In a time of more expensive refuse trucks, it's crucial that haulers get the most out of the new vehicles they buy. Fleet experts say the foundation for maximizing a truck's lifespan and its uptime are proper spec'ing of components and thorough preventive maintenance (PM).

Because of budget concerns, cutting costs may be tempting when it comes to spec'ing and PM; however, experts say haulers should resist that temptation. “Too often, price drives the spec decision, [but] additional dollars up front can have an extremely positive impact over the life of the vehicle,” says Trevor Bridges, vice president of service and warranty for Hagerstown, Ind.-based Autocar. “Another key point to get across is that preventive maintenance cannot take a back seat to anything. The technician shortage and budgetary constraints occasionally dictate how well or how poorly PM is done in the transportation industry. But doing it — and doing it on a regular schedule — is the key.”

Starting with Specs

Properly spec'ing a refuse truck is the first step toward getting peak performance from your fleet. “If any component on the vehicle is under spec'd, frequent breakdowns and high maintenance are almost assured,” says Dennis Manchester, manager of vocational sales for Portland, Ore.-based Daimler Truck North America, formerly Freightliner Trucks. “The life expectancy of the component will be significantly reduced and shorter overhaul cycles will result. Prime examples of this are driveline components, axles, suspensions and frames. Equipment that is not properly spec'd for a particular job may require more time to complete a route or travel to a landfill or transfer station, thereby requiring additional equipment to service a set number of customers and driving up total operating costs.”

Darry Stuart, president of Boston-based DWS Fleet Management Services, a firm specializing in fleet management issues, says the smart refuse fleet manager should spec a truck that can last 12 or 13 years, if needed. This gives a hauler the option of selling the vehicle after eight or 10 years if the market is good, or holding on to it for a few more if it is not.

“You need to remember that what you are buying is uptime — the less time the truck is in the shop, the better,” says Stuart, who spent five years of his 35-year career as a fleet manager for BFI, prior to its 1999 purchase by Allied Waste Industries. “The way to be competitive today is by managing your vehicle downtime and uptime better than the next guy.”

Haulers should spec suspensions and axles with a higher load rating than what they intend to haul and consider equipping the vehicle with bigger frames, tires and engines than their day-to-day operations demand, says Brian Lindgren, director of vocational sales for Seattle-based Kenworth Truck Co.

Common spec'ing mistakes include wheelbase and body-related issues, such as misjudging the amount of clear back-of-cab space, which is critical on all applications, says Jim Zito, director of sales-vocational markets for Denton, Texas-based Peterbilt Motors Co. For example, an automated side loader requires the right side of the chassis to be free of fuel tanks and battery boxes so that the arm can operate. Failure to take this into account in the specs means the tank and box will have to be moved by the body company, costing the customer a great deal of money. Making sure fleets spec market-specific components on their waste trucks also is critical, especially in terms of maintaining refuse vehicle productivity.

Focusing on Fluids

Once the truck specs are in place, fleets need to turn their attention to the fluids coursing through both the vehicle and the body: engine oil and coolant, transmission fluid, hydraulic fluids and wheel bearing grease.

Joel Barnes, technical training manager for Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Heil Environmental, says the refuse body maker has performed studies over the last three years, examining the performance of different grades of greases and lubricants in the refuse market. “We found one fleet rebuilt their automated truck's lift arm three times versus zero [times] for another fleet over that same three-year span, simply due to the better grade of lubricant used [by the former fleet],” he says.

Melissa Gauger, waste segment manager for Warrenville, Ill.-based International Truck & Engine Corp., recommends using synthetic fluids, such as engine oil and hydraulic fluids, everywhere possible because they handle extreme cold and heat better than conventional fluids, and sometimes allow for longer maintenance intervals.

Synthetic fluids have an enormous effect on maintenance costs, Autocar's Bridges says. “For example, synthetics in automatic transmissions have dramatically extended [fluid] change intervals,” he says. “Again, this increases the upfront cost, but, in my opinion, synthetics have had a dramatic effect on lowering the overall maintenance cost.”

“There is also a bonus in reduced environmental impact, as we're throwing away less oils, etc., because we are using them longer,” he says.

Fleets should synchronize the PM of a vehicle's various components so that they are servicing the engine, chassis and body at the same time, which reduces maintenance costs, experts say. “It doesn't help to use an extended 600-hour engine coolant if you have to change the hydraulic fluid at 300 hours,” Gauger says.

Barnes stresses that refuse fleets must look at the vehicle as a single unit — truck chassis and packer together — to maintain peak performance. “Many fleets are focused on keeping the engine oil clean, but forget about the needs of the hydraulic fluid,” he says.