Semi-Truck Maintenance: The Definitive Guide

Have a warning light on? Depending on trucking roadside service far too often? How about some squealing that you don’t know the cause of? In the trucking industry, your equipment is number one priority. This is especially true for an owner-operator that does not have the convenience of a company owned truck that gets regular fleet maintenance. However, you still need it to be in top shape to not only have the dependability to get the job done and get you paid but also be operating efficiently and not costing you large repair bills that could have been easily avoided with a regular maintenance program. With a solid plan here you can keep your truck in just as good of shape as those fleet management plans do. No one likes spending money, but at the end of the day investing in your equipment is one of the smartest things you can do as a business owner.

In this article we are going to provide some leading maintenance tips in the trucking industry that every truck driver should know. This can range from maintaining your tire pressure to hunting down issues behind warning lights and everything in between. We will also take an in-depth look at Semi truck maintenance through this definitive guide, delving into the categories of preventive maintenance, maintaining and maintenance checklist, as well as your maintenance schedule.

Preventative Maintenance

Preventive maintenance isn’t just necessary in the trucking industry, it’s mandatory. According to the FMCSA Regulations, Section §396.3, “Every motor carrier and inter-modal equipment provider must systematically inspect, repair, and maintain, or cause to be systematically inspected, repaired, and maintained, all motor vehicles and inter-modal equipment subject to its control.” It’s up to you, as the trucking company owner, to set up a maintenance schedule that works best for your vehicles and keeps you running legally.

Much like on your personal vehicles, a preventive maintenance program on commercial vehicles is done in stages. A commercial truck comes with special needs however that must be properly addressed. To get started, here are some suggestions on how frequently to check your equipment.
According to Jim Ohlmeier, TransAm Trucking’s Director of Maintenance, pay extra attention to tires. “One of the most frequent things drivers are written up for during DOT Roadside Inspections are tire defects. Should you be retreading tires or buying new? Looking for when inspecting tires,” Jim advises. “Are the tires flat or look to be low on air pressure; do they have cuts in the tread or sidewall; is the tread flat spotted or in good condition?” Tires can be a large but necessary expense. Truck tire financing can make the cost more manageable to keep up with.

Preventive Maintenance Checklist for Semi Trucks

Semi-truck maintenance is key to your success on the road. For the very reason, you should always complete pre and post trip inspections of your equipment. According to the FMCSA Regulation §396.11, equipment inspections must be completed before the start of the driver’s 14-hour clock and at the end. These pre-trip inspections are a truck maintenance checklist for your equipment:

  • Parking brake

  • Steering mechanism

  • Lighting devices and reflectors

  • Tires

  • Windshield wipers

  • Rear vision mirrors

  • Coupling devices

  • Wheels and rims

  • Emergency equipment

Essentially, your driver is looking for anything that appears off – Do the lights work? Are there any cracks in the windows? Is the equipment leaning to one side? Are there any fluid leaks anywhere? Etc.
Visually inspecting your equipment on a daily basis is the quickest way to spot issues before they become financial problems, unwanted breakdown time, and/or CSA violations.

The next step up from Pre-/Post-Trip inspections involves checking the fluids and filters. Everyone with passenger vehicles should be familiar with oil changes and filter replacements. These things are just, if not more, important in commercial vehicles. (A clogged air filter can kill the fuel mileage in your commercial vehicle.) This inspection covers the high wear-and-tear areas; items that need to be replaced more frequently. Check with your equipment manufacturer or owner’s manual for how often each type of inspection is recommended.
You should also do regular inspections that go more in depth, checking such items as:

  • Engine oil and filter changes

  • Oil pressure

  • Transmission fluid

  • Fuel filter and system check

  • Cooling system

  • Engine and transmission mounts

  • Drive shafts or CV joints

  • Belts and hoses

  • Tune-ups

  • Electrical system components

  • Braking system

  • Steering and suspension system

  • Tires

  • Wheels and rims

  • Exhaust system

  • Undercarriage and frame

  • Exterior and interior lights

  • Body, glass and mirrors

  • Windshield wiper system

  • Horn

  • Seat belts and seat structure

  • Fluid leaks

  • Auxiliary systems

Not keeping up with these issues will inevitably lead to more issues that pop up at random times causing you to have forced downtime potentially costing you a lot of money.

The FMCSA requires annual inspections on commercial vehicles. This is a thorough inspection, checking the alignment, brakes, and auxiliary systems – just to name a few. Replace parts that are reaching the end of their lifespan. Cover all the nooks-and-crannies of your equipment.

With a little know how and a quality maintenance plan you can keep your truck in good shape and on the road making money.

Maintenance Schedule

A semi-truck maintenance schedule is different from your trip inspection as it is a set period of time that you will perform regular maintenance by making minor repairs or replacements of parts. This is to ensure you don’t go too long and cause those parts to fail and consequently affect other parts as well. Our vehicles are very complex in nature and every part connects to another part and when they are worn or not functioning correctly it can cause that error to affect the next part in line and so forth. Before you know it you have a bad situation on your hands.

Sometimes this means replacing items before they are truly faulty, but that is where the word preventive comes into play. You are replacing those components because they have an approximate lifespan that you know is coming near its end. Instead of milking it for every inch of life it has and running the risk of causing damage you just swap it out and keep on going. Some may not agree with this approach but in the trucking industry your equipment is what keeps a paycheck coming in and is not worth the risk of putting off.

The span of time in your maintenance schedule can vary depending on equipment and you can compile that information and come up with a schedule that best works for you and your equipment specific needs. Some parts may need changed annually while others need to be changed after a set amount of miles. In the end this still takes some thought as it largely depends how many miles you put on your equipment within those set amounts of time.

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