Industry Trends

Maintenance: What Should You Consider?

By performing preventative maintenance rather than reactive maintenance, you can double the life of your equipment.

Refuse vehicles are an important part of the solid waste industry, and maintaining its life is crucial to how it will operate, how long and even any safety issues that come up during the course of its run. What it really comes down to is checking the little things every day, rather than performing one big inspection every month. By doing this you can prevent any elements that could cause a breakdown or even an accident.

Maintenance Checks

The parts of a refuse vehicle that should be checked for maintenance first and most frequently are the brakes, windshield wipers, fluid levels (oil, hydraulic, motor, power steering transmission, etc.), grease points, tires, air leaks and safety items—lights, fire extinguishers, safety vests, backup alarms and horn. According to Rick Eggleton, Human Resources, for Universal Waste Systems based in Santa Fe Spring, CA, the company’s drivers go one step further and look to see whether the packer is clean. “We check these things on a daily basis. Our trucks drive on steep hills in certain areas, not to mention at the landfill, so the truck’s ability to stop is very important,” he says. Drew Weil, Account Representative, for Sunbelt Hydraulics (Pompano Beach, FL) agrees, “All are part of our drivers daily check in log and should be checked before and after a route has been run.”

In addition, whenever you’re maintaining a vehicle, an inspection of everything is usually involved, including to see if any part on the tires are loose, bolts on the drive shaft are tight and any lights are broken. These are things that drivers need to do as well as mechanics. “A driver uses the truck every day so he know what will be wrong with it. A mechanic is only going to go on there and look at something that the driver says is wrong,” stresses Sal Tagliavia, President of Sanitation Repairs in Brooklyn, NY. “So if the driver doesn’t take the time to do the inspection, it’s going to have an effect in the long run because there could be something loose or broken. Many times these damages are preventable because, for example, if it is a loose bolt, all mechanic has to do is tighten it up before they go out, saving time and money.”

And as far as changing the oil? it depends on how many miles you put on the truck per day; however, it should be checked at least once a month, while every other month an oil change should be performed. By maintaining your truck on a regular basis, you can prolong the life of your truck at least 50 percent or four to five years. This, says Weil, is called preventative maintenance. “If you truly perform preventative maintenance instead of reactive maintenance it can mean up to doubling the life of some equipment.”

Bob Wallace, Principal and Vice President for WIH Resource Group (Phoenix, AZ) agrees, “The objective of a preventative maintenance program is to minimize equipment failure by maintaining a constant awareness of the condition of equipment and correcting defects before they become serious problems. This program also minimizes unscheduled repairs by causing most maintenance and repair activities to occur through scheduled inspections.” If the truck is not maintained on a regular basis, depending on the driver, the truck will fall apart much quicker since any number of things can go wrong, taking at least three to four years off of the life of the vehicle.

It even has an effective on customer service “Maintaining a regular inspection schedule results in less breakdowns and better servicing the customer. If the vehicles are not taken care of and the truck breaks down, customers can’t get service properly. Then a company has to get other trucks to go out there and it cuts into someone else’s time,” explains Tagliavia. Considering this, make sure that before the vehicle leaves the station, everything is checked. Although there will always be things that happen that are out of the driver’s control, if the small but crucial things are checked first, it can go a long way in preventing the uncontrollable.

Wallace goes a step further by suggesting a comprehensive fleet management audit that can be a valuable procedure in evaluating drivers, mechanics, and operating and cost performance measures that are regularly used to effectively manage a fleet organization. Key performance measures include the unit cost to operate each piece of equipment, the ratio of preventive maintenance costs to total maintenance costs, vehicle availability, vehicle use, labor productivity and shop rate. “By doing this audit, managers can identify and allocate costs, evaluate truck condition and mechanic productivity and performance, examine management information systems, strategies for purchasing vehicles and parts, and compare operations to similar-sized fleets.”

Maintaining the Exterior

While, performing preventative maintenance is crucial to the life of the vehicle, taking care of the outside of the vehicle is just as important. It is the first thing that customers see when the truck is driving through a neighborhood and even what some municipalities may take into considerations when looking for waste services. By taking certain steps to keep the exterior presentable and protected from the elements, the vehicle’s shell can retain its appearance. Proper washing of the equipment is essential from a maintenance perspective as well as for customer image. Says Weil, “It also helps you see early failures like cracks in metal (body or frame), worn hoses, premature failures before they are tomorrow’s road call and driver downtime.”

Eggleton agrees, “Washing the trucks weekly and periodic degreasing is important for the look of the vehicle as well as diagnosing potential issues. Our trucks and bins are our first line of advertising, so them looking good on the road or at a location is a top priority.”

Natural elements can also play into the exterior wear on the vehicle. For example, dirt, dust and air born items all play a role in being harmful to a piece of equipment, from getting into the air system of an engine to getting mixed in with the grease and causing wear on a bearing. “What may be even more surprising is the load itself can be the worst culprit,” Weil expresses. “Soda from a soda can in a recycle truck will eat through a steel floor quicker than the blade wearing on it.”

In addition, Eggleton says that driving at the landfill repeatedly and using the hydraulics to pick up the trash and dump the truck can wear on the exterior as well as the engine, “Our trucks have low miles but a lot of engine hours.”

Maintenance and Safety Intertwined

Logically, maintaining the vehicle directly relates to the safety of its drivers and the company’s customer service because performing regular inspections can prevent accidents on the road, whether it is a tire blowout or keeping a vehicle’s cab clean so water bottles don’t roll under the brake pedal. Says Eggleton, ”Maintaining the vehicle ensures that it will operate properly for the drivers.  The company stays cleaner, keeps the customer’s property clean, and presents a better overall image of the company.”

Weil concurs, “It is one of the hardest issues to put a value or time on but it is huge—from the safety of being able to perform their task without incident or injury, to maintaining a positive customer image by not having units sitting on the side of the road. Maintenance is the key to safety. Something as simple as not keeping an air conditioning system maintained and performing properly can lead to a fatigued driver who may have poor visibility due to excessive sweat in his eyes. At the end of his/her shift, fatigue may set in and cause them to have an accident.”

Not only is it a good idea to perform vehicle safety inspections on a regular basis, but the U.S. Department of Transportation requires a commercial driver to perform a pre- and post-trip inspection every time a unit is used. There is also an annual DOT inspection that is required. “Although these are important steps toward building a good maintenance program, they are only the beginning. It takes a disciplined program that has a methodical routine to check trucks on a regular basis. It is important to find the failures and repair them before they become larger more expensive and possible harmful situations,” stresses Weil.

Another safety precaution that drivers need to keep in mind is the use of cell phones. Although, it may not necessarily be the truck drivers who are the culprits, other drivers on the road may be texting or talking on the phone around them. As a result, drivers must driver defensively while using caution. “I think the biggest detriment to a truck driver’s safety is cell phones—people talking, texting, etc. while driving—it’s a big issue. Most accidents that occur are preventable—some of them are just people that are not paying attention to what’s going on around their environment because they’re texting and walking and they walk right into a truck or they’ll jump out of the way as the truck is driving by,” says Tagliavia.

Maintaining a Fleet

While all these steps and considerations are great things to keep in mind, industry technology can also help the process along.“There are many great software programs out there to help maintain a fleet. Whether you use one of them or even keep your records the old fashion way on paper, it is critical to perform preventative maintenance instead of reactive maintenance,” says Weil. “Remember, a repair caught in the early stages typically cost a fraction of what it does if you wait till you have a complete failure, not to mention what it does to driver moral, customer image and your budget.”

Rick Eggleton, Sal Tagliavia, Bob Wallace and Drew Weil are Waste Advantage Magazine’s editorial board members.