Blink, Blink, Cha-Ching

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The D-O-T has a new bee in its bonnet, in case you haven’t heard. It might be more prevalent in the U.S. than here, but it’s now an item on CVSA’s vehicle
inspection list. I’m referring to the ABS warning light on the tractor dashboard.

Remember the hoops the industry jumped through to get those lights to come on? It seems that since the lights were added to the instrument cluster, they’ve been coming on more often than drivers are willing to tolerate. And drivers being drivers, they have taken the situation into their own hands.

CVSA inspectors did a little survey last year and found many of the ABS warning lamps to be, well, missing- taken out of their sockets. Few drivers would miss the ABS warning light check during a start up. With all the other warning lamps that come on today, drivers have to look for the ABS lamp, especially f they frequently drive different tractors. So if one lamp doesn’t come on when they turn the key, they’re not going to miss it.

But they sure as heck notice it glowing at night. It’s an amber light, and it’s bright. And since nobody is going to ground a truck because of an ABS fault, what driver is even going to bother calling it in? Remove the source of the aggravation and keep going.

Coming our way in 2010 is yet another warning lamp, and this one will make you and your drivers crazy.

The 2010 EPA emissions mandate requires an onboard diagnostic system to monitor the performance of the emissions systems. There’s to be a warning lamp
included that will alert drivers to a fault within the system-like the “check engine” light in your car.

How often does your checkengine light come on? If you’re like me, you ignore it and wait for it to go out, because it usually will. You know that light means an annoying, time-consuming, and maybe expensive trip to the dealer because there’s nothing you can do about the problem you’re being alerting to.

It’ll be the same with trucks come 2010. And what do you think drivers are going to do when the “emissions fault” light comes on? Exactly. Take the bulb out and keep driving.

But there’s a darker side to this bulb. The ECM will record the fault, and in an audit, the EPA could find the truckmaker accountable for improper operation of the engine. Do you think the OE’s going to allow drivers to simply remove the bulb? This issue came up at the recent Technology and Maintenance Council (TMC) meeting in Orlando. A panel of engine and OE representatives told the faithful about the pending requirements for an emissions-system fault light in trucks. It was curling my hair.

But this column isn’t about missing warning lamps. It’s about driver training.

A couple of other driver training issues came up at TMC this year, both related to emissions controls, and the occasional need for manual intervention. First was the need to teach drivers how to operate these newer engines; i.e., to keep the revs down and be mindful of shift points. The other related to manual regeneration of the DPF, or ignoring engine commands to do a manual regen.

Fleet maintenance managers reported many instances of drivers over-regening their trucks on the assumption that a cleaner filter improves performance-like the old thinking about changing fuel filters if the engine seemed a little sluggish.

The maintenance guys calculate the fuel burned during these unnecessary regens is costing them thousands of dollars. On the other hand, there were reports of trucks automatically de-rating themselves and becoming undrivable because of partially plugged DPFs.

It’s ironic that as trucks become more automated, they begin to require a level of understanding by the driver that wasn’t necessary in days gone by. More of the day-to-day stuff requires driver oversight, unlike in the old days when drivers could basically ignore the truck unless or until it stopped working. Trucks are getting more complex, yet the drivers’ basic level of knowledge doesn’t seem to be keeping pace.

Entry-level drivers aren’t taught this stuff in school, and existing drivers aren’t offered the training they need by their employers-or so I’m told. You can leave it to the truckstop lawyers, and have your drivers doing manual regens on the assumption that it’ll improve performance, or you can sit ’em down and explain how this technology works. It’ll cost you either way; it’s just a matter of degrees.

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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, and produces Focus On and On the Spot test drive videos.

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