Wellness Checks for Waste Collection Vehicles
The big stuff, the small stuff, the overlooked stuff, and the stuff to do regularly when it comes to maintenance
When it comes to maintenance, the basics still apply, says Curtis Dorwart, refuse product manager for Mack Trucks. “Don’t forget the basics! The life of a truck can be 10 to 15 years with proper maintenance.”
Tires, brakes, electrical, air systems, and DPF exhaust emissions are some of the items that top his list; however, one basic is simply cleanliness. Keep the shop clean, for starters. Keep parts clean. Use procedures designed to maintain cleanliness. “Injection systems today have small nozzles, so even a little dust can cause problems. Put a filter on vent tubes; there’s less tolerance for fine dust particles.”
The filters used now are different than the filters we had 20 years ago and they’re doing a better job, but only if they are used and changed regularly. One of the problems is that fleet managers are pushing oil change intervals, so they’re not seeing trucks as often. The quality of lubrication is superior today; products are engineered for low to no maintenance. Chassis lube, for example, can last up to one year. If trash trucks aren’t going in for PMs as often as they used to, it makes regular wellness checks even more important.
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Wellness checks aren’t new, but Dorwart says they are a “big thing.” Some items should be checked daily, others at oil change intervals or during a normal PM—quarterly at worst, he says. “Maintenance is a daily thing. Every day you should check tire inflation, look for rubbing and leaking. There’s a lot of power in the daily walk-around. You discover rubbing, exposed wires, leaks . . . ”
Every time a truck comes in for service, do a wellness check. “Plug in the diagnostic tool and look for fault codes,” suggests Dorwart. This is part of what he calls “more complicated maintenance,” like computer diagnostics and complex after-treatment systems, although, with smaller, lighter, more fuel-efficient engines with compliant GHG 17 calibration, he says the after-treatment systems don’t have to work as hard and don’t require much maintenance other than an annual DPF cleaning, visual inspections, and DEF filters.
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Stertil-Koni’s ebright lift control system
Many systems on current vehicles are complex. Dorwart says, “Complexity is not bad, but it can be difficult to diagnose and difficult to service. Then you have an issue. You can’t run a fleet like before. Maintenance requires another level of attention today.”
With an onboard computer and remote diagnostics, Dorwart says the trucks can often diagnose themselves. Telematics allows live communication with the truck so the operator and fleet manager can monitor its performance in real time. “It allows you to be proactive in finding problems. It can see trends before the fleet manager can see them, allowing you to react quickly.”
Remote diagnostics allows fleets to maintain more uptime, lower costs, and improve operations because the fleet operator knows the issue before the truck comes into the shop for service. When something is out of parameter, a sensor sends an alert, providing specific information on what and where the problem is. When the truck comes in, mechanics can quickly change the part and send the truck back out: it’s a quick turn-around. As Dorwart says, “No more triage.”
However, he cautions, you can’t rely completely on the computer; it’s only a tool to help diagnose problems. Mechanics must have training, knowledge, and experience. Far too often, Dorwart says, the “skill level is not where it should be.”
In the past, maintenance was done by term: weeks, months, quarters—more often in areas prone to adverse weather conditions. Now we know the useful life of parts and fluids—many of which have extended life, allowing fleet managers to schedule maintenance more appropriately, which helps manage costs and increase uptime. “Fleet managers can develop a trend on higher maintenance items,” says Autocar’s national service manager, whose name has been withheld by request.
“Telematics is a tool to get the most useful life out of components, grease, and fluids,” says Autocar’s national service manager. “It’s no longer done just on a time schedule.” Telematics can help determine the frequency of maintenance, but it’s also important to understand the business. Environmental factors come into play. For example, in mountainous terrain it’s common to see brake wear in linings; in the desert heat, you’ll find temperature-related tire casing loss; and trucks that go to transfer stations and landfills encounter more off-road hazards.
Every tool a maintenance manager can have is critical. Telematics is an area of interest in predictive maintenance that is developing and improving. “We’re working on customer needs to achieve the lowest operating costs and highest uptime,” says the service manager.
One way to meet those goals is through integration. Body-chassis integration is the number one thing to prevent downtime, according to Autocar’s service manager. “Customers should demand from the truck supplier a chassis custom-engineered for the body and built on the production line. If not properly integrated, it can introduce systems that have no diagnostic path.”
Systems that Autocar integrates include the hydraulics to run the dump beds, snow plow controls, and body functions for refuse applications. Integrating the hydraulic systems controls and functions makes the complexity go down, he adds.
It’s important to manage the entire fleet. While maintenance schedules depend on duty cycles, preventive maintenance should be performed regularly. Autocar’s service manager recommends keeping the battery clean and the coolant full and checking the tires every day. By grouping the fluid check components on the curb side within reach, Autocar provides ease of maintenance to encourage regular checks.
Of all the preventive maintenance that should be done, Autocar’s service manager thinks that the most demanding is electrical. “Electrical is overlooked and ignored. Electrical systems are more advanced now.” He advises looking for corrosion and loose connections in the chassis.
Electrical also tops his list of high wear concerns, followed by steering and suspension (these are short trucks on high-turn routes in a vocational application, so there is high wear on ball joints), and then by linkages and brakes.
Breaking down inspections into A, B, and C levels, Autocar’s service manager says an A inspection should occur at 150 hours and include fluids and tires; a B inspection would add lubrication and an oil change; a C inspection would include checking the final drive.
In between these regularly scheduled maintenance checks, he says that onboard diagnostics show diagnostic fault codes on the dash without a handheld device. The data display, which is interactive, provides all the information including fault codes, check engine light, and more. “It’s all available to the operator as well as the fleet manager.”
In fact, he mentions a federal requirement for OBD and says Autocar’s system goes beyond that. “We report things others don’t—and in common language, not just fault codes, so it’s easily understood.” If there’s any question, he says Autocar’s technical team is available at all times.
Work Smarter With Telematics
Keeping track of maintenance for a fleet of trucks can be a labor-intensive responsibility for a fleet or maintenance manager. Manually logging odometer readings, run time, and services is not only an inefficient use of time; it often results in critical oversights. With odometer readings monitored electronically, there is be no need to manually check vehicle mileage; this information is just a click away.
Telematics software can help fleet managers stay on top of maintenance, making it possible for them to work smarter, not harder, by eliminating manual processes traditionally associated with fleet management. This makes them more productive and their operations more efficient.
Maintenance reminders save time and ensure that vehicles don’t miss regular services. “Setting automated maintenance reminders for services like oil changes, tire rotations, emission testing, and even registration renewals will notify mechanics and drivers via email or text when their trucks are due for service,” says Ryan Driscoll, marketing director for GPS Insight.
Using telematics to automate maintenance ensures all services are up-to-date, which may prevent expensive repairs and extend the life of the fleet. “Although automated maintenance reminders are effective, a service may still slip through the cracks here and there,” recognizes Driscoll. To proactively monitor overdue services, fleet managers can view scheduled maintenance reports that are available on-demand or have them sent to their email on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Any outstanding services will be flagged in red on the report. Fleet managers can also monitor vehicle diagnostic trouble codes remotely.
Staying current on maintenance keeps the trucks running and can contribute to longer life cycles, reducing operating costs by postponing replacement. “Staying on top of maintenance is a critical responsibility,” says Driscoll.
A Mack service engineer performs diagnostics
One aspect of maintenance is extremely critical. “Putting tires on is as important as any other maintenance. It could kill somebody if a tire or wheel comes off,” says Mitch Kopacz, director of operations, Eastern Pneumatics & Hydraulics, Inc.
To prevent wheel-off, it’s crucial to get the torque correct and to keep the wheels and nuts clean. “We’ve come a long way,” says Kopacz. “The old way was to ‘slam on a wheel and tighten.’ Today, we know we have to clean the parts and we know nuts don’t last forever.”
How many times can you put on a nut and it’s still good? If put on properly, a nut will last 25 times. But how do you know if you put it on properly? Many issues can contribute to wheel-off.
Torque is force times distance; it’s a measure of the turning force on an object such as a nut. Correctly attaching a wheel has progressed from “tight” to the specific clamping force to reduce the number of wheel-offs, Kopacz says. However, you can have torque without clamping force.
It’s also possible to stretch a stud by tightening the nut too much. Stretching a stud when torquing means that eventually, it won’t return to its original shape. Nuts also heat and cool as you’re driving, which stretches them and can lead to too much “relaxation.” An overstretched stud is one of many problems that can occur. Others include a broken stud, a relaxed nut, rust on the threads, or stripped threads. If a nut is worn, its points wear down. Because the length of the point holds the nut on, if the points are worn, it has no ability to clamp.
To keep the wheel on the hub and not stretch the stud, it’s necessary to get the proper torque and tension. How much force is required to keep the nut on the wheel, not wobbling, while not wearing out the nut?
Testing helps. So do products like a five-in-one tool—a gauge for studs. “If a wheel is out of round due to elongation of the holes or holes that are too big, this tool detects that,” says Kopacz. It also determines if the threads stripped or the nut points are gone. “It’s better than eyeballing it.” He says you should check every time you take a wheel off. It features a “go/no-go” spec, providing quick and easy information.
Even easier is the new Torq Fusion line of pneumatic and battery-operated (so no air compressor is required) torque wrenches. Simply type in the torque value and apply. Kopacz says they’re quiet and accurate.
Nuts should be kept clean. To get them that way, Kopacz recommends using a wire brush for the nut and a stud cleaner that’s used with a Dewalt wrench. Because nuts need a certain space and a specific clamping force, he suggests using the Skidmore-Whilhelm MZST, a tension measuring device to check bolts. There’s also a “feel good” that holds the nuts on if one is loose.
Keeping the wheels on and the engine running is the purpose of maintenance, but engines run on a different schedule. “Maintenance intervals are based on hours, not mileage,” says Steve Collins, OEM customer quality support manager for Cummins Inc. “The trucks aren’t traveling at enough speed for miles to make sense.”
At 500 miles, mechanics should change the oil and the oil and fuel filters. Collins says that all too often, anything other than that gets missed. “You have to change the mindset,” he says. “When you think of a PM, you need to think about what other things you should check. You need to inspect components that can wear, like bolts and hoses.”
Each OEM suggests maintenance intervals. Collins says not to extend them, but also not to go overboard with maintenance by spending money doing maintenance too often. “Listen to the manufacturer’s suggested intervals.”
Not surprisingly, Collins advises following the manufacturer’s recommendations for parts and fluids—at least, most of the time. Cummins doesn’t supply the air filters, so there’s no replacement interval provided in the manual. Therefore, he says it’s an item that is overlooked. “Mechanics only look at restriction indicators; they don’t check on intervals. The technology is not that advanced; when you rely on it too much, it results in unplanned maintenance.”
Changing the mindset also applies to the way maintenance is performed. The industry has more advanced and finer filtration, but some techs still fill up the filter with fuel before putting it on—pre-filling it to prime it. “This sucks dirt into the engine because the oil or fuel hasn’t gone through the filter,” explains Collins, adding that it’s an unnecessary procedure because now there are electric priming pumps. “Filters are less forgiving of debris, so you must be careful when changing them.”
A lot of little things are missed, forgotten, or not done properly. For example, on a diesel engine, Collins notes that the mechanic should drain the water from the water and fuel separator so it won’t corrode the sensors and cause faults.
Grease is the Word
There’s more buy-in and investment in technology today—better fluids and contamination control, more telematics and onboard diagnostic tools, all designed to make maintenance faster and easier. Tools and technology can be a big benefit to fleet managers, but sometimes you have to prove to them that if they spend money on the front end, they will save money later. It’s all part of the cost of ownership.
Despite the technology, it all comes back to basics, starting with regular inspections. “Inspections should be done daily, but they’re often overlooked,” says Matt Lee, senior service center manager, McNeilus. Daily inspections can catch problems early but often don’t get done due to time constraints.
As Wayne Casey, senior service manager at McNeilus, explains, to get CDL, an operator must do a thorough walk around to make sure the vehicle is road-worthy. Things to look for include hose problems, abrasions, bulges, blistering, leaks, loose fittings, and electrical harness issues. There’s no proactive maintenance on the wire harness, so a visual inspection is important.
“Life expectancy is 10 to 15 years,” says Lee. “If you want more, you must do more maintenance. Check body floors for structural wear. Look at the arm on a side loader.” In fact, it’s a good idea to look at everything while the truck is in for a PM.
Most fleet managers are doing regular PMs, Lee believes. He cites three levels: grease (weekly or every other week), oil change, and engine (every four to six months). “The engine should last longer than the body.”
Checking grease, oil, and fluid levels at regular intervals is highly recommended. The general recommendation for hydraulic oil, Lee says, is every six months. “But it doesn’t get done. Most do it once a year.” If you wait any longer, he says, the oil breaks down. All lubrication fluids shear eventually, although synthetics last longer. McNeilus puts lube charts on the body of the truck to simplify maintenance.
When checking fluid and grease levels or doing oil samples, Lee adds a reminder about cleanliness. “Contamination control is crucial. Particulates wear out components.” Use filters, filter buggies, and valves, he says. “Push filtration to keep your trucks up and running.”
You should grease all moving parts, mechanicals, joints, bearings, bushings, and pins, Lee says. Remote grease ports make it easier, encouraging more frequent attention. “Access points are popular.” It’s also a safety measure to keep mechanics on the ground while they’re working. Moving valves to the side of the body for easy access and repair is an idea borrowed from front loaders that Casey says is coming to waste bodies. “The focus is on serviceability—ease of access. We’re changing from old school. We have component options.”
Other changes from old-school maintenance techniques include onboard diagnostics: a computer in the cab. “It shortens troubleshooting time and identifies issues like blown fuses and broken wires,” says Lee.
Telematics plays an important role in preventive maintenance, Casey adds. “The onboard computer and software see everything the driver does: speed, braking, acceleration. It allows the fleet manager to address driver behavior. Some drivers are easier on the equipment; some are harder. A camera system is good to monitor. It’s becoming a big piece.”
Good drivers and service technicians are hard to find, Lee states. “Kids don’t want to work on dirty garbage trucks anymore. There is a shortage, and a lot of turnover.” It’s one reason that McNeilus offers training, a mobile service, and a call center to assist technicians with repairs and maintenance questions.
A Mack LR model on its route
Get a Lift
Overall, Peter Bowers, technical sales support manager at Stertil-Koni USA Inc., thinks the trash industry is proficient in vehicle maintenance. “They keep vehicles well-maintained by highly trained mechanics. The larger operators have embraced telematics; they know the issues, the date of the last service, and what they’re doing when they go into a shop. Some repairs are very technical. Like everything else, [trash trucks are] sensitive to emissions compliance and they need to be cleaned regularly. They need regular maintenance, such as oil changes, brake inspections, and light inspections.”
Although placing grease ports in convenient locations is helpful, there are still times when a mechanic needs to take a look underneath. Stertil-Koni offers a simple platform lift for preventive maintenance and inspections when there’s no need to take the wheels off. Simply drive on, drive off. “It’s convenient when you need to check fluids or the air filter or do a hydraulic brake inspection,” explains Bowers.
For more maintenance and heavy-duty repairs like brakes and hydraulic components, mobile columns and axle stands provide safe access. Bowers says smaller fleets opt for two-post swing arm lifts.
A new state-of-the-art “ebright Smart Control System” is available on mobile column lifts and is being rolled out on inground lifts. The multilingual 7-inch touch control panels work like an iPad. The human-machine interface provides critical details: height, how the lift is running, and weight.
Other lift options include a wash bay platform for cleaning and a shallow pit that can be moved around. For municipalities that are required to go green, the Earthlift is made of recycled materials and uses downward weight as lifting power. “This technology hasn’t hit trucks, but it has come to lifts,” says Bowers, explaining that Stertil-Koni likes to use recyclable products when possible, due to their “concern about our carbon footprint.”
Although most of the lifts run on hydraulic oil—a contaminant—Bowers says there’s a push to use biodegradable fluids and to lower the oil volume in the reservoir. “People want biodegradable, non-hazardous fluids.” Their mobile columns hold 2 to 3 gallons of fluids—typically synthetic oil—that is changed every 2 to 3 years.
Avoiding the need for frequent maintenance by choosing the right components is one way of handling the issue. Allison Transmission’s Craig Koven explains that their fully automatic transmissions are known for their simple maintenance requirements, as compared with manual and automated manual transmissions. He says that superior acceleration enables trucks to collect more trash in the same amount of time, for greater productivity.
Designed for the severe conditions of trash collection, Allison Transmission uses patented torque converter technology instead of a clutch that is predisposed to wear. Koven says the torque converter is more reliable and has lower repair costs.
“Allison Automatics are unique because the torque converter experiences very little wear and the transmissions require only periodic fluid and filter changes to maintain peak performance. Manual transmissions and AMTs both rely on a clutch that eventually burns out and requires more downtime for maintenance,” reports Koven. A hydraulic retarder on the transmission extends the life of brakes up to four times, he adds.
Another way to avert potential maintenance issues is to route the driver efficiently. “You can reduce mileage and wear and tear by making routes better,” says Doug Hill, director of marketing for RouteSmart Technologies, Inc. He says fleets can achieve 8–10% savings in time and mileage reduction with proper routing.
Proper routing means the routes don’t cross. It means right turns only, never having to put the truck in reverse to back up, not ever having to do a U-turn, keeping the truck positioned for right-side collection so the haulers don’t have to cross traffic to grab cans, and balancing the routes so all the drivers have a consistent 8-hour work day. A better route now means less maintenance later. Route optimization increases uptime by improving asset utilization and can even help commercial clients when bidding jobs.
“You need a good foundation for routes,” says Hill. The industry standard for solving high-density route optimization for residential and commercial collection routes involves a GIS-based system that can analyze the routes. A starting point is to break the route down by zip code and identify how many houses or stops are in that area.
Words of Advice
As Collins points out, maintenance is cheap compared with unplanned downtime. Unfortunately, he adds, despite the technology and data available, “not everyone is making good decisions” about when to perform maintenance, what to check for, and what parts and fluids to use.
Choosing the right products helps. Choosing them at the right time helps even more. “Be prepared for the season,” says Autocar’s service manager. Stocking up on seasonal items like wiper blades and battery cables before the season begins can save money and increase uptime.
“We’re not in the business of selling parts,” says Dorwart. “Trucks need to be up and running for the customer to be happy.” To keep them up and running requires attending to routine maintenance.