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Understand what you’ll get from the latest technology

By on March 5, 2013

This is the information age, and the trucking industry is seeing the benefits of advanced technology. Drivers and fleets can optimize miles per gallon, control operating costs and maximize uptime thanks to all sorts of devices now on the market. But the sheer volume of new products that allows drivers, fleet owners and truck service technicians to be more efficient and effective in maintaining rigs and enhancing safety can be overwhelming. What data is valuable and what is a nice extra? How much does an operator need to know to use these new gadgets? How can one determine if they are worthwhile investments? Let’s evaluate two of the most common modern truck tools now in use: tire pressure monitoring systems and “black boxes.”

Constantly checking tires

When it comes to maintenance cost-per-mile, tire expenses are near the top of the list. Until recently, drivers had to rely on regular maintenance and a good air pressure gauge to keep truck tires at optimum condition. Still, even the most diligent operator could run into trouble on the road. A slow leak, undetected, can lead to serious tire failure. Also, precious fuel is wasted due to low tire air pressure. Tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) were developed to address the issue by keeping track of pressure at all times. But at a cost of $400 to $1,000, some might question whether the results justify the investment.

My take? Make the comparison. Many systems cost less than the price of a roadside call for one major tire failure. If a decision is made to purchase, check for features listed in the box on this page.

A good TPMS system:

  • Will work in extreme temperatures and all weather conditions and monitor temperature as well as pressure
  • Has good wireless range from the rear of the trailer to the front of the tractor
  • Has long battery life
  • Is easy to install
  • Has transmitters that will not twist off while the vehicle is moving
  • Has an ergonomic antenna
  • Has 12 volt capability
  • Includes audible and visual alarms

The controversial black box

A vehicle’s datalink looks like nothing more than a twisted pair of wires, but it holds a great deal of information from multiple electronic hardware components. Devices that monitor that data and route it to a designated supervisor have proven effective, though challenging. Many drivers dislike the entire concept of on-board electronic monitoring because they consider it intrusive and an indication of distrust. The truth is that the horse has left the stable on this particular piece of equipment, often known as a “black box” or “tattletale” device, so it makes sense to look at the benefits it can bring.

This equipment can be programmed to alert maintenance managers and/or technicians if the vehicle experiences a fault code, which could lead to a breakdown or component failure. Real time odometer readings make it easy to stay on top of maintenance scheduling. It can be helpful in keeping track of hours of service. A huge amount of data is easily and instantly accessible.

Which leads to the downside. Someone must be assigned to monitor the information and in many cases it will take some work to organize the data into usable information. The device reads what an operator programs it to read, so there needs to be some serious thought put into which information is necessary to monitor and offers a valuable return on investment.

OEMs are working diligently to install this equipment during truck assembly, and it usually comes with a monthly service fee. Some OEMs have call centers staffed with advanced level technicians who monitor this data stream and alert customers when steps should be taken to avoid costly delays and unnecessary damage.

Advice for the doubtful

Any new device may be met with resistance from drivers who must be convinced that something new works better than their tried and true ways. But avoiding technology is futile. The trick is to identify devices that match the needs of your operation without breaking the bank. As a good friend of mine told me when I was young, “Investing in technology is like eating fish. You eat the fish, but you spit out the bones!”

Homer Hogg’s “Maintenance Matters” airs on the Dave Nemo Show (Road Dog Trucking, SiriusXM 106), 8 a.m. ET, the first and third Thursday of each month.

Homer Hogg, Maintenance Supervisor for TA and Petro, has worked as a truck technician for more than 30 years. He is ASE Master-certified, a Daimler Certified Trainer and a member of the Nashville Auto Diesel College Hall of Fame.

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One Comment

  1. kelly frey

    March 14, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    Good article. I appreciate the information about the ‘controversial blackbox’ and the driver resistance that it may incite. I am the CEO and co-founder of a company called BigRoad and we have created a completely free and easy to use electronic log solution for drivers on their smart phone or tablet. To make it more appealing and useful for drivers we incorporated a number of apps such as the TA/Petro TruckSmart app so they can eaily find their way to the closest location for fuel, maintenance or overnighting. IN fact, of the 15 apps we have incorporated since launching the TA/Petro app is in the top three most used by the 46,000 truck drivers on our system.

    Thanks for taking the time to write about maintenance issues important to drivers and fleet operators.


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