Heat shrink should always be used to protect the area of repair. This image shows the heat shrink cut in half to indicate how important protection is when a technician heat shrinks a butt connector.  -  Photo: Missy Albin

Heat shrink should always be used to protect the area of repair. This image shows the heat shrink cut in half to indicate how important protection is when a technician heat shrinks a butt connector.

Photo: Missy Albin

Sometimes it’s the little things. When it comes to fleet operations, specifically regarding the work technicians are performing, staying on top of day-to-day fleet needs is key. Ensuring small changes in the fleet shop can benefit vehicle liability down the road. To get a better understanding of what these “small fixes” entail, Government Fleet sat down with Missy “Diesel Girl” Albin, International Trucks Female Technician Ambassador and Senior Lead Master Technician for Taylor & Lloyd, Inc., who broke down the essential maintenance issues that fleets shouldn’t overlook. 

Albin started with one of the basics: the cabin air filter. As she explained, if the cabin air filter becomes clogged, not enough air is going to pass through the evaporator and it can end up freezing. Something as insignificant as a cabin air filter is a maintenance item that needs to be constantly checked as part of preventive maintenance. What may seem like a small item can make a driver's work day unbearable. 

“It’s very easy, very quick to do, and can be overlooked sometimes,” Albin said. “People don’t always make it a habit.” 

Another item that may seem insignificant is scheduled oil changes. When it comes to the various vehicles within a fleet, Albin does not suggest oil changes happen at the same time. At her shop, medium-duty vehicles are recommended to have oil changes about every 8,000 miles and about 10,000 for the big four. 

✔ Quick Checklist Items. Have you done these?

  • Check all hoses to see if they’re loose. 
  • Update electronics programs.
  • Keep up with recalls. 

She also goes by hours. So if a fleet’s unit is going to be idling longer, they will go off about 250 hours. 

“I think that a good preventative maintenance plan is structured around the application and what the size of the engine is,” she said. “You shouldn't be running everything at 10,000 miles.”

Albin emphasized the need to look closer at how much a vehicle is running to get the most longevity and fuel efficiency as opposed to just the published numbers.

“I see units that come in and they'll get around four or five miles to the gallon, then 10 years later I see them coming in getting six and it’s probably because they're maintaining it properly.”

This is further proof that oil changes at the right time are critical. 

Crimpers can either be “insulated” or “non insulated;" non-insulated will give a heavier crimp while insulated gives a more rounded crimp that won’t pierce through a butt connector.   -  Photo: Missy Albin

Crimpers can either be “insulated” or “non insulated;" non-insulated will give a heavier crimp while insulated gives a more rounded crimp that won’t pierce through a butt connector. 

Photo: Missy Albin

This leads to the checking and servicing of all vehicle fluids. Albin noted that not having enough fluids will do more damage and wear and tear, adding that a “visual inspection is going to be your best friend and your worst enemy.” 

An Example of Fluid Service with Differentials 

Different differentials take different fluids. A transfer case may take a specific fluid type than what is being serviced in the rear differential is an example. Be cognizant of not mixing fluids from one system to another to avoid the chance of contamination, especially with Diesel Exhaust Fluid

While inspecting tanks she advised that if a technician is not able to determine the contents to get a second opinion to determine what fluid was used. 

When Albin services the rear differentials not only does she ensure she is using the correct type of fluid but will also exercise the gearing to help move the fluid in areas not normally accessed with simply a static fill. Then she rechecks it. This same procedure she performs for the front differential. 

This extra step ensures that the system has been serviced properly. 

A non insulated crimp with proper heat shrink protection.   -  Photo: Missy Albin

A non insulated crimp with proper heat shrink protection. 

Photo: Missy Albin

It’s important to remember when servicing or checking these fluid levels that they are not overfilled, which could cause a leak. If they are underfilled this can cause the bearings to seize, which can lead to a catastrophic failure. 

During Inspections Pay Attention to the Little Details 

Albin retells the story of when she was doing an inspection while working for a school bus company. The technician who first performed the inspection found 17 items that needed to be looked at; Albin did the same inspection later and found around 30 items. However, there was one thing he saw that she didn't: a missing shock. 

“One of the most important things I took away from that job is that while I noticed more things that he didn't, the most important thing that he did notice, I didn't.”

Because of this, Albin explained it’s important to strategically train all technicians in a pattern when doing PMIs. It’s not just going through a checklist, it’s having a uniform way of getting the checklist done correctly so that nothing goes unnoticed. 

Because this tool can pierce through the butt connectors, it's important to keep heat shrink over the terminals no matter what style is used.  -  Photo: Missy Albin

Because this tool can pierce through the butt connectors, it's important to keep heat shrink over the terminals no matter what style is used.

Photo: Missy Albin

Something Albin commonly sees in her PMIs are loose wheel lug nuts. A good telltale sign of loose lug nuts or anything loose, including body mount bolts, u-bolts, and spring, is rust lines. 

A good indicator is if there is a water line of some sort and a rust pattern near a component or fastener. The rust pattern may look like something (such as a u-bolt) has shifted. 

For steering problems, Albin advises looking for steering box rust lines going into the sector shaft from the area of the steering box to the pitman arm, which initially steers the whole setup. Albin noted these can spin out making the wheel feel loose, so it’s important to be able to decipher between this steering knuckle movement and a failure. 

Having those visuals and either acting or not acting upon them could be the difference between system integrity and failure, Albin said, using the example of if a box truck was in a front-end collision those loosened u-bolts could cause the cab to separate from the chassis.

“We are always looking for those signs of wear and tear when doing our PMIs and then they can be addressed accordingly,” she said. 

Do not poke wires as this can lead to future concerns with exposure to elements. Wires can rot at that spot and create an “open circuit” not allowing the current to pass. The same should be applied to when using butt connectors. Use heat shrink to protect the area of repair. Pictured: Non-heat shrinked butt connectors for headlights and marker lights. They are inoperative because of this repair.   -  Photo: Missy Albin

Do not poke wires as this can lead to future concerns with exposure to elements. Wires can rot at that spot and create an “open circuit” not allowing the current to pass. The same should be applied to when using butt connectors. Use heat shrink to protect the area of repair. Pictured: Non-heat shrinked butt connectors for headlights and marker lights. They are inoperative because of this repair. 

Photo: Missy Albin

Inspecting Critical Systems Such as Breaks

When it comes to the brake system, Albin pointed out that one way to visually inspect the brakes without needing someone in the truck to depress the brake pedal is by looking at the strokes of the air cans. 

Something she looks out for, found on the rod of the air can, is usually an orange-colored marker. If this is visible, then this is an indication that the brakes are out of adjustment. 

If the brake is still out of adjustment, Albin explained another person or a prop rod can be used to apply the brakes. Measure from the clevis pin on the slack adjuster to the can before the brakes are applied then take the same measurement from the clevis pin to the can while the brakes are being applied. Subtract the difference to find the stroke of the actuator. 

With automatic slacks, Albin pointed out it’s necessary to always look closely at what’s going on. However, because most brake slack adjusters are automatic, the application of braking performs the adjusting.  

“There could be a hang-up on the inside. Maybe your wheel seal is actually leaking, maybe your brakes are sticking or glazing or the slack adjuster isn't functioning properly,” she said. “There are a lot of things that people might not deal with in that moment because they think they can adjust it.”

Battery Cables

👁 What to look out for: 

  • Blue coloring, which is an indication of corrosion. 
  • Looseness in the connections, which can lead to battery drainage over time. 
  • Inspection and cleaning of battery cables is a simple step that can prevent the above 

It’s necessary to be thorough and investigate all possibilities. One example she provides is when a truck came into the shop after someone had only inspected one can when there were four cans. While the truck was getting placed into the done lot all the brakes locked up because one of the springs that had been missed was completely broken. This could have been determined by inspecting all the site holes. 

“Thankfully, this just led to a failure for us just parking the truck, but the person didn't have the correct training,” Albin said. “You need everyone to inspect things the same way because of scenarios like that.”

Greasing and Getting Work Done Between Oil Services 

Albin advises to never grease a unit until all inspections are completed. She explained this is because worn voids can be filled with grease creating a cushion that gives a false indication and does not a true check. 

It’s important “With grease, you want it to come out of every point,” she said. As an example “If you have a u-joint, you have four caps…if it comes out of only three caps, you want to replace the u-joint.”

By that one cap not receiving grease this could result in the loss of a u-joint and/or throwing the drive shaft, according to Albin. She added that some people may want to simply grease kingpins with the front end of the vehicle on the ground but she prefers to lift the front end to grease the kingpins to relieve weight or tension. This ensures they are properly lubed. 

Albin suggests also greasing in between oil services, especially when it comes to kingpins for more longevity. 

Pictured is a connector where only one terminal melted.  -  Photo: Missy Albin

Pictured is a connector where only one terminal melted.
 

Photo: Missy Albin

Avoiding Shortcuts and Not Overlooking Specific Areas

Something commonly missed that Albin sees? Missing zip ties and compressor airlines that are leaking. When air lines are routed on certain engine models and not properly secured due to chaffing they can develop air leaks and this can lead to face plugging and a buildup of carbon on the inlet side of the diesel oxidation catalyst, which then causes DPF issues. 

“Those are very small things that can lead to a bigger problem,” Albin noted. 

On electrical systems it is critical to wire them the correct way; avoid connecting existing or new systems with the use of scotch locks or exposed butt connectors. It is best to have a breakout to help avoid data link failure through modules on that existing data link. 

The best way to tie into a circuit, such as an ignition circuit, is to utilize the fuse panel ensuring this is not only done the correct way but provides protection for the circuit through the fuse. Failing to do so could cause unforeseen failures. 

💡 Albin sees a lot of cracked cowls where water has run through the crack and contaminated electrical components on the firewall. If a crack is found, she said sometimes this can be repaired with epoxy and does not always necessitate a replacement. 

As an example, Albin recalled when someone bypassed the body controller of a vehicle’s AC system. They wired a direct switch to the AC compressor to turn the clutch on and off — the computer receives inputs to determine when the clutch is to cycle on or off — but this was bypassed using a direct switch. The clutch eventually burnt up because the customer left the switch on. This led to the truck shutting down after a few seconds. This was caused because of a direct short through the AC compressor that tripped the ignition fuse. 

Albin added the need to inspect the electrical circuit for any loose or spread contacts as this can cause a high amperage draw, which could result in a melted fuse. During the inspection, if a popping sound is heard, that is usually an indication of a direct short to ground. 

Washing and Spraying to Prevent Rot

Washing the chassis, especially for vehicles that are going to see a buildup of salt, dirt, and grease (such as vehicles used for plowing), is a must and needs to be done right away, Albin explained. 

A fluid-filled spray applicator with an approved cleaner can be used on the frame and on other critical areas that rust. Albin has seen a fair share of floors completely corroded out from not washing down the chassis and spraying down components such as oil coolers and areas where salt can build up. 

On oil coolers that end up getting corroded, the two independent systems, coolant and oil that flow on different pathways, now intermix because of that corrosion. This can create multiple problems in both systems. The end result is needing to possibly replace multiple components and flushing out the system creating more work. 

At the time of writing, Albin was working on a vehicle that had to be taken out of service due to the cabin floor being completely corroded out. As she reiterated, it’s about always keeping an eye out for those little things that could potentially go unnoticed. 

“Follow your gut,” she said. “As a technician, you may not see something visually but you may feel like something isn’t right…take a note and then bring it to the attention of somebody who may understand what’s going on.”

    About the author
    Nichole Osinski

    Nichole Osinski

    Executive Editor

    Nichole Osinski is the executive editor of Government Fleet magazine. She oversees editorial content for the magazine and the website, selects educational programming for GFX, and manages the brand's awards programs.

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