Spend now, save later.

Jim Park

It’s the old story of “pay me now or pay me later.” The cheap guy buys on price alone and the wise man considers costs he’s likely to encounter down the road, spec’ing his equipment to limit operating costs and surprise expenses. In the end, the wise man saves more dough and suffers less grief.

Suppliers have brought out many products that promise to cut maintenance and increase trailer uptime, and those gains have never been more important than now.

Time and experience by fleet owners show that most of these products actually work. Many cost just a few more bucks to buy on a new trailer, and some can be installed on existing equipment. Here are some things to consider:

Premium Electrical Components:

Electrical problems still top almost every maintenance manager’s lists of woes, and many could have been avoided with top-quality wiring and lighting fixtures. They’re not hard to find.

On trailers, you should spec sealed wiring with plug-in connectors and a wiring gauge that’s as large (e.g., with the smallest numbers) as possible throughout the vehicle.

The Technology and Maintenance Council of American Trucking Associations (ATA) has published recommendations on wiring (and many other things, of course). You can obtain copies of the Recommended Maintenance Practices and its Re­com­mended Engineering Practices manuals from TMC at 703-838-1763, or visit http:// tmc.truckline.com, and then build those suggestions into your specs.

The more severe your trailer’s application, the more difference you’ll
see in spec’ing the best in electrical and braking components.

LED Lighting:

Lamps made of light-emitting diodes last 10 times as long — and use just one tenth the current — as old-style incandescent lights.

They’re available in red, amber and white, and emit rich rays that catch ­anyone’s eye. They are standard on many trailers nowadays and optional on others. Say yes to these, even though they’re more expensive to buy in the first place.

Tire Inflation Devices:

Tire failures are the single biggest category for road service calls, and most of these expensive experiences are due to low air pressure.

Face it, few drivers bother to ‘stick’ valve stems with a gauge, and it’s sometimes too much trouble for them to get the rig near an air hose if they do detect an underinflated tire. On-board devices can monitor pressure and even do the inflating automatically.

Too expensive for you? At least consider stocking each tractor with a 50-ft air line fitted with a glad-hand connector, or better yet, plumb a quick-connect fitting into the air system to allow easy use by the driver.

Extended-Service Brakes:

Brake shoes with thicker linings and usually wider dimensions can extend the time between relines. A major trailer ­leasing outfit says its extended-service spec — 7/8-in. thick linings vs. the 3/4-in. standard — typically gives 25 percent more mileage between relinings. 

Avoiding one reline can more than ­pay the modest premium for this option, and meanwhile the truck will also stop better.

Maybe it’s also time to consider air disc brakes, which are even more powerful, inherently self-adjusting, and automatically balance themselves. Discs are available from more and more truck and trailer builders.

OE Brake Parts — Original equipment shoes last longer and, according to a recent fleet-manager survey, don’t suffer rusting and lining ‘rust-jacking’ when splashed with aggressive road salts like cheap will-fit shoes do.

This jibes with OE manufacturers’ long-standing claims that their products are of superior quality, and they cost only a few bucks more. You really do get what you pay for, and nowhere is it more clear than in this case.

Integrated Hubs:

Separately spec’ing wheel-hub parts is becoming a thing of the past as smart fleet managers adopt integrated hubs. Bearings and seals are precision-installed by experienced supplier people instead of by harried workers on a truck assembly line.

This all but eliminates misadjusted bearings and damaged seals, which can be major headaches for truck and trailer owners. One major leasing fleet says its switch to integrated hubs almost entirely did away with leaking seals, which usually soaked brake linings with oil and ruined them.

For trailers, there are integrated axle-and-suspension combinations. Virtually all parts, from axle tubes, bearings, seals and sometimes brakes to the air-bag suspension, are assembled by one supplier and shipped to trailer manufacturers.

All that’s left to choose are the wheels and tires. Integrated trailer tandems claim lower maintenance and less weight, often carry a longer warranty, and will cost less than individually spec’d parts.

LED lights are more expensive at the outset,
but they last 10 times as long as ordinary

Anti-Corrosion Coatings:

Increas­ingly nasty road salts and chemicals are corroding parts and causing grief for many trailer operators. So the wise fellow we spoke of would be doubly smart to check into the availability of special coatings, especially in the undercarriage.

Makers of some brake parts, trailer landing gear, and lift gates are applying e-coatings and other special finishes that better withstand the ravages of calcium- and magnesium chloride salts. You’d be wise to seek them out.

Consider pickup-bed-type coatings for the underside of trailers in especially tough service.

So, in the end it really is a simple equation — spec’ing smart equals spec’ing for long-term value, not short-term savings that will disappear in little more than a heartbeat.

Jim Park

Jim Park was a CDL driver and owner-operator from 1978 until 1998, when he began his second career as a trucking journalist. During that career transition, he hosted an overnight radio show on a Hamilton, Ontario radio station and later went on to anchor the trucking news in SiriusXM's Road Dog Trucking channel. Jim is a regular contributor to Today's Trucking and Trucknews.com, and produces Focus On and On the Spot test drive videos.

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