The state of South African roads is shocking – we all know this but simply stating or complaining does nothing to mitigate road safety and maintenance issues.
“The wear and tear of trucks on our roads is an expensive reality, but the maintenance of trucks is crucial as it has a direct impact on road safety,” says Dewald Ranft, Chairman of the Motor Industry Workshop Association (MIWA), an association of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI).
So, what specific parts should truck owners be keeping an eye on?
“What is important to understand is wear and tear will vary from truck to truck although there are some general parts that should always be checked,” says Ranft.
Marius Swart, Workshop Manager: Truck Rental Imperial Logistics, says tyres are a very big maintenance expense, however, with proper tyre maintenance, which includes regular tyre surveys, running tyres on the correct pressures and in-time casing rotation, the cost can be kept in line with budget.
“Regular wheel alignment checks are essential to prevent tyres getting shoulder wear and to rectify vehicles running with the incorrect caster or camber adjustments. Shocks need to be checked and tested as worn shock absorbers can contribute to premature tyre wear just the same as a tyre running underinflated does,” he says.
Suren Sewcharren, owner of Hino Tech Motors, a MIWA member and specialist in truck servicing, adds that unfortunately the poor quality of the roads is also a contributing factor to the wear and tear of tyres.
“While they cannot control the quality of the roads, truck drivers can control their speed and where they drive on the roads – avoiding potholes and choosing routes that take less toll on tyres. Long-haul drivers also need to stop at regular intervals and check their tyres. This goes a long way to avoiding blow-outs and additional wear and tear,” he says.
With the newer generation vehicles, Swart says they are moving away from commercial vehicles operating with manual adjusted clutches. He explains these clutches require regular adjustments to ensure the correct release bearing free play (ie the play on the clutch pedal from when you start engaging the clutch pedal until the clutch starts releasing) is maintained to avoid premature clutch failure.
“Experienced drivers would detect incorrect free play and would request a clutch adjustment from the nearest workshop. Currently we are buying more fully automatic trucks or automatic manual transmission (AMT) trucks that come with their own required maintenance. So far they seem to be more cost effective.”
Another major wear item is brakes.
“The braking system is obviously a crucial element and one that requires special attention,” says Sewcharren.
Swart says on bigger vehicles brakes are adjusted on services and replaced before running metal to metal.
“Proper use of the exhaust brakes and good driving habits can extend the life of the brakes on most vehicles. It is essential that brake fluid levels and brake warning lights are inspected whenever they appear on the dash board,” he adds.
The drive train consisting of the engine, gearbox and diff need to be maintained as per the manufacturer and changing oils needs to be done as prescribed with the correct grade of oil with filters approved for the specific application.
Sewcharren adds the fuel injection system also needs regular attention.
“What is also key is the quality of fuel as this will have a direct impact on the running and wear and tear of the vehicle,” says Vishal Premlall, Director of the South African Petroleum Retailers Association (SAPRA), also an association of the RMI, adding there are wholesalers and resellers underhandedly selling dirty diesel and petrol to the trucking market.
“We cannot stress the importance of using premium fuel from reputable retailers. While you may think you are saving by using cheaper fuel, the cost of maintenance on your vehicle will be higher as the dirty fuel detrimentally affects the entire operating system of the vehicle,” he says.
Servicing vehicles using the same service sheet as the manufacturer to ensure the replacement, inspection and adjustment of components when required is key. Ranft says truck owners need to implement strict policies regarding the servicing of vehicles on time.
“Air filter replacement and inspection is a vital part of the engine maintenance as is the inspection of the prop shaft, a part of the drive train that is often overlooked. The centre bearing on the prop shaft needs to be inspected and lubricated as a faulty prop shaft will cause a break down or cause damage to the gearbox which could have been prevented with simple maintenance.”
“There are thousands of trucks on our roads every day. We also see many truck accidents that could have been avoided if these vehicles were properly maintained. Make sure you budget for wear and tear and choose a reliable and accredited MIWA workshop to keep your trucks in tip-top condition,” concludes Ranft.