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A History Lesson for Your Future

By on January 1, 2018

How the EPA Served Up a Bowl of Alphabet Soup

The Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to establish national air quality standards designed to make the world we live in healthier. The Clean Air Act is an air quality law that has and will continue to impact onboard truck and trailer technology. The industry continues to battle rising maintenance costs as a result of new components and systems that are strapped to engines and truck bodies.


2004 Air Quality Regs

In 2004, heavy-duty diesel engine manufacturers added exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) systems to their engines. The idea was to introduce inert gas (exhaust smoke) back into the engine’s combustion chamber to lower oxides of nitrogen (NOx), which are caused by the heat of combustion. Variable-geometric turbochargers were included with some of these EGR systems. The engine computer can change the speed of these turbos at any given time, regardless of what the engine exhaust is doing. This enabled the engine manufacturers to precisely introduce air and adjust boost to properly mix with the EGR for better control of emissions and engine performance. As a result of complicating a turbo with more moving parts and introducing acidic exhaust gas back into the engine, the industry has experienced a rise in maintenance costs and downtime.

2007 Air Quality Regs

A new set of emission devices were introduced in 2007 along with some new components and terms, such as Diesel Oxidation Catalyst (DOC) and Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF). This updated system was designed to virtually eliminate particulates in the exhaust, what some might call the black soot emitted from exhaust stacks. This DPF system is basically a filter in the exhaust. The DOC is there to help raise the temperature in the exhaust to 1100°F+, so the soot can be converted to ash. The ash is smaller, which enables the particulate filter to operate longer between cleanings. The industry is still confronted with trucks that require regeneration to help convert the soot to ash. We also had to learn about cleaning DPFs. These new dynamics again dramatically increased maintenance costs and downtime.

2010 Air Quality Regs

When 2010 arrived, so did Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) and Selective Catalyst Reduction (SCR). The new system, located just after the DPF system in the exhaust, enables engine manufacturers to lower (NOx) by injecting a mixture of urea and water in the exhaust stream after the DPF. This chemical coupled with a catalytic device separates the oxygen from the nitrogen, which makes them harmless to the environment and humans. Unfortunately, new fault codes started appearing along with severe engine derating. This led to what else, more costs and more downtime.

Future Air Quality Regs

EPA requirements will continue to become more stringent as the 2021, 2024 and 2027 standards arrive, resulting in new systems and new technologies, and probably some new alphabet-soup acronyms. The solution is to become more informed regarding the impact of the emerging technologies by attending truck shows and conferences, plus having a skilled maintenance-service provider like TA Truck Service, that can help you make good maintenance-planning decisions before you purchase a new vehicle, and then throughout that vehicle’s lifecycle.

In 1965, Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, predicted the number of transistors added to integrated circuit boards would double every 18 to 24 months. It’s shocking how spot-on his prediction has been. Many experts say that we cannot sustain that pace very much longer, but the damage has already been done in the trucking industry.

The complexity of the modern truck can be overwhelming, but I think it’s just a matter of making an investment in the training and education of your shop personnel, so they are better equipped to meet the past, current and future challenges presented by on-highway, heavy-duty vehicles. Stay abreast of these new developments, embrace the technology, get trained, and be more confident about your future.

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