Just like small leaks can sink great ships and a stitch in time can save nine, investing in proactive upkeep measures for your 18-wheeler or fleet can save you a world of trouble down the road. Unless you inspect and service your big rig regularly, tackling minor issues as soon as you spot them, you’re setting yourself up for unsafe driving conditions and costly repairs.
Do you wonder if you have all your bases covered as an independent operator or trucking company? We’ve put together this quick guide to make sure that you do!
- Why Regular Tractor-Trailer Maintenance Should Be a Priority
While “Why pay attention to the condition of your heavy vehicle?” may seem to fall into the realm of Captain Obvious, there may be some points you haven’t considered yet. It’s also possible that you’re underestimating the frequency with which specific tasks need to be handled.
Obviously, neglected rigs are more vulnerable to breaking down and, at the extreme end of the spectrum, being involved in some kind of accident. At best, these kinds of lapses risk idle roadside time that could be spent more productively. At worst, failing to take good care of your vehicle can lead to injury, compromised cargo, and costly damage.
However, when you zoom out a little, servicing your semi frequently also has other benefits. Being proactive simply increases its performance and fuel efficiency, helps you identify minor issues before they turn into massive headaches, and can dramatically lengthen the vehicle’s overall lifespan.
So, what kinds of checks and actions should your routine involve — and, more importantly, are you missing anything? Let’s take a look at the essentials!
- Routine Inspections
These should be baked into your life to the point they become second nature, and you should be inspecting your rig before and after every single trip. Key issues to watch out for include leaks and loose connections. Every inspection should also zoom in on potential tire damage, broken or damaged lights, and brake health.
While you’re at it, keep an eye out for signs of wear and tear that may have to be tackled by a professional. Don’t hit the road unless you know you’re good to go.
- Fluid Checks
Don’t forget to check all your fluids and top them up as needed! Go over your engine oil, transmission fluid, coolant, power steering fluid, and brake fluid. Change them whenever the manufacturer says it’s time, and keep your heavy vehicle safe and running.
Check your tire pressure regularly. Look out for tire damage, including small and large cuts and tears, and for signs of uneven wear and tear that indicate it’s time for a tire change — and, while you’re at it, don’t forget to rotate your tires.
Follow the condition of your brake pads, drums, and rotors closely, and address any strange noises you hear and vibrations you feel right away. Few things are more important than keeping your breaks in optimal condition!
Schedule engine tune-ups, oil changes, and filter replacements as recommended by the manufacturer, and keep your engine clean and debris-free at all times.
This part of your checklist involves inspecting your hoses and radiator for signs of damage and checking your coolant levels. Don’t forget to flush and replace your coolant regularly to keep your engine working like a dream.
- Electrical System
You’ll want to test the battery and alternator, give your wiring a thorough once-over, and check fuses and connections. Checking your lights also falls under this heading.
You know the drill. Leaks, cracks, and damage are enemies that should be defeated as soon as possible — and you won’t be able to do that unless you inspect your exhaust system regularly.
- Setting Up a Maintenance Schedule for Your 18-Wheeler
Responsible vehicle owners and fleet operators don’t leave the extensive ground to cover up to chance, inspecting their rigs whenever they happen to remember and taking care of red flags only when they become significant issues. Be proactive and develop a schedule that ensures all your essentials are always covered.
The easiest way to plan ahead is to check your semi-trailer’s owner’s manual to see what the manufacturer recommends. Then, go ahead and make a checklist or spreadsheets with tasks and recommended dates — whether you’ve got one vehicle to take care of, or an entire fleet.
However, it’s also important to consider the semi’s age, mileage, and daily operations as you put a schedule together. Challenging climate conditions and long-haul work highlight the need for more frequent service.
As you handle your semi’s routine, daily upkeep, don’t forget to make keeping clear logs an integral part of the entire operation. Keeping detailed records is the best way to spot patterns (which could point to bigger problems) and stay on the right side of regulations.
- How Much Does Servicing Your Rig Cost?
The straightforward answer? Routine service and repairs are likely to set you back around $15,000 a year, especially if your rig is always on the road. The snarky answer? Not as much as failing to maintain your vehicle would.
While the cost of servicing your vehicle may be painful, especially if you’re an independent owner-operator, it’s absolutely crucial to avoid shortcuts. Take care of your rig, and you’ll always be able to count on her to return the favor.
Making sure that your semi is inspected and serviced diligently and at the recommended intervals has no downsides and plenty of upsides. You’ll keep yourself or your drivers safe, make sure there’s no unnecessary downtime, increase the rig’s performance and efficiency, and prolong its life. Of course, tackling these tasks also keeps you compliant with regulations designed to make the roads safer for everyone.
Hopefully, this list will at least get you wondering if you’re already doing everything you can do at times that make sense for your truck’s age and level of use. Ideally, it should make you evaluate your schedule to make sure your vehicle is always in great condition.