I’m guessing that some of you have never actually had the experience of pulling into a full-service gas station and had someone ask you that question. If that’s the case, you’re both blessed and burdened by your youth! All I can say is be happy about one and patient about the other! For those of you who are either old enough to have had the experience or maybe you were the person asking the question, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Believe it or not, there was a time when people actually pumped your gas, cleaned your windshield, checked all your vehicle’s fluids and checked the belts and hoses, all while making conversation! If, by chance, there are still places like that on your route, consider yourself lucky.
Being a mobile tool dealer comes with a long list of things to think about and manage. There’s inventory sales and management, after-the-sale service, financing, insurance, customer relations, shipping, receiving and a whole host of smaller issues. There is one other extremely important issue to think about: You, and possibly the bank, own a piece of equipment that ranges anywhere from $50,000 to $250,000 or more. It’s sitting in your driveway as you read this. You have a large amount of money tied up in your truck. Are you taking care of it?
There is an old joke about the cobbler having no shoes, the barber having no hair and the dentist having no teeth. Many times, those of us who work in the automotive aftermarket can fall into that same trap. There are so many things going on, the last thing we want to do at the end of the day is think about or talk about fluids, maintenance, brake jobs or anything else to do with mechanical stuff.
The fact is you make your living spending 12-16 hours a day in that truck. You make hundreds of stops a month in that truck. In many cases, you are hauling anywhere from 2,000 to 10,000 pounds or more of tools and equipment. The truck is expected to run five days a week, all day, in stop-and-go traffic, in the heat, cold, rain, snow and ice — sounds like the mailman a little! Anyway, you get the picture. You ask a lot of your truck, so you better be willing to give back or it’s going to leave you stranded.
Most, if not all, of you call on medium- to heavy-duty truck shops, and you know a little or maybe a lot about preventive maintenance (PM) schedules. It’s a pretty simple concept — maintain the equipment before it becomes necessary due to a breakdown. The timing of PM, however, is not so simple. In talking with a local driver, he said something that was pretty enlightening: “These trucks aren’t like buying a new car; they don’t come with a handy owner’s manual that tells you when to change the oil or when to check the brakes, belts, etc.”
So, what is the right approach? How often should you change fluids, check brakes, etc.? Unfortunately, there is not a single answer. There are several variables to consider. What part of the country do you live in? What time of the year is it? What fuel do you run? How old is your truck? Wow! It seems the deeper you dig, the harder it gets to sort out! One other critical decision you need to make right up front is how much of the maintenance are you going to do yourself versus having it done by a technician? Whichever path you take you will have to be proactive in managing the timing of it.
Let’s take this one step at a time. Regardless of the age and type of the truck you are running, many of the basics are the same. Let’s start with the easy stuff. Every day before you start your route or when you get home, you should do a visual walk around. That is a mighty expensive rolling billboard you have there, and your name is plastered on the side! You want to make sure it’s clean and looks good!
Next, you should do a basic safety check. Check the lights (including hazards), tire condition and air pressure. You need to check fluid levels daily. Engine oil, power steering fluid, brake fluid and transmission fluid are critical. While the daily check is really just a safety check, it creates good habits and helps you stay “in tune” with your truck and its health.
Tire pressure is critical! With the cost of fuel reaching more than $3 a gallon, every psi matters! According to a U.S. government study conducted on tire pressure, you can improve your gas mileage by around 3.3% by keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure. Under-inflated tires can lower gas mileage by 0.4% for every 1 psi drop in pressure. The problem with the big heavy tires on your truck is that you can’t look at them and tell when they are under-inflated.
True preventive maintenance is effective only if you and your technician can establish a baseline for the truck in terms of maintenance frequency. This is easy if you bought a brand-new truck with zero miles. It is also manageable if you have an older truck but obtained good service records and are current on the PM.
If, however, you’ve let the service slip or bought a used truck with spotty service records, then you’re in for a tough time. The only way to get the truck on schedule is to start from zero on all the systems and inspect them, change them, clean them, etc., and then you can start the “clock” ticking in terms of either mileage or time until the next service. Regardless of vehicle manufacturer, there are standards for service intervals based on the truck type.
The Devil Is In The Details
In order to effectively manage the health of your truck, you have to give it as much attention as you do the rest of your business. You track your inventory down to the single socket, you know when you’re out of stock on a 5/16 shank #2 Phillips SD bit and you know if Joe at the Texaco owes you for last week’s purchase. So it stands to reason that you can do just as good a job keeping track of maintenance on the single largest investment in your business.
With just a little bit of set up and tracking, you can create your own PM schedules that will help you remember when it’s time to have critical components serviced or checked, and these efforts will be time well spent. DS