaks to occur is the condenser, which is mounted on the front of the truck, right behind the grille.
“It gets sandblasted all day long as it travels down the road,” Causton says. That, coupled with constant vibration often causes leaks to develop there.
But that’s not the only place leaks can develop.
“There are a lot of hoses (on an A/C system),” says Causton. “There are hoses running from the front of the engine to the back of the sleeper and those hoses can chafe and wear and rust.”
While shops such as Computrux have specialized equipment (such as refrigerant recycling evacuation stations), there are some measures that can be taken by owner/operators or drivers themselves to protect their A/C system from developing problems.
Since the A/C system is entirely belt-driven, the driver should regularly check the belts to ensure there’s no slack and that the belts aren’t wearing out.
If a belt does break, it can do considerable damage to other components under the hood.
“Belts can slip off and knock other belts off or go flailing around,” says Causton.
Another preventive maintenance tip Causton offers truckers is to check the wiring – especially on older vehicles – to see if that’s the cause of an air conditioning failure.
He says about 50 per cent of A/C failures investigated by Computrux are mechanical failures while the rest can be traced back to the wiring.
“As trucks get older, the wiring in them starts to (deteriorate). A significant amount of times the system won’t work because of problems with connections,” says Causton.
If you find yourself on a sweltering run through Texas and your A/C system develops a leak, there are short-term solutions that will keep you cool until you get back to your fleet’s yard or your local A/C shop.
For instance, you can apply a stop-leak substance for A/C systems that temporarily plugs the hole.
“It’s basically a bubble gum sort of solution,” says Causton. “It’ll get you through for a trip or two but that’s all.”
In some cases a refrigerant leak can be so minor that it’s difficult to locate. That’s another reason why an annual system check is a good idea, says Causton. Computrux uses pressurized nitrogen to detect small leaks that can’t be pinpointed by the naked eye.
Because refrigerant is highly toxic, it’s essential to properly maintain your truck’s A/C system. Not only will it keep you cool on those hot summer drives, but it will also keep the environmental police off your back the next time you’re stopped at a roadside inspection.