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Latest Trends in Medium-Duty Truck Maintenance

March 2014, by Sean Lyden

A lot has happened since 2007 to impact medium-duty truck maintenance costs and protocols — for better and for worse.

First, there was the introduction of expensive diesel emissions technologies, such as diesel particulate filters (DPFs), selective catalytic reduction (SCR) systems, and diesel exhaust fluid (DEF).

Now, medium-duty fleets are anticipating new greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations in 2014, which could lead to new technologies being developed for engines, tires, transmissions, and fluids — all of which will likely affect truck maintenance.

With so many changes in the medium-duty truck world in recent years and more on the horizon, what should fleet managers expect when it comes to keeping their trucks in optimal condition?

Work Truck, Business Fleets sister magazine, spoke with subject matter experts from fleet management companies ARI and PHH Arval to get their outlook on these current and upcoming challenges. They shared these seven trends to help fleet managers navigate the current and future truck maintenance landscape.

1. New diesel emissions technologies are driving higher maintenance costs, and more downtime in certain applications.

One key issue is drivers not allowing for full regeneration (burning off of soot) of the DPF in urban applications, where there are as many as 30 to 40 stops per day, according to Don Scare, regional fleet services manager for PHH Arval, a fleet management services provider in the U.S. and Canada.

“If drivers don’t get the truck up to highway speed long enough to allow for a full regeneration cycle, what will eventually happen is that the DPF filter will clog. Then you have to remove that filter for maintenance, which is very expensive,” he said, adding that the cost for DPF removal and cleaning is roughly $3,000 to $5,000.

Tony Piscopo, director, global fleet management and product management for ARI, agreed, but said that the increased costs related to new emissions technologies have begun to level off as fleets and drivers have become more familiar with the trucks.

“When first introduced, these [new emissions] systems caused a great deal of new expense and downtime to clients’ fleets,” Piscopo said. “Parts and fluid availability, as well as driver and technician training, were lacking. Worse, fleets were responsible for bearing the expense.”

Over the past few years, these maintenance costs have flattened and decreased somewhat, because of better training and technology.

“Trained drivers, in-cab warning systems, an increase in the number of trained technicians, better equipped facilities, and the increased availability and price-competitiveness of parts have kept prices down,” Piscopo noted.

2. Drivers are increasingly more responsible for proper
maintenance protocols.

“It’s key for drivers to understand the type of trucks they’re operating,” Scare said. “When it comes to filling the DEF tank, you have to use the right solution. In a lot of cases, we have found with the introduction of DEF that drivers are putting the wrong product in the wrong tank. Of course, that adds to maintenance cost because you have to go back to clean the system. It all boils down to proper driver instruction on their maintenance responsibilities when operating the vehicle.”

This hasn’t always been the case. Scare remembered a time when drivers could jump in the truck in the morning, drive it all day, then bring it back and just drop off the keys.

“The maintenance garage would take care of the oil change intervals and whatever else that may go wrong with the vehicle on a given day,” Scare said. “But now with the new emissions technologies, drivers need to be more engaged and aware of what they are to do for DPF regeneration, refilling the DEF tanks and so forth.”

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