Author: Tom Gelinas

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How to Maximize the Tire Life of Medium-Duty Trucks

Because every fleet is different, what you spend on tires is going to be unique for your operation. One thing is certain, however: No matter what your operation, tires are going to make a significant contribution to your cost of doing business. Because of that fact, it’s important for fleet professionals to do everything possible to minimize the cost of every 32nd of an inch of tread rubber they purchase.

Spec Tires Designed for Long Life
Although radials dominate the tire market in every commercial application, there are still some fleets using bias-ply designs. It’s not the original price that should be considered when buying tires; what’s important is the total cost per mile the product delivers before it’s scrapped. And a radial will win that contest every time.

There is less rolling resistance and heat generated as a radial rolls down the road because of its steel-supported tread and casing. This results in better fuel economy, longer casing life and lower cost per lifetime mile than bias-ply designs. Radials also offer bonuses of better road handling, improved driver comfort and less downtime.

Maintain Optimal Air Pressure at All Times
After any tire is put into operation, ongoing maintenance is required to maximize its service life, and air pressure is the most critical tire maintenance factor. Operating with an underinflated tire will cause heat buildup in the casing, leading to shortened casing life, irregular tread wear and possible sudden tire destruction. These possibilities make it imperative to perform regular pressure checks. Air will migrate through the walls of every tire, causing them to lose pressure over time. Lost air must be regularly replaced.

Inflation pressures should be checked with calibrated tire gauges – not tire billies – at least weekly and definitely before any long trips. Check pressures when tires are cold; early morning is normally a good time. Even a short trip will cause heat buildup and a pressure increase. Remember, never bleed air from a hot tire.

When tire inflation pressures are being checked, it’s also a perfect time to inspect those same tires. If a regular pressure check finds that a tire has lost 4 psi, look for something that could have caused such a loss – valve leakage, tread penetration or rim damage, for example. You should consider any tire to be flat if it is found to be 20 percent below its desirable air pressure, and it should be removed from service as should any tire with a bulge, crack or cut.

Ensure Timely Vehicle Inspection and Maintenance Intervals
While both underinflation and overinflation can cause rapid tread wear, most tire wear problems can be traced to the vehicle’s condition. Alignment refers to more than steering axle geometry. Total vehicle alignment also addresses the tracking of all axles on the vehicle to include any trailer axles. The Technology & Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Associations ( has established recognized standards for vehicle alignments in its Recommended Practice 642.

Regular vehicle alignment checks included in a preventive maintenance program will help to minimize tire costs and help control fuel consumption. Consider including vehicle alignment checks:
• Upon delivery of new vehicles.
• At a vehicle’s first maintenance check.
• When new steer tires or front-end components are installed.
• When tire wear suggests a problem.

Tires are expensive for any fleet, but attention to both tire and vehicle maintenance will not only help in minimizing your tire cost per mile, it will also help to increase your fuel economy.

About the Author: Tom Gelinas is a U.S. Army veteran who spent nearly a decade as a physicist before joining Irving-Cloud Publishing Co. While at Irving-Cloud, he worked in various editorial capacities for several trade publications including Fleet Equipment, Heavy Duty Equipment Maintenance and Transport Technology Today. Gelinas is a founding member of Truck Writers of North America, a professional association, and a contributing writer for Utility Fleet Professional.


Effective Preventive Maintenance Programs

A tool is anything used as a means of accomplishing a task or purpose. That being the case, few experienced fleet managers would argue with the idea that a good preventive maintenance (PM) program – properly performed and in a timely manner – is one of the best tools any shop can make available to its maintenance technicians.

If a fleet has an effective PM program, its vehicles likely will spend less time in the shop and experience far fewer road breakdowns. Additionally, its trucks will typically have longer service lives and greater disposal values than those of a shop that looks upon PM as a burdensome activity. The program will also save the fleet money.

If a good PM program will save money, can you conclude that performing more of this type of maintenance will save even more money? Definitely not. Like too much of anything, too much PM will not provide better results than a PM program optimized for your fleet.

Every vehicle comes with an OEM-recommended PM program, but if it’s built around oil change intervals as many programs are, does it take into account the changes in lubricant products currently available to you? “My belief has always been that we have plenty of life available in the oil,” said Darry Stuart, president and CEO of DWS Fleet Management Services ( “However, we still need to do a good PM inspection so the vehicle can get to the next PM without a problem under operating conditions that are normal for that vehicle.”

Extending service intervals may be allowed under certain situations, but when considering extending intervals, operators should have an effective oil analysis program in place. It is also a good idea to include a dry service in the schedule between wet services to identify worn or damaged components before they fail on the road, causing unnecessary expense and downtime. Always keep in mind that extending service intervals requires close monitoring and may impact overall life-cycle performance.

“I don’t like the term ‘extended drain intervals,’” Stuart said. “I believe it’s really optimizing the life of the lubricant. Years ago, we had to deal with oil that simply wasn’t capable of doing the job delivered by today’s products. Today we have lubricants that can perform very effectively beyond engine manufacturers’ recommendations.”

Yesterday’s oils needed to be changed at intervals that worked well with desirable PM inspection periods, so the industry built PM programs around the quality of engine oil. Even then, however, many aggressive fleet managers in line-haul operations would stretch oil change intervals. “If we want to operate in an environmentally friendly manner, we need to use the oil for as long as we can,” Stuart said. “I’m included in those who believe that oil never really wears out. It’s the additive package that dwindles over time.”

If you’re interested in optimizing your PM intervals to save money, don’t stop at your road equipment. Utility fleets generally have many powered units in addition to trucks and automobiles. These need the same kind of attention as road equipment. The most cost-effective PM programs are the result of hard work aimed at having all service scheduled. Unscheduled downtime is very expensive.

About the Author: Tom Gelinas is a U.S. Army veteran who spent nearly a decade as a physicist before joining Irving-Cloud Publishing Co. While at Irving-Cloud, he worked in various editorial capacities for several trade publications including Fleet Equipment, Heavy Duty Equipment Maintenance and Transport Technology Today. Gelinas is a founding member of Truck Writers of North America, a professional association, and a contributing writer for Utility Fleet Professional.

Train for Efficiency

Today’s trucks and automobiles have hundreds of programmable features that can be used to customize these vehicles for a fleet, and today’s technicians need to understand how to program these parameters as well as how to utilize the many diagnostic modes in modern vehicles. Since technological change is one of the few constants in our industry, such demands make ongoing training critical to keep technicians efficient.

Darry Stuart, president and CEO of DWS Fleet Management Services (, echoed such sentiments. “Ongoing training for technicians is critical,” he said. “The advent of electronics has made the truck a very sophisticated machine. While it incorporates sophisticated control systems, it contains even more sophisticated diagnostic systems, which have taken a good portion of the guesswork out of troubleshooting. As a result, fleet technicians need regular training to keep up with these changes.”

Most employees – and certainly those with a desire to succeed – seek as much training as possible so they can better perform their jobs, qualify for monetary rewards and elevate their positions. And knowledgeable fleet professionals understand that staff training will help their companies gain operational efficiencies. On the other hand, it’s important to understand that you may have someone who is satisfied with what he or she is doing and really doesn’t want to progress. You may have to find a place for such a person if you want to keep him or her on your staff.

New Hires
When fleets need to make additions to their shop staff, most fleet professionals prefer to hire technicians with some practical experience, but all too often such personnel are not available. While trade schools are a source of young people who have been exposed to some of the basics, vocational school graduates generally still need a good amount of support before they’re ready to handle assignments on their own.

New hires, without a few years of practical experience, are usually assigned tasks such as cleaning parts, fueling and lubricating vehicles, and driving vehicles into and out of the shop. Beginners are then promoted as they gain knowledge and experience and as vacancies become available. These workers advance to increasingly difficult jobs as they prove their ability and competence. During this time they are often assigned to work under a more senior technician on engines and other systems such as brakes, transmissions and electrical systems.

Sometimes, however, fleet managers are faced with a lack of ample training time for new hires, or simply do not set aside the appropriate amount of time. “The most important activity in any shop is preventive maintenance,” Stuart said, “but it seems very difficult for a fleet manager to take a new technician, sit him down in the break room and let him review the fleet’s PM procedures, which, of course, should be available for review. A new hire, even one with experience, should have two or three hours every day for at least a week to go through established procedures. Too often, a new technician is put to work immediately.”

Determine Training Needs
Stuart suggests you practice management by walking around the shop floor. If you establish an atmosphere of open communication, technicians won’t hesitate to tell you their problems and potential training needs as you wander by. In your wanderings, you can also check scrapped components to see if they really need to be replaced.

Vehicle OEMs and major component manufacturers can supply you with standard repair times for many of their products. Compare these times with those needed in your shop for particular jobs and you might find that you need an evening in the break room with pizza and vendor training for your staff. If you require staff members to attend these types of sessions, be sure they are on the clock.

Our industry is fortunate to have suppliers who consider aftermarket training as part of their cost of doing business. Most have personnel in the field who can conduct training at fleet locations to ensure their products continue to perform satisfactorily, but it’s up to you to make sure that what’s being presented is in line with your policies. Remember, vendors want to sell parts; fleets want to avoid buying parts unnecessarily.

What’s the best training for shop technicians? “Some classroom training is fine, but training by an older mentor is best,” Stuart said. “Too often, though, a mentor simply shows the trainee how to do something, and the young tech never gets a chance to put his hands on the work. The mentor should do some awareness training, then let the young man do the work using the five-minute rule. If you can’t figure what’s wrong or need help after five minutes, ask the question.”

Whether it’s to familiarize technicians with new technology or to reduce the purchases of high-cost maintenance items, ongoing training is a necessity. You’re going to part with some money to get that training, but if you’ve done your homework and scheduled the proper training, the money will likely come back to you in improved efficiency, making it an investment – not an expense.

About the Author: Tom Gelinas is a U.S. Army veteran who spent nearly a decade as a physicist before joining Irving-Cloud Publishing Co. While at Irving-Cloud, he worked in various editorial capacities for several trade publications including Fleet Equipment, Heavy Duty Equipment Maintenance and Transport Technology Today. Gelinas is a founding member of Truck Writers of North America, a professional association, and a contributing writer for Utility Fleet Professional.

Using Benchmarks to Improve Fleet Operations

A benchmark is something that can be used to judge the quality or level of other, similar things. As such, a benchmark is a very nice thing for a fleet professional to have when some difficult questions are being asked. Are we competitive? When should we replace our equipment? Exactly how many technicians do we need to effectively maintain our equipment?

Those are three questions that Chris Shaffer, one of the founding partners of Utilimarc (, believes fleet managers should be answering at least annually. His company analyzes fleet data and, using its proprietary analytic software, generates a number of management tools. Benchmarks are one of those tools.

If you’re going to compare your performance with supplied benchmark data, keep in mind that it’s essential to compare apples to apples. “We have found that it’s very important to benchmark like vehicles doing like work in like applications,” Shaffer said. “If you consider, for example, a heavy-duty bucket truck, it’s important to compare yours with trucks in other fleets that have exactly the same kind of truck doing exactly the same kind of work.”

Michael Riemer, vice president of products and channel marketing at Decisiv Inc. (, echoed the importance of benchmarking on a regular basis. “It can greatly help improve the performance of maintenance operations and generate greater returns on investment in assets and personnel,” he said. “Regularly scheduled benchmarking enables fleets and their service providers to compare their performance with competitors and best-in-class performers. This analysis can help fleets better prioritize and measure key maintenance initiatives.”

Both Utilimarc and Decisiv represent fleets totaling more than 300,000 vehicles. As a result, both are capable of generating meaningful data that fleet professionals can use to benchmark their operations. There are, however, other opportunities available that enable fleets to generate yardsticks against which their performance can be compared.

One Fleet Association’s Approach
One example of other benchmarking opportunities comes from Frank Castro, transportation manager for the Snohomish County Public Utility District based in Everett, Wash. The utility’s fleet consists of light pickup trucks, Class 8 vehicles and everything in between. Castro participates in a regional professional group – the Northwest Electric Utility Fleet Managers Association (NEUFMA) – which represents 5,000-plus vehicles throughout Idaho, Washington and Oregon.

Regarding the organization’s benchmarking activities, Castro said, “If you’re just looking at your own fleet, how do you really know if you’re doing a good job unless you can compare against another organization? Maybe the best scenario would be to compare against a much larger organization.”

NEUFMA members realized that they already had the much larger organization they needed in the form of their association, which meets quarterly but has more frequent contact through email. As a result, they decided to generate a list of fleet-related issues that all members were asked to respond to at their meetings. The idea was to have a discussion about the various topics, giving members the opportunity to ask how some fleet managers were getting better numbers than others might be getting.

According to Castro, “If nothing else, we were hoping to get some help answering the question: Are we doing well or are we doing poorly? When we find a fleet that’s doing something better than we are, we talk about what they’re doing differently to see if their procedures would work in our fleets.”

Approximately 25 percent of the association’s members regularly contribute information about the various topics scheduled for discussion, but, as it turns out, that’s often enough. “In reality, everybody loves the information, but not everybody is willing to spend the time to prepare a report for the meeting,” Castro said. “Fleets who do not participate are still able to reap the benefits of our benchmarking discussions. It’s all open discussion. If they’re at the meeting, they can hear what’s going on. We also send out summaries of our discussions to the entire membership.”

The association also encourages regular email contact among its members. As a result, if anyone is having a particular issue, he or she can send out a question to the entire membership for input. Castro believes NEUFMA’s benchmarking studies provide added value to the members of the association.

A Benchmarking Caveat
While benchmarks can be valuable tools, they can also plague fleet professionals. Consider the possibility of a fleet professional having a benchmark imposed on him not by an experienced individual who understands what it means to maintain a fleet of utility vehicles, but by a middle manager who lacks the practical knowledge it takes to actually keep equipment operating and ready for service.

As Decisiv’s Riemer put it, “The ability to ensure the right information is captured [and understood] as part of the core service and repair process is the foundation for good benchmarking.”

About the Author: Tom Gelinas is a U.S. Army veteran who spent nearly a decade as a physicist before joining Irving-Cloud Publishing Co. While at Irving-Cloud, he worked in various editorial capacities for several trade publications including Fleet Equipment, Heavy Duty Equipment Maintenance and Transport Technology Today. Gelinas is a founding member of Truck Writers of North America, a professional association, and a contributing writer for Utility Fleet Professional.

Managing Warranty Recovery

Even though warranty coverage is automatically included with each new vehicle and replacement part bought for your fleet, nearly every fleet professional fights with suppliers for more. It’s also a lot like accident insurance policies; good warranty coverage is nice to have, but it’s something that no one looks forward to using.

Like it or not, part of every dollar you spend on a new truck or replacement part goes to pay for warranty. Doesn’t it make sense to maximize the return you’re getting on those dollars? To do that, you need to have a warranty recovery system in place to be in a position to recover all the warranty money that’s coming to you.

“Warranty recovery is worth about a penny a mile over the life of a truck, so it is a vital part of controlling costs,” said Darry Stuart, president and CEO of DWS Fleet Management Services ( “Too often, however, fleets lack an organized procedure to store failed parts. There needs to be a specific location for failed parts and a procedure to mark and identify the parts. That way, if a manufacturer calls for one of those parts, shop personnel can go directly to where it can be found.”

Sources of Warranty
Warranty is readily available from several sources. All new vehicles come with standard warranty packages provided by manufacturers, generally through their dealer networks. In addition to these standard packages, some fleet managers are able to obtain supplementary coverage from truck manufacturers based on the size of the order and the fleet professionals’ negotiating skills.

In some instances, manufacturers will approve reimbursement for repairs after the standard warranty expires; these have become known as policy adjustments. If you need to repair a vehicle, and you believe the repair should be covered by the vehicle or component manufacturer, don’t hesitate to ask for reimbursement under a policy adjustment.

Another widely available source of potential warranty reimbursement is the additional coverage available to fleets when a new vehicle is purchased. This can come from two sources: major component suppliers and extended warranties offered for sale by truck builders. The former, which normally comes at no extra charge, commonly covers major drivetrain components. Most knowledgeable fleet managers, however, do not consider the purchase of extended warranties, the latter source of additional coverage, to be a good business decision.

An additional source of warranty reimbursement comes from aftermarket parts suppliers, many of whom offer warranty coverage on their products. This is where most fleets struggle to make the claims necessary to successfully maximize their warranty recovery. When many fleets in the industry were using three years as their trade cycle, new truck warranties dominated in importance. Now, however, with trade cycles extending five and even seven years, more replacement parts are being used that are not covered by new truck warranties. The successful management of an effective warranty recovery program is an important opportunity for a fleet to recover dollars.

Recovery Management
While most fleets have some kind of program to track warranty, only those that have a formal program – and properly manage it – are successful. “Many people claim they collect warranty, but I find most don’t have an established procedure to track it. So they really don’t have a handle on it,” Stuart said.

Management’s challenge is to make sure technicians know what opportunities exist for warranty recovery. When analyzing why warranty reimbursement has been lost, too many fleet professionals find it was because they hadn’t done a satisfactory job communicating to the people in the field what was needed from them to properly file for warranty. When a problem is encountered with a warrantable transaction, try to identify who was missing necessary information and what that information was, and then figure out how to eliminate such errors from recurring.

Maintenance management software can help. The most effective software modules are designed specifically to help fleets maximize warranty recovery. “The software should help the fleet know that the repair about to be done is warrantable,” said Dave Walters, technical sales manager for TMW Systems (, a provider of enterprise software to transportation and logistics companies. “If you can have that information in front of you early in the process, it may influence how you make that repair and where you get that repair done. Our software will identify and bring to the forefront potential warranty claims.”

“It’s always possible to discover warranty information after a repair has been completed or the information makes it into the fleet’s maintenance system, but that’s an after-the-fact, reactive approach,” said Michael Riemer, vice president of products and channel marketing at Decisiv Inc. ( “When information about warranties becomes available to fleets and service providers at the beginning of the process, it saves time and lets fleet managers know upfront what will and won’t be covered. Some fleets estimate 30 percent savings from warranty recapture using the Decisiv platform. With the right technology, those are valuable opportunities for warranty recapture that won’t be missed.”

Decisiv’s cloud-based Service Relationship Management (SRM) software enables fleets to manage, monitor, and report on service and repair events independent of asset type or service provider. The SRM platform, which integrates with many maintenance management systems, makes warranty information available in real time as soon as a vehicle identification number is entered.

Value Received
What’s a good warranty recovery system worth? Consider a fleet with a six- or seven-year trade cycle. In that fleet, there will be a broad range of vehicle ages, and therefore a range of warranty needs. “For vehicle ages of 1 through 3 years, we see a warranty recovery of about 10 percent of the amount spent on maintenance annually,” Walters said. “In years 3 and beyond, we see a 4 to 5 percent return from a combination of extended warranties and aftermarket parts warranty.”

Clearly, there are some significant dollars available for fleets that are willing to correctly set up a warranty recovery system. Remember, you pay for warranty every time you purchase a new truck or replacement part. Make sure you’re getting an acceptable return on that investment.

About the Author: Tom Gelinas is a U.S. Army veteran who spent nearly a decade as a physicist before joining Irving-Cloud Publishing Co. While at Irving-Cloud, he worked in various editorial capacities for several trade publications including Fleet Equipment, Heavy Duty Equipment Maintenance and Transport Technology Today. Gelinas is a founding member of Truck Writers of North America, a professional association, and a contributing writer for Utility Fleet Professional.

Cooling System Maintenance Considerations for Fleet Managers

Automotive engineers have made great strides in recent years in their attempts to increase the efficiency of engines. Their efforts, unfortunately, cause them to butt heads with various principles of physics. As good as they are, today’s gasoline engines are usually less than one-third efficient. Diesels do a bit better with efficiencies running generally just over a third. With the exception of post-combustion heat recovery systems, that leaves approximately two-thirds of the heat energy either going out the tailpipe or being handled by the cooling system.

Thermodynamics says that any heat engine will run more efficiently as its operating temperature increases, but, of course, there’s a limit since parts will start to melt. Engines are designed to operate efficiently within a relatively narrow heat range. Too cool means less power output. Too hot means overheating problems. Keeping the operating temperature in that narrow heat range is the job of the cooling system.

Producing an efficient cooling system is the job of automotive design engineers. Keeping the system operating efficiently is the job of a fleet’s maintenance department.

Ethylene glycol, propylene glycol or long-life/extended-life coolant should be used in cooling systems year-round as the glycol provides both freeze and boil-over protection. It also provides a stable environment for gaskets and hoses, which might leak if only water is used as a coolant. Antifreeze products offered by reputable manufacturers will comply with applicable ASTM standards and should be used only with distilled water in a blend of between 40 percent and 60 percent. A 50 percent blend is ideal.

Coolant containing too high a concentration of antifreeze can cause silicate dropout and water pump leakage. A study of water pump failures by Cummins ( found an overconcentration of antifreeze in 78 percent of the pumps they examined.

Because magnesium and calcium found in most tap water can cause scaling on internal cooling system components, tap water should not be used in cooling systems. In addition, sulfates in tap water can corrode these parts. Distilled water should always be used when filling a cooling system to help avoid these problems.

Engineers at Baldwin Filters ( outline the various functions required of an engine coolant:
• Removes heat
• Lubricates components such as water pumps
• Provides freeze protection
• Prevents scale and sludge formation
• Protects against corrosion

The first three can be handled by a simple mix of a low-silicate antifreeze and distilled water. Supplemental coolant additives (SCAs) must be introduced to the system to prevent scale and sludge formation and to provide corrosion protection. SCAs typically contain inhibitors designed to prevent generalized corrosion and cavitation erosion, and they keep hard water scale from depositing on engine surfaces and use buffers to reduce the acidity of the coolant.

Fleets need an effective preventive maintenance program to keep the cooling system clean. Because this can be labor intensive, it’s too often not done. All commercial trucks should be equipped with coolant filters, and fleet managers should strongly consider working with cleaning filters that are used for a relatively short time instead of normal coolant filters. Manufacturers have developed spin-on cleaner/filter cartridges that chemically clean the system while the truck is used in normal operations. These units are left on the truck for a few weeks. After that, the coolant is checked with test strips to ensure that dissolved solids are within OEM-recommended levels. The cleaner/filter contains the chemistry needed to clean a cooling system as well as what’s needed to protect it against further corrosion.

Check for Leaks
In many cases a small coolant leak might not be noticed because of the high temperatures under the hood during operation. The leaked coolant simply evaporates as the truck travels down the road. The result could be an automatic shutdown.

The best way to check a cooling system for small leaks is to pressurize it before making an inspection. Too often, fleets that pressurize cooling systems on a regular basis only pressurize to cap pressure. System pressures up to 18 psi should be used.

Arctic Fox ( makes a tool called a Coolant Dam Pressure Tester that uses shop air to quickly pressurize systems up to 18 psi. After pressurizing the system, the technician lets the truck sit for a while and then looks for problems. After checking for leaks, he or she can use the same test unit to check the cap.

High-quality silicone coolant hoses and heater hoses are found on most commercial trucks today, yet cold water leaks are still a problem faced by the trucking industry. To obtain good sealing at the coolant hose connection, the entire system – stem, hose and clamp – must be considered. Constant tension or spring-loaded clamps generally seal better than constant diameter screw clamps, especially for sealing in low temperatures. These generally work better because they contract as the material in the hose wall thermally contracts and loses resilience.

Cooling systems require maintenance on a regular basis. Antifreeze needs additives. Systems need to be cleaned and checked for leaks. When cooling systems are working properly, most engine problems can be avoided.

About the Author: Tom Gelinas is a U.S. Army veteran who spent nearly a decade as a physicist before joining Irving-Cloud Publishing Co. While at Irving-Cloud, he worked in various editorial capacities for several trade publications including Fleet Equipment, Heavy Duty Equipment Maintenance and Transport Technology Today. Gelinas is a founding member of Truck Writers of North America, a professional association, and a contributing writer for Utility Fleet Professional.

Shop Safety and Efficiency

Safety is a high priority of professional fleet managers. Fleets are known to spec their operating equipment to be the safest possible for the work they will be doing, and they train their operators to always work with safety in mind. In addition to safety, efficiency also is an important aspect of operations in well-run maintenance shops.

“Since labor accounts for about 60 percent of a fleet’s vehicle service and repair budget, it makes sense that anything a fleet can do to maximize technician efficiency will result in a bottom-line savings,” said Doug Spiller, heavy-duty product manager for Rotary Lift ( “The biggest factors affecting technician productivity are access to vehicle components and room to work efficiently. Vehicle lifts provide more convenient, comfortable access to every serviceable part on a truck, enabling technicians to perform more work in less time. In fact, productivity studies conducted by fleets have found that installing a single vehicle lift in the shop can reduce labor overhead by $100,000 or more.”

According to Ken Atha, OSHA’s regional administrator in the West, “Workers in the automotive industry are exposed to crushing hazards from automotive lifts when servicing vehicles. These risks can be limited by properly maintaining automotive lifts and providing workers with effective training regarding inspection and use of lifts.”

“Safety starts at the top,” said R.W. “Bob” O’Gorman, president of the Automotive Lift Institute (ALI). “It begins with buying the right lift. Responsible managers know to only buy lifts that wear the gold label demonstrating that they have been third-party tested and certified to meet the ANSI safety and performance standard for lifts, ANSI/ALI ALCTV-2011.”

Lift Training and Inspection
After purchasing a lift, O’Gorman continued, “Next is training. It is very important that all technicians receive training on the proper use and maintenance of the lifts installed in the shop.”

Recognizing the need for such training, the National Conference of State Fleet Administrators recently asked Steve Perlstein, president of Mohawk Lifts, to prepare and present a webinar on vehicle lift safety. In his presentation, Perlstein pointed out that OSHA requires vehicle lifts to undergo annual inspections completed by experienced lift inspectors and that anyone using such equipment must receive training on an annual basis.

“Proper vehicle lift certification, installation and inspection have come under increased scrutiny in recent years by OSHA and other local, state, provincial, and federal health and safety officers,” O’Gorman said. “This has resulted in an increase in shops looking for qualified automotive lift inspectors.” Certified inspectors can be contacted through the ALI website (

All reputable lift manufacturers provide training on the proper use of their products when new equipment is installed in a fleet’s shop, and training also is available on their websites. Mohawk Lifts’ website (, for example, has several videos that include safety information about their lifts as well as information about other safety-related items available through the company.

With regard to management responsibilities relative to OSHA regulations, be aware that you won’t get a free pass because you don’t know about the regulations. Management has the responsibility to know the regulations and to follow them. As Perlstein noted in his webinar, there are two important standards fleet managers need to understand. The first is that lifts must be inspected annually by a qualified automotive lift inspector. The second is that the technicians who work on the lifts must be trained each year on how to safely and properly use them. Such training time must be documented by the fleet.

Research Product Specifications
While a vehicle lift offers a great opportunity to increase shop efficiency, it also opens up the fleet to liability for any injuries incurred by employees if the installed lift does not meet performance or manufacturing standards for the application.

According to ALI, purchasers of lifts often are confused by claims made by sellers. Such claims are sometimes made in good faith by inexperienced salespeople, but other times they may be made intentionally to confuse a potential purchaser and obtain an order for equipment that may not actually meet the purchaser’s requirements. Every lift in your shops should have an ALI/ETI certification label affixed to it, which will offer the assurance that the lift in question meets the current national safety standards.

Certification indicates that a third-party organization has determined that a manufacturer has the ability to produce a product that complies with a specific set of standards. Certified products undergo periodic re-evaluation and are required to be produced within the requirements of a documented quality program. The program is audited quarterly, regardless of the production facility’s location, to ensure continued compliance with the applicable standards.

“All lifts are not created equal,” Spiller said. “The best all-around lift for heavy-duty vehicle maintenance remains the modular in-ground lift. In-ground lifts have been the top choice of heavy-duty maintenance operations for more than 80 years because they provide the best access to maintenance items on a vehicle in the most ergonomic, space-efficient way.”

A lower price doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re getting a lift for less. Too often it means you’re getting less lift. You want a lift that delivers the lowest total cost of ownership. The most expensive lift you can buy is one that is out of service.

About the Author: Tom Gelinas is a U.S. Army veteran who spent nearly a decade as a physicist before joining Irving-Cloud Publishing Co. While at Irving-Cloud, he worked in various editorial capacities for several trade publications including Fleet Equipment, Heavy Duty Equipment Maintenance and Transport Technology Today. Gelinas is a founding member of Truck Writers of North America, a professional association, and a contributing writer for Utility Fleet Professional.

Tire Expenses: Manage to Minimize

Effective management of tire costs is more important now than ever and will continue to grow in importance, but if you are not able to accurately measure what your fleet spends on tires, there is no way you will be able to manage those expenses. Unfortunately, many fleets have not initiated a comprehensive tire management program, nor do they accurately know the expense they incur for tires.

“At the end of the day, it is cost per 1/32nd of tread wear per mile, but most people do not have that information,” said Darry Stuart, president and CEO of DWS Fleet Management Services ( “The best way to accurately account for tires is to use a good computerized system and charge tires by 32nds as they go on and credit tires the 32nds when they come off. Also, most fleets include the cost of tires in the cost of a new truck, therefore failing to include those tires when they are calculating their tire cost per mile.”

Programs that do this kind of accounting are available and have been designed to interact seamlessly with most computerized maintenance management systems. Services are also available through tire vendors who will input fleet tire data, then store and analyze it. Goodyear (, for example, recently launched a next-generation version of its TVTrack program that is designed to do exactly what needs to be done if fleet tire costs are to be managed. It is available through the company’s dealer network and will accept and analyze cradle-to-grave financial information about any brand of tire.

Retread tires deserve to be included in all commercial fleet tire programs. Many fleets operating Class 3 through 6 vehicles already use retreads, and due to economic pressures over the last few years, there has been a growing interest in the use of these products among fleets not using them. “There has definitely been an increased interest in using retreads,” said Guy Walenga, director of engineering for commercial products at Bridgestone Firestone ( “You could say people have found religion. They have been looking for any place where they can save some money. Many fleets that never considered retreading before have taken another look at the use of retreads because it is such a good way to influence the overall cost per mile.”

Fleet managers need to realize there is no definite age limit on the life of a tire carcass. Steel body plies and steel-belted commercial tires are designed to be retreaded. Every casing that goes into a reputable retread shop will be inspected visually and with a nondestructive testing system that will find any nail holes invisible to the naked eye. They are also put through X-ray tests to find ply separations.

“Because each tire casing goes through this extended inspection process, there is no time frame that would limit the casing for retreading,” Walenga said. “A retreader is liable for the quality and performance of his product. As a result, he’s not going to put a dime of unnecessary expense into a tire that isn’t going to retread and perform for his customer. He does all of his testing before he buffs the tire.”

The high cost of tires has caused an increased interest in recapping in heavy-duty fleets that had not taken advantage of this proven technology. Fleets that regularly use recapped tires are looking to get another cap or two on their casings. Many fleet managers recapped a casing only until it was about 5 years old, and then sold it instead of capping it again.

That strategy is changing. “Some years ago, most fleet managers would take a casing out of service after about five years,” Stuart said. “That increased to six years and now, in many cases, is at seven years and in some cases eight years. The strategy has been working well, but the applications those older casings go into need to be managed. If the tire is going to be used in a low-mileage trailer application, 40,000 or 50,000 miles a year, it will very likely offer you no problems. Capping technology has also improved, helping to make this strategy possible.”

Ryder System ( has a policy of not going down to the legal limit for its over-the-road units. “The DOT legal is 2/32, but we target 4/32, which gives us a little bit of room to plan the replacement,” said Scott Perry, Ryder’s vice president of supply management. “We recognize the importance of the casing and not wearing the tread package too thin. Our customers are on full-service leases so they will bring their trucks into our service facilities on a regular basis, and our goal is to perform as much of the required maintenance on our leased vehicles at our facilities as possible. As a result, we have multiple touch points throughout the year. Because of that, we can predict when the tires will need to be removed from the vehicle.” Consequently, it’s a scheduled procedure and not a road call.

Air Pressure
Inflation pressure is always the most important factor of tire maintenance relative to tire costs. Correct inflation will help to maximize a casing’s retreadability while minimizing wear and the tire’s negative contribution to fuel economy rolling resistance. “If you don’t have the right air pressure, you’re giving up tread mileage, giving up casing durability and you’re giving up fuel economy,” Walenga said. “A casing can be destroyed if it is run at the wrong air pressure.”

Tires will always be an expensive commodity for fleets, so it makes sense to do everything you can to control costs. Maximize the life of every casing, and when a tire comes out of service, make sure you know why. Use retreads. Keep tires aired to the correct pressure. If you’re not doing this, you’re wasting money.

About the Author: Tom Gelinas is a U.S. Army veteran who spent nearly a decade as a physicist before joining Irving-Cloud Publishing Co. While at Irving-Cloud, he worked in various editorial capacities for several trade publications including Fleet Equipment, Heavy Duty Equipment Maintenance and Transport Technology Today. Gelinas is a founding member of Truck Writers of North America, a professional association, and a contributing writer for Utility Fleet Professional.

Changing Brakes

A primary concern of every fleet professional is the safe operation and stopping ability of the vehicles in his fleet. A truck’s ability to stop, of course, depends on the condition and quality of its braking system, particularly its brakes’ friction material. The friction material used in truck brakes has changed a great deal over the last few decades and continues to change. As an integral part of the braking system, friction material must be chosen to provide the stopping power necessary in a truck’s specific application. This is especially true for commercial vehicles since any given truck model may be put into a wide range of applications. Light-duty vehicles, however, may well benefit from the use of other-than-normal friction material. Consider, for example, police cruisers that may be used in high-speed pursuits with heavy braking demands.

Replacing Asbestos
Years ago, asbestos friction material was commonly used in vehicle braking systems – commercial trucks in particular – because of its ability to withstand the high operating temperatures that could be generated in stopping a heavy vehicle. Indeed, temperatures more than 2,000 F created a substantial fire hazard. The health hazards of asbestos, however, have all but eliminated its use in friction materials intended for vehicle applications. Although domestic manufacturers claim that asbestos materials are no longer used in friction products, foreign manufacturers of aftermarket brake parts have no requirement to stop distributing asbestos friction material. OSHA regulates the amount of asbestos dust that is present in vehicle repair facilities, which is where potential problems are found.

Ceramic or non-asbestos organic friction materials were developed to replace asbestos-based products in specific applications. These materials typically exhibit low friction and/or unacceptable wear rates at high temperatures and are very useful in light-duty applications, but are not suitable in many commercial and most heavy-duty operations.

Semi-metallic material was developed, along with ceramic material, to replace asbestos. In comparing the two, Kevin Judge, sales manager of national accounts at Fras-le (, a major manufacturer of semi-metallic and ceramic friction material, said, “Semi-metallic material is a bit more aggressive, but can be more noisy than ceramic material. The performance, however, of semi-metallic material makes it a desirable product for use in trucks as well as automobiles used in applications that need high-performance braking performance. It has become the standard for use by the trucking industry.”

More Changes Coming
As a result of environmental concerns, two states have passed legislation that nearly eliminates the use of copper, in addition to several other materials, in friction material. Three years ago, both California and Washington passed laws mandating that friction material used in brakes contain no more than 0.5 percent of copper by weight. While various portions of the laws take effect at different times, they have spurred the industry to develop compliant materials that will deliver satisfactory stopping performance. “As an industry, we are being challenged in going copper-free after 2019,” Judge said.

Not surprisingly, these laws put additional financial burdens on manufacturers and distributors. They may well be enough to cause some suppliers to leave the business, resulting in fewer product choices for fleets.

Brake Repairs
While fleet managers seek a long service life from brakes, they also know that brake pads and blocks will wear out and need to be replaced. Be sure to do your homework before you go to market. “Fleet managers should be prepared to accurately describe their fleet’s applications when they go to market to purchase replacement brake pads or brake linings,” Judge said. “Terrain is important. The hills of Pittsburgh require different material than the flatlands in Des Moines. They should be aware of the load that they’re carrying. Is it a constant load? Is going to be variable? Is it going to be loaded off and on? Will the application be stop-and-go, or will it be over-the-road? This is the kind of information that brake service technicians need to know before they can make good recommendations regarding friction material.”

If you plan on making a change in friction material of replacement pads or liners, test the material before making a purchase. It’s not unreasonable for a fleet manager to request sample material for his own tests. Judge said that he often gets asked for samples. Tim Bauer, director for undercarriage products at Meritor Aftermarket (, concurs. “Always test the friction material you’re considering purchasing,” he said. “Look at long-term replacement [cost versus price]. Be wary of container loads of low-price friction. Do they meet safety standards like FMVSS 121? What kind of warranty is offered? Who will back you up in the case of a failure or other problems?”

Bauer also urges that you never replace or service a component on one wheel end only; always do both wheel ends. This is especially true for work on front axles. In addition, if hardware comes packaged with replacement brake pads or linings, use it. “Don’t forget your hardware works just as hard as the linings,” Judge said.

Anytime a technician pulls a wheel, have him measure the thickness of the pad or lining as well as the run-out of the rotor or drum. Have him inspect the hoses to make sure they’re not worn or frayed, and ask him to check all the hardware to ensure it’s in good shape.

Because friction material is just one piece of a very important system comprised of parts designed to work together, when it comes time to replace it due to wear, it should be replaced with material that is as close to original as is possible or with material that you have tested to ensure satisfactory operation in your application.

About the Author: Tom Gelinas is a U.S. Army veteran who spent nearly a decade as a physicist before joining Irving-Cloud Publishing Co. While at Irving-Cloud, he worked in various editorial capacities for several trade publications including Fleet Equipment, Heavy Duty Equipment Maintenance and Transport Technology Today. Gelinas is a founding member of Truck Writers of North America, a professional association, and a contributing writer for Utility Fleet Professional.

More Than a Fill-Up

Fuel is simply too expensive to ignore. It has been the No. 1 equipment-related cost item for years in most operations. For some fleets it has surpassed the cost of labor and become a fleet’s leading expense item. Combine this with costs associated with environmental regulations pertaining to fuel storage facilities, and it’s easy to see that management attention is highly desirable for any operation that has its own fueling facilities.

Outsourcing the Job
You can probably do the job completely in-house, but that’s a bit like doing your own taxes. You’re more than likely going to miss something, something that might cost you a lot of money because you might never know you missed it until it’s too late. Like the availability of tax consultants, there are people who offer services that provide greater control, with less effort and better results for environmental compliance than what one is likely to accomplish alone.

Veeder-Root is one such company. Gilbarco Veeder-Root Fuel Management Services and Solutions is described as a Web-enabled system that provides management control for environmental compliance and equipment uptime. “Our fuel management services program is targeted at the monitoring and management of fuel,” said Kent Reid, the company’s vice president of strategic development.

The program helps limit compliance risk while providing fuel supply system uptime through continuous monitoring and real-time analysis of data transmitted wirelessly for remote diagnosis and resolution of any problems. The company’s experienced specialists oversee data from state-of-the-art infrastructure that is remotely monitoring tens of thousands of sites around the world today.

“We have two levels regarding compliance,” Reid said. “Many of the requirements of federal regulations concerning underground fuel storage tanks can be met with the installation of an automatic tank gauge. This is a device that monitors the entire fuel supply system at a location. A basic service is to monitor the data from such systems, archive it and report it to the customer so that he can be assured he is in compliance. We, of course, provide guidance or warnings when compliance tests have not been completed successfully.”

Additional Options
There are also a number of alarms that can be generated by an automatic tank gauge system. If an alarm were to occur, Reid said, “At the customer’s option, we can simply provide notification that an alarm has occurred via email or text so that the customer can manage the situation and take care of the problem. Or we will manage those alarms for him, in which case we will provide troubleshooting, dispatch and then whatever action is necessary to make sure any problems are solved as quickly as possible.”

In conjunction with its Gilbarco and Gasboy brands, the company has the ability to connect directly with fuel pumps using electronic meter registers that read customer ID cards and bring that information into the system to report on vehicle mileage and fuel consumption. Such registers can be installed on mobile fueling equipment for on-site fueling and management control. More information is available at and

Go Green
Veeder-Root is not the only company offering wireless fueling data capture and analysis. E.J. Ward has a proven automated fuel management solution that integrates both hardware and software. The company has also developed a program designed to help fleets reduce their carbon footprints. Called Go Green, this program provides fleets with the resources needed to manage their green fleet initiatives through advance reporting, improved driver behavior and proactive maintenance scheduling, according to the company.

The Ward Go Green program includes equipment to track and monitor vehicle idling through which idling can be minimized. It also supports proactive preventive maintenance and notifies customers when vehicles are scheduled for or need maintenance. The Ward Go Green program includes technology capable of tracking driver behavior as well, which gives the fleet information necessary to determine if training is needed to improve driving habits.

The company has a team of green fleet specialists who are available to work with fleets interested in developing a customized solution to improve their vehicles’ environmental and operating performance. More information about the Go Green program and Ward’s automated fuel management solutions is available by visiting

About the Author: Tom Gelinas is a U.S. Army veteran who spent nearly a decade as a physicist before joining Irving-Cloud Publishing Co. While at Irving-Cloud, he worked in various editorial capacities for several trade publications including Fleet Equipment, Heavy Duty Equipment Maintenance and Transport Technology Today. Gelinas is a founding member of Truck Writers of North America, a professional association, and a contributing writer for Utility Fleet Professional.

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