Shop Talk: Shorter Service Intervals for Extreme Applications

By Steve Temple


shop-talkUntitled-1You’ve probably heard of how important the three “R”s (Readin’, Writin’ and ‘Rithmetic) are in school, but how about the importance of the three “M”s in the construction world – Maintenance, Maintenance, Maintenance?

Individual pickup owner or fleet manager of a thousand, preventive maintenance is what saves your company money in the long run.

But what types of maintenance are key for pickups used in extreme applications? Most of them are common sense items such as more frequent air filter changes, frequent ­cleaning under the hood and under the truck, and paying special attention to removing mud no matter where it is.

Caked-on crud retains moisture that causes corrosion. Also, getting rid of grime makes it much easier to spot any leaks, loose fittings and bolts, or other impending problems from the engine block to the rear axle.

A mild soap such as Simple Green works great removing oil and grease, but be sure to cover up electrical components and connectors before hosing down the engine bay with a light spray rather than a pressure wash. (There are a lot of sensors in today’s pickups and none like water.)

The use of high-pressure washes can also pose a problem for auxiliary/re-fuel tanks, as can the breather vents on 6.7L Ram fuel tanks.

Another maintenance area for trucks used off-pavement is fuel filters: Whether gas or diesel, the finer the filtration the better.

Most factory filters handle particles that are as small as 25 microns. Our sources suggest replacing the OE filter with one that’s high-low and as fine as 4 microns.

Filter Solutions Technologies’ has a new line out that is said to provide 300gph flow and water separation in one filter. We’ve also seen some work truck owners use an adaptor ring to fit the finer filter found on industrial-duty Caterpillar engines.

How about oil changes? The engine computer on newer Ford and Ram diesels monitor various operating parameters such as load, idle time, number of regens and frequency of operation to tripping an oil-change reminder between 5K to 15K miles.

If maximizing your truck’s engine longevity is a priority, you might need to be changing both oil and filter as often as every 3,000 miles depending on the severity of the operating conditions and the engine.

On some older, not-so-well-maintained pickups, according to several of the techs we’ve spoken to, certain engines might benefit from an engine-oil “flush” to clean out sludge and deposits.

white-truckUntitled-1Preventive maintenance includes keeping the undercarriage clean as well as regularly checking brake wear and suspension components like shocks and springs.

This procedure basically consists of adding heated cleaning chemicals to the crankcase after draining out the dirty oil, and then gently idling the engine to make sure they flow through all the internal passages.

Then these cleaning agents are drained out and replaced with fresh oil. (Note: Not all engine manufacturers agree with this practice, however, and claim that if oil changes are done on a regular basis, it probably isn’t necessary.)

Another aspect of maintenance to consider is the type of oil used for your particular climate and operating conditions.

For instance, Shell Rotella T6 0W-40 (you read that right: “0W”, not 10W) is a full-synthetic, heavy-duty diesel engine oil specifically designed for extreme cold conditions. Its free-flowing synthetic base oils pumps easily even on start-up under extreme cold, yet thickens up under high temperature operation to protect against engine wear.

A thinner synthetic might also slightly improve fuel economy in some cases, offsetting this lubricant’s typically higher price over conventional petroleum products.

Oil analysis is a cheap form of insurance as well. For about $20, you can find out if your crankcase oil is either contaminated or getting diluted from the extra fuel used to light off the DPF, among other issues.

However, just a one-time analysis is not sufficient.

To be of value, and reveal what other problems your engine might be experiencing (such as bearing wear indicated by increasing levels of chromium), the analysis should be done every third oil change after the engine’s initial 10,000-mile break-in period.

Then oil analysis should be done about every third oil change to monitor both the engine internals and to set that vehicle’s oil-change intervals based on oil degradation.

Another item to check on a regular basis is the serpentine belt. If you think you can spot belt wear simply by looking for cracks or chips, you are missing a key factor: belt thickness.

Gates Rubber offers a free belt check smartphone app, called PIC Gauge that allows you to check belt wear right from your smartphone.

Or, you can go old school and use Gate’s plastic gauge to check the depth of the grooves.

Either way, if the ribs aren’t tall enough, it’s time to replace the belt before it jumps off the pulleys and leaves you stranded. While you’re at it, replace the belt tensioner – or at least replace the tensioner bearing (which costs much less).

We could go at length about other aspects of preventative maintenance, such as extended drain intervals for transmission fluid, and using test strips to check coolant, but we’ll have to save those for a future column.