Across the United States, nearly two million truck drivers move more than ten billion tons of goods every year. It is safe to say that millions of businesses across the country rely on fleets of 18-wheelers to be on the road.
Preventive maintenance is the key to recognizing potential problems before they can cause disruption and minimizing fleet downtime. As the majority of overland freight in this country relies on timely departures and deliveries, truck drivers and fleet managers need to ensure their vehicles stay on the road.
Over the past few years, computer-based diagnostics has become an essential tool to help manage maintenance and keep the industry running smoothly.
What are 18-Wheeler Diagnostics?
Cast your mind back just a couple of decades ago or so and being a great 18-wheeler mechanic meant relying on years of experience as well as solid training. In addition, some of the best mechanics had a kind of uncanny feel for the fleet they looked after.
Whilst these qualities continue to be sought-after in 18-wheeler engineers, today’s mechanics can rely on powerful truck diagnostics. Rather than having to take the vehicle apart to get to the source of common problems, engineers connect a laptop or other computer to the 18-wheeler’s electronic control units (ECUs).
The computer runs through a series of detailed checks of the truck’s systems and components. If it finds something out of the ordinary, the engineers receive an error code pointing them toward a solution. The diagnostic tool will not only provide the code as a number but, in most cases, will also interpret it. As a result, mechanics and engineers can shortcut the lengthy process of fault-finding and move straight to fixing the issue.
Which Issues Can Diagnostics Help Identify?
Diagnostics can help identify a wide range of problems with your fleet, including:
- Engine problems
- Brake system issues
- Transmission problems
- Exhaust system concerns
- Fuel injection abnormalities
- Airflow and coolant disruptions
- Problems with the ignition system
- Throttle issues
Diagnostic tests can be run on the spot, but fleet managers can also use the data gathered by the vehicle’s ECUs to analyze performance over time. Doing this regularly allows managers to spot any deviation from normal values early, potentially even before a fault light is triggered.
Once parameters have left the range that is considered acceptable for a given brand of truck, diagnostics deliver an error code. Depending on the nature of the problem, most error codes point to the area of the problem but may not identify, for example, the exact gasket. That is where engineers and experience continue to be invaluable.
An 18-wheeler’s anti-lock brake system (ABS) is among the most common systems to be tested during diagnostic checks. Granted, larger issues with the system will result in a dashboard warning light on most trucks. However, running diagnostic tests allows you to catch issues before they become critical. As a result, repairs tend to be less arduous and downtime can be minimized effectively.
For most fleet managers and truck owners, electrical failures and engine faults are next on their list of testing priorities. These tests can do more than find issues that need to be repaired. They can also highlight inefficiencies in the way the engine is running. Identifying and rectifying those inefficiencies keeps your fleet on the road and contributes to cost savings for fuel, lubricants, and other consumables.
How Fleet Managers Benefit
18-wheeler diagnostics can make the difference between a trucking business making a profit and growing or struggling to survive. Here are some of the ways how truck diagnostics contribute to the bottom line of a business:
- Reducing the time needed to identify faults
- Freeing up engineers’ time to repair faults
- Reducing overall maintenance costs because problems are found early and fast
- Making preventive maintenance schedules convenient and easy to adhere to
Whilst diagnostic tools can’t replace experienced technicians, they can significantly reduce the time engineers spend trying to identify the problem. Even highlighting the area that needs attention rather than the exact problem saves hours of maintenance time. Rather than being out of circulation, trucks remain on the road, allowing their owners to deliver on time.
Engineers benefit by being able to use their time more efficiently. Diagnostics reduce hours of fault-finding to minutes in many cases, allowing engineers to concentrate on fixing the problem as opposed to finding it.
Diagnostic tools can also significantly cut the cost of 18-wheeler repairs because problems are found early. By the time the engine light on the dashboard of a truck lights up, the underlying problem has often gone from a small issue to a more significant one. As a consequence, fixing the issue is more costly than it would have been with an earlier diagnosis.
Cost savings also apply to staff time. Spending hours trying to identify potential faults on a truck is simply not the best use of your team’s time when a machine could diagnose (or at least narrow down) the fault reliably in less time.
As a fleet manager, you can redirect your engineers’ time to other tasks that can’t be completed by a machine whilst diagnostics tools lay the groundwork for potential repairs. Plus, diagnostics can be run by less experienced team members, too, freeing up your senior staff’s time and training newer recruits.
Truck diagnostics make it easier to put in place and adhere to preventive maintenance schedules. Because diagnostics are comparatively fast, these checks don’t require hours or even days of downtime. Instead, they allow you to keep your fleet in top shape and on the road at the same time.
18-wheeler diagnostics have changed the way the industry approaches maintenance. Rather than relying on engineers alone, diagnostic tools significantly contribute toward efficient and fast maintenance, both preventively and when faults have been found. The technology complements the knowledge and experience of highly-qualified engineers to the benefit of trucking companies around the country.