Without integrity, you’ve got nothing

by John Curran

DON MILLS, Ont. – If your truck or trailer is slated for major surgery, either in the course of modification or repair, maintaining its structural integrity is obviously a must, but there may be more pitfalls than you think.

Manufacturers in the transportation industry spend millions of dollars to ensure they bring quality products to their customers. If corners are cut after the fact, you can certainly expect a jump in downtime and perhaps even shorter total product life. That was the main message Tony Trubiano, of Huck Fasteners, presented to delegates attending the 38th annual Canadian Fleet Maintenance Seminar.

“In the case of truck cabs, all of the components are integral parts,” he says. “That includes everything right down to the fasteners: If you take out a #8 lock bolt you better make sure you put one back in.”

Otherwise, he warns, you’re often going to end up with more cab noise, squeaks or even leaks.

In the case of trailers, he stresses that these are often ‘lean, mean manufacturing processes.’ Weight is usually hyper-critical so anything incorporated into the design is meant to be there for a reason; there are no superfluous parts.

“You don’t make money when your trailers are in the shop,” says Trubiano. He explains this can lead to some seemingly difficult choices – but upon closer inspection, there’s no choice at all.

“Replacing a structural fastener with a nail rivet may seem to make sense,” he adds, “but long-term, it’s just problems.”

Get fussy when you gussy

If modifications are the order of the day, Paron Industries’ Dunc Sinclair insists that talking to the OEM is critical before making any additions or gussets.

“We know the materials used in construction … Take advantage of that engineering support” he says. “Besides, if you tackle it on your own without our help, you own the liability. If you don’t know the math that went into the design, it’s a loaded gun.”

He adds that for this very reason, most manufacturers are hesitant to modify any of their competitors’ products.

There are safeguards to protect the customer and the public, but he explains they don’t do a lot of good if the people you trust to make the modification aren’t on the level.

When you add an axle, for example, he stresses that the brake timing needs to be recertified.

“It’s the law,” he explains cautioning that, “a lot of smaller shops don’t always comply.”

Beware the repair

When you take your baby in for major repairs, Sudbury Kenworth’s Jim Riddle insists his old-school way of thinking may no longer be in fashion, but it can save you a lot of headaches a year or two down the road.

“I think computers are great for doing graphs and charts, but they can’t turn a crescent wrench worth a (damn),” he says. “If I’m broken-down, I don’t want a Web designer or Internet provider to come out and fix my truck.”

He says his hands-on upbringing has helped him learn and now identify the repairs shoddy mechanics will try to pass off on their customers in order to make a few more bucks.

“A strategically placed hockey puck or a pack of Wal-mart washers,” are both things he says fleets and owner/operators need to watch out for when picking up equipment from the repair shop.

At this point some of you are undoubtedly asking, ‘What’s the big deal with shimming a spring?’ It’s huge, insists Riddle.

“You can end up with premature tire wear or handling problems,” he explains. “In some cases, a mechanic will also arc a spring out to hide a crooked frame.”

Anyone who doesn’t have a problem with this sort of negligence should be forced to make any subsequent repairs to the vehicle.

“If you’ve got the front shimmed and break the windshield you should watch the guy try to fix it,” concludes Riddle. “Once the glass is out and the pressure is off the opening can actually change shape.” n

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