Trucking Veterans Analyze ’02 Engines

by James Menzies

SAN ANTONIO, Tex. – Reviews of the 2002 EPA-compliant engines voiced at a recent panel discussion at the American Trucking Associations’ annual conference ranged from “pleasantly surprised” to “disturbing.”

Of the five panelists who took part in the discussion: Marty Fletcher, USXpress Enterprises; Jeff Philpot, Kirk Nationalease; Dennis Soch, Kellogg Snack Division; Dwayne Haug, Werner Enterprises; and Joe Stianche, Sanderson Farms, all have experienced fuel degradation with the ’02 engines. But by just how much? Well, the numbers are all over the map.

Reported test results have shown tandem axle tractors have experienced as little as .06 per cent loss in fuel economy, while some engines tested by USXpress have seen fuel economy losses of up to 12 per cent. Of course, there are so many variables at play that it’s impossible to get a precise reading across the board, but most on the panel reported they were experiencing about a five per cent loss in fuel economy on average.

Since the ’02 engines are still in the early stages of their lives, the panelists admitted they still have concerns that go beyond fuel consumption.

“Our key concerns are up front costs, reduced fuel economy and lost utilization due to reliability,” said Fletcher. However, he added “We have not seen a myriad of problems component-wise.”

One frustrated fleet manager in the audience wasn’t so fortunate. He related his experience after buying an early batch of nearly 100 engines.

“We had serious maintenance problems, but they have resolved those,” he said. Turbines, alternators and valve switches caused headaches for his fleet.

None of the panelists reported having any such problems.

“When we got’em, they all started and ran,” said Stianche. “The guys in the shop looked at them and all the parts were there.”

All the fleets represented on the panel said driver acceptance has been strong. The performance of the ’02 engines hasn’t been compromised and in some cases drivers have said they prefer the new engines.

“We’ve had no driver complaints and no driver issues as we’ve implemented these engines into our fleet,” said Werner’s Haug.

Still, there is some trepidation among equipment purchasers and maintenance managers as to how well the engines will age.

Philpot said his company expects to get between 750,000 and one million miles out of a tractor, and “We’ve got a few years to find out yet whether we’re going to achieve that.”

Haug said he’s concerned the extra heat generated under the hood may cause maintenance problems down the road. Fan-on time has increased dramatically, the panel reported.

“We are facing higher operating temperatures and with higher temperatures comes wear,” said Philpot.

Another concern voiced by the panel is that while the old engines generally delivered better fuel mileage once they were broken in, that hasn’t been the case with the ’02 engines. The engines have flatlined with no performance improvements after that initial break-in period of 50-60,000 miles, said Haug.

While most of the panelists are experiencing fuel degradation near the high end of what they were expecting (in the three to five per cent range), Kellogs’ Soch says his fleet has been “fairly impressed” with the new engines. He admits his operation varies significantly from that of many linehaul trucking companies, which may explain why the carrier has only seen a drop in fuel economy of less than one per cent.

“Our big concern is how long is this vehicle going to last? What kind of problems will we have down the road?” he said. “But we’ve had no exhaust-related problems, driver acceptance has been good, engine noise remains minimal and we’re very pleased with that.”

All the panelists said they’ve yet to experience any kind of soot buildup in the oil – another concern voiced prior to the release of the ’02 engines. But it’s still too early for an accurate oil analysis. As moderator Carl Kirk of the ATA said, “It would be like testing the cholesterol of a young person.”

Haug suggested the burn rate while idling is higher than it was with the pre-’02 engines so there’s extra incentive for drivers to reduce idling time when possible.

Whether or not fleets can find a way to compensate for the reduced fuel mileage they’re getting remains to be seen. Stianche said he’s hoping tire manufacturers will be able to develop tires that win back some of that fuel economy.

“Better tire technology is the only thing we can see that could get us back to where we were. But all we are doing is making up for a loss. If we could’ve avoided that loss, we’d be in a better place,” said Stianche.

“It’s the first time we’ve bought new vehicles at a substantially higher price and received worse fuel economy.”

Fletcher said while manufacturers are already working towards meeting the even more stringent ’07 emission standards, he hopes they continue making enhancements to the current engines.

“We can’t put this on the back burner because these trucks are out there running for the next few years,” he said.

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