As fleets and drivers transition out of winter conditions and move into the busier spring and summer months, trucks must also shift gears and undergo key maintenance checks to ensure they’re prepared for the rigors of the busy season ahead.
It goes without saying that these checks are done to ensure the safety of the driver and others on the road. And, any fleet owner or owner-operator knows that commercial vehicles that are regularly maintained stay rolling longer and come up against fewer expensive roadside breakdowns.
We put together the following spring and summer truck maintenance checklist, which goes beyond the usual oil changes and lube jobs to help ensure your upcoming season rolls along profitably and efficiently:
This is an important summer maintenance item that all fleet managers and busy owner-operators should take extra care with. Having your truck’s air conditioning system tested and serviced regularly ensures your drivers stay cool and comfortable during the busy, and relentlessly hot summer months. Remember: Cooling the cab when it’s hot is so much harder on the system than heating it. Make sure the condenser is flushed regularly to remove debris, check the hoses for the smallest of cracks and leaks (especially where the hoses bend), and inspect the hose fittings and connections to ensure they’re tight and secure.
Trucks that are equipped with refrigeration systems should also have their cooling systems regularly inspected and serviced. Reefer drivers know exactly how important it is to ensure their loads are delivered on time and at the right temperature.
A truck’s cooling system is made up of coolant, a water pump, hoses, a thermostat, and cooling fans. All of these components work together to make sure the vehicle runs at an optimal temperature. In the hot summer months, cooling systems are under a huge amount of stress and a problem with any of its parts can make the truck overheat and possibly break down.
Do a visual inspection of your coolant to ensure it’s not cloudy and check all your hoses as well. Hoses can become brittle during the freezing months of winter and, once they get exposed to extreme summer heat, can quickly break down and start leaking. Metal parts can also get corroded by road salt, thus making them weaker. If you don’t remember when you last replaced any of these components or if any of them look questionable, then we suggest you replace them anyways. The parts aren’t expensive and doing so could save you the headache and thousands of dollars should anything so easily preventable break down.
Belts and Hoses
Belts and hoses face huge amounts of pressure and tension on a daily basis. Add in big swings in temperature and these rubber components are stressed even further. Engine belts, for example, continuously loop around and flex as they work. They clock in a massive amount of mileage with all those revolutions and this leads to a lot of wear and tear over time. Replacing your engine’s belts are much cheaper than repairing your entire engine, so consider inspecting all your belts for cracks or other kinds of harmful wear.
Trucks are home to a plethora of important fluids that work tirelessly to ensure the vehicle runs smoothly. Depending on the type of truck you have, you’ll want to check, change, and/or flush the following fluids: Transmission, power steering, coolant, power steering, differential, and the like. Regular oil changes and filter replacements are also critical for commercial trucks that are accumulating a lot of miles over a short time frame.
Winter maintenance plans always include battery checks. But, did you know that hot weather is actually more damaging to batteries than cold temperatures? Weak batteries often fail during excessive heat, which then causes damage to other parts of the truck’s electrical system. Make sure your battery is fully charged, top up the electrolyte levels, and ensure the terminals and wire ends are free of debris to ensure a strong connection.
Tire Pressures and Wear
During the winter, we know that colder temperatures can potentially compress the air within our truck’s tires, thus making it appear as if the pressure is too low. The next logical thing to do would be to add more air to offset the compression. Sounds simple enough. But, as the weather warms up, the air decompresses, which then causes your tire pressure to be too high. Maintaining proper tire psi is more complex than we give it credit for.
Tires that are under- or over-inflated are a huge red flag in hot temperatures. If tires are overinflated, they can explode in the excessive heat. However, if they’re under-inflated, they can generate excess friction and heat, which then impacts mileage, tire wear, and can also lead to a blowout.
Winter weather often means your trucks are driving on rough, icy roads that feature an annoying pothole -- or twenty -- over the course of a given trip. Slick roads and inclement weather conditions can also cause trucks to slide and bump forcefully into curbs. Checking your truck’s alignment after a stint in winter weather ensures your tires wear evenly and helps facilitate a smoother ride. And, in the spirit of efficiency, consistently maintaining a truck’s tire alignment offers the best fuel mileage possible, which is important for fleet owners and busy owner-operators who see increased business and mileage during the spring and summer months.
Bug splatter is a messy reality in the summer. Bugs smeared across windshields reduce visibility so be sure to top up your windshield washer fluid and keep some extra in your cab for longer trips. We recommend including this fluid level check as part of your pre- and post-trip truck inspection. Following this train of thought, you’ll also want to inspect your windshield wipers and assess whether or not you need to replace them.
Driver Care and Cab Preparation
For drivers who spend hours upon hours on the road every day, we recommend UV-blocking shirts and sunblock to protect your driver’s hands, arms, legs, and face. You’ll also want to pack a hat and polarized sunglasses to help shield your eyes from the sun. Drivers are also at risk of heat exhaustion and sunstroke so pack a cooler filled with ice, bottles of water, and light, healthy snacks for the trip.
The Benefits of Spring and Summer Truck Maintenance
Spring and summer truck maintenance not only protects your trucks and your cargo, it also shows your drivers they matter to you. Doing all you can to be proactive in protecting your assets and ensuring driver safety and comfort is the main reason why fleets and owner operators invest in regular maintenance and try to hire the best truck maintenance technicians possible. Don't have any technicians in-house? Then, you might want to consider outsourcing your truck maintenance.
We also know that sometimes life happens no matter how prepared we are. And, if you do have a tire blow out or an engine overheat (even with all your diligent maintenance), having access to a roadside assistance plan is something you’ll definitely want to empower yourself and your drivers with. Mishaps with trucks can occur regardless of whether you’re in the cold of winter or the unrelenting heat of summer. If you’re looking into purchasing a solid 24-hour commercial truck roadside assistance plan, organizations like RigNation are our go-to for helping you, your drivers and your cargo out of sticky situations.
Minimize Your Downtime and Protect Your Bottom Line
You can’t always predict when and if something will go wrong while you’re on the road. Making sure that each component of your truck is prepared for the rigors of what’s ahead is the first step in ensuring a successful business season. You’ll drive with the peace of mind knowing your truck systems and fluids are fresh and that you’ve done all you can to avoid a potential breakdown. Having a comprehensive spring and summer maintenance plan in place will help keep your trucks rolling, minimize your downtime, and protect your bottom line.