How To Fight Rust and Wear

By Mark Irwin and Tasnima Rhaman

Most of us in the trucking industry are acutely aware of how important it is to keep our assets in good condition, and we work continuously to prolong the life of these valuable commodities.

But maintenance starts early.

With the purchase of a new truck or trailer, we all anticipate that there will be costs associated with replacing parts. In addition to the brakes and the tires, we do our best to ensure that our investments in our fleets will provide us the earning power we desire.

One thing that will remain inevitable though is the unrelenting, often unsympathetic, passing of time.

We may not always see it as clearly as a flat tire or a faulty engine, but time silently shortens the lifespan of our equipment. Impeding the effects of time may seem out of our control, but there are ways to arm ourselves against aging and corrosion.

To do so, it is important to know the pressures that affect the lifecycles of our costly commodities.

Understand the Science, Understand the Problem

Road salts used for their de-icing or anti-icing properties in the winter and extremely caustic dust suppressants in summertime will eat away at the undercarriage and internal components of your vehicles, accelerating damage and deterioration.

Chloride compounds can corrode the body of a trailer and key electrical components of a tractor because of its hygroscopic properties.

But the use of these chemicals remains popular and widespread in Canadian communities (five million tonnes of de-icing salt is used each year) for their unparalleled ability to effectively melt snow due to their chemical makeup.

Upon contact with snow, even weeks after placement, the compounds are active thus making frequent applications unnecessary and providing substantial savings for snow removal.

The particular chemical nature of this compound that makes it so attractive for snow removal is the very thing that makes it such a nasty enemy for people trying to keep trucks on the road.

These dissolved salts essentially depress the freezing point of water, turning ice and snow into liquid or slush and providing dust and ice control on roads.

Regular road salt, sodium chloride (NaCl), is effective from near-freezing to about minus-9 C. De-icers like magnesium chloride (MgCl2) and calcium chloride (CaCl2) can work at temperatures well below minus 18 C making them ideal for thwarting ice formation and preventing snow and ice adhesion to road surfaces ultimately allowing better traction in cold climates.

Though it is apparent that road salts play a considerable role in maintaining winter road safety and efficiency, there has been comprehensive evidence of chloride ions having many harmful ecological implications along with, of course, having detrimental effects on automotive equipment.

Because water is the active ingredient for a corrosive reaction, even the slightest amount of moist air (humidity) provides the perfect setting for corrosion. Moisture acts as a catalyst for these chemicals so as inert dry road salts enter the vehicle’s interior, they become active with contact to humidity.

With this remarkable staying power, combined with such potency, it becomes a parasite when in contact with various vehicle components. Components containing aluminum, copper, or steel are most often the first to be affected. This means A/C systems, body panels and electrical connections or harnesses are most vulnerable.

Considering the abundance of chloride compounds found on our roads, it is not uncommon to see deterioration of parts less than one year old.

We’ve seen corrosion on trailer light cord sockets after just six months, and it was so severe the wiring system failed, leaving the trailer without lights.

We have also seen deterioration on breakers near the battery box and power-distribution module after only six to eight months of operation. Of course, the cost to diagnose an electrical defect is charged by the hour and is generally supplemented by tow charges.

How You Like Me Now? (Fight Back!)

The ideal resistance action plan consists of two tiers; acquisition and ownership:

  1. When acquisition opportunities arise, the lifecycle of the equipment must be determined based on the purchase price, cost of ownership and disposal. Usually, this process will lead to longer ownership time. When assembling specs for trailers’ critical areas of corrosion; namely, the meeting of two dissimilar metals, doors and aluminum panels, must be considered. An increased amount of galvanizing is one of the easiest ways to prevent corrosion without compromising the structural stability of a trailer. Sealed wiring harnesses are also critical along with dielectric grease at all locations.
  2. Once a life cycle has been established, a body-maintenance program should be set in place. Though many protective products are available, we recommend choosing one that has the ability to creep uphill and that has been tested by the industry to resist rust when sprayed with a 25-percent saline solution. The number of hours in this test environment determines the durability of the product; however, there are products that can reach extreme durability (i.e. 6,000 hours) that carry the disadvantage of their inability to creep in between metal connections. Alternatively, there are products that can be as low as 400 hours that would require multiple applications. The ideal product would provide optimum creeping abilities along with sustainable durability.

Undoubtedly, there are many adversaries working against us as we try to safeguard our equipment but with proper care and strategic initiatives, we will gain an optimum lifecycle for our fleet.

— Mark Irwin is Maintenance Manager for Bison Transport in Mississauga and Tasnima Rhaman is Bison’s Administrative Coordinator.


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