Repair frustrations

by Mark Lee

As owner-operators or small fleet managers, we have to have an edge, something that sets us apart from the crowd.

That can be a greater need to go to work – the big bills and payments ensure that we have to make a certain amount of money or we will fail – or it could be a better attitude and customer service, or it could just be that we have less hassle than those employing drivers and having the additional back office infrastructure necessary to support them.

However, being a one-truck operator or having just a handful of trucks isn’t always an advantage. One such area being repairs and maintenance. Here, we are left with little choice. Trucks today are infinitely more complicated than they were in the past – you cannot simply go to a workshop and get something fixed. The workshop has to have the correct software to find the problem in the first place and there are very few generic parts on a truck nowadays, so parts stock is of paramount importance.

In short, we’re a captive audience. For anything more complicated than an oil and filter change or a chassis lube, we’re forced to go to a truck dealer’s workshop and in my experience, this is not always a good thing. It was the main reason behind my decision to get a heated shop in which to park my trucks and try to do as much of the work as I could.

On my glider kit, it’s pretty simple basic stuff. On my post-emissions truck, it’s not so easy. However, I have a small local workshop that is affiliated with a main dealer, so anything requiring plugging in to a computer is done by them.

I felt that this step was necessary due to a catalogue of errors that I’ve had to contend with after having work done within the manufacturers’ dealer networks – and take note that I say manufacturers, plural.

I’m not just singling out one manufacturer or dealer workshop – I’ve had issues with different manufacturers and different workshops in different provinces.
My first problem started after the first service with my new truck in 2014. I had a starting problem. It turned out to be a pinched O-ring on a fuel filter, a pretty insignificant thing in and of itself, but it left me dead on the side of the road.

Next time was far more serious. After fixing an oil leak at the rear of the engine my truck developed a vibration. I called the dealer and they said to bring it back when I was back in town. The vibration got worse and I pulled on my coveralls and slid under the truck looking for the cause.

I found it and was horrified to discover that the hanger bearing had not been secured to the frame properly, leaving the driveshaft to wobble around. Now this could have had dire consequences. If the driveshaft had come apart and dug into the ground at highway speed, I doubt I would be here now; that would have caused a catastrophic crash.

Two stupid mistakes that should never have happened. Mechanics 101 teaches not to pinch O-rings when changing filters and if you loosen something, make sure you tighten it back up.

I managed to put it right myself and after taking it back to have the hanger bearing replaced, I collected the still new truck, only to find the interior trashed, grease on the seat, and my GPS charger broken – some other things that should never have happened.

Another truck, another dealer, another workshop, a truck developed a coolant leak. It needed a water pump replacement.

This was done in good time and at a reasonable cost. So far, so good. Until the driver pulled out of the dealership and discovered the tensioner pulley next to the water pump had seized. During the multi-point free check the truck received whilst in the shop they discovered a slightly cracked rubber gladhand seal and something else so minor that it wasn’t worth mentioning.

Yet, they didn’t pick up that the tensioner pulley was seized, even though they had worked on it to change the water pump! They also managed to break one of the catches that secured the side fairing and not only did they not mention it, they also denied responsibility and wanted to charge me for its replacement! Needless to say, I rejected their kind offer.

On the same truck at another workshop, it needed a new cylinder head, a couple of months out of warranty. Ouch!

Anyway, this was done and upon collection the truck developed a coolant leak, which I discovered to be from a cracked radiator top hose elbow. It wasn’t leaking before the new cylinder head was lifted into place by the overhead gantry, yet it was after that. A simple deduction tells me that the head came in contact with the elbow during installation. When I suggested this, I was told to “prove it.”

These are just some of the things I’ve experienced, and I’m sure many of you have similar horror stories. I have many more too, so you can understand why I want to do things myself and why I believe that there should be more choices available regarding who works on your equipment – in those cases where you don’t have the time and/or knowledge to do things yourself.


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.

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