A truck breakdown is every owner operators worst nightmare. The fear of hundreds of dollars in towing charges (on top of inflated repair prices!) is enough to keep any owner operator up at night. But low profit margins and a slow market makes it challenging to put money away into an emergency repair fund. With truck repair labor rates surpassing $110/hour, some emergency funds may only cover half the costs. In the trucking industry, an owner operator must not only have a hefty emergency fund, but must also have a periodic truck maintenance program in place.
Preventative maintenance is one of the most important things in trucking that many owners neglect. Whether it be the down time for maintenance, or the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” attitude, doing periodic maintenance to your truck will save hundreds if not thousands of dollars in the long run. When small problems begin to show up, they should be addressed immediately because they will eventually lead to a bigger, more expensive problem.
This past March I had an unpleasant reminder to the importance of preventative maintenance. I figured that if the truck started and moved, that I really shouldn’t worry about anything other than the typical safety requirements. For a few years I have been having an issue with my fuel tanks not leveling out. Since it really didn’t create any issues other than having to fuel up more often, I neglected it. One day this fault finally turned into a bigger problem that caused a break down. After a hefty towing and repair bill, I found out the reason my tanks weren’t leveling was because one of the fuel pick up tubes was cracked and had finally broken off.
“Breaking down on the side of the highway puts you in a vulnerable position because it is hard to diagnose a problem when you have cars and trucks zooming past you and failing to merge.”
Breaking down on the side of the highway puts you in a vulnerable position because it is hard to diagnose a problem when you have cars and trucks zooming past you and failing to merge. I ended up calling a service truck that charged me over $800 dollars to tell me that I needed my truck towed to a repair shop. The towing charges came out to $1200 for a 45 mile tow to the dealer. Finally a week later the dealer called to let me know that they fixed the fuel issue and found another issue with my top end. After all was said and done, I ended up paying over $9,000 for this total ordeal. With my emergency fund fully depleted I started running again and within two weeks my truck broke down again. This time, the issue was with the engine. The 6th cylinder lost compression and my blow-by tube turned into a smoke machine.
This was the straw that broke the camel's back. When the dealer said I would possibly need an overhaul on an engine with 300,000 miles after an overhaul, I felt my biggest fears take over. I started to think about how I can liquidate all my assets and shut down the business so that I would at the very least come out even with my losses. With an emergency fund that at this point was pretty much non-existent, I was starting to consider other career options.
After taking the weekend off to gather my thoughts and ideas, I realized that the breakdown was one of the best things that happened to me. I got so used to it being easy that this was a welcoming wake up call to show me that in this business it isn’t easy. If you want to stay a float you have to be proactive. You can’t expect business to be easy. Most people fail in this business not because they plan to fail but because they fail to plan. I realized that all of my truck breakdowns that occurred could have been prevented had I been more proactive. When I was having issues with my fuel, I should’ve had it checked and the problem would have been solved without the need for towing or service calls. Had I been proactive, I would have taken the truck in to have it checked when my I realized more smoke and lower fuel mileage. If I had all these issues addressed at my local shop, I would have spent maybe half of what I spent after the fact.
A thorough pre-trip inspection is one of the best and cheapest forms of preventative maintenance in trucking, and especially auto transport. Most problems begin to show slow in trucking, and then they scale up to bigger problems.
Checking your tires regularly for wear will help you spot issues. If you catch a tire issue early enough, you can usually rotate the tire and save it from total destruction.
Your oil level in your engine can tell you a lot about the condition of the engine. If the oil level keeps getting lower there is either an oil leak, the compressor is taking oil, or there is excessive wear in your engine. It is usually ok to add half to one gallon in between oil changes but anything more than that and that may be a sign of some component beginning to fail.
When you pull over after driving for a while, it is also great to walk around the truck and touch the hubs of each wheel. Any hub that burns your hand should be addressed as this could mean that the bearings are starting to give. This is cheap insurance since a hub catching on fire could lead to your whole load going up in flames.
Preventative maintenance is a must in trucking. You can’t expect to run your truck without having to invest in its maintenance. Excessive smoke, poor fuel economy, and rough idle, can all be indications of some component starting to fail. Just like a toothache, if you wait too long, this can lead to bigger and more expensive problems down the road. Sometimes it’s hard to give out your hard earned money into fixing things that may seem like they do not need to be fixed, however, in the long run, it will be worth your while and it will be a lot cheaper. Trust me, I’ve been there.