Maximizing your uptime on the road is important to be a successful owner-operator. One of the biggest maintenance problems that can significantly decrease your time on the road is engine trouble. Since today’s diesel engines are computerized and require a shop with specific technology to analyze engine problems, repairs can be very time consuming and costly.

Preventative maintenance (PM) is key to keeping you and your truck on the road, especially when it comes to your engine. Many owner-operators have at least some mechanical knowledge, commonly doing their own maintenance on things such as oil changes or chassis lubrication, but remember, an engine is controlled by a complex computer and you may want to let the engine repairs be done by a certified mechanic. Making a mistake on your engine repair could cost more in the long run than
paying for a specialized mechanic to perform the repairs.

Here are some truck care tips that you can easily do yourself and can add to your PM routine:

  • Check tires for irregular wear. An irregular wear pattern could indicate the need for an axle alignment.
  • Check air pressure daily. This will help avoid premature failure of the tire and maximize fuel mileage. Adding a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) is a good investment to ensure tires are properly inflated at all times, not just when checking the tire with a gauge. Click here to read Team Run Smart Pro, Henry Albert’s, experience with his TPMS.
  • Keep the radiator clean. The engine will easily overheat if it is full of bugs. Every 4 to 6 months carefully flush the exterior of the radiator core from the engine side with very low pressure water to remove bugs and dirt. A garden hose with no pressure nozzle works well and will not damage the fins of the radiator. 
  • Keep proper fan belt tension. Check daily to be sure the fan belts are in good condition and have the proper tension. This is essential for optimum engine performance.
  • Change the oil and fuel filters. Engine components need to stay lubricated. A plugged oil filter causes the filter by-pass valve to open allowing unfiltered oil supply to the engine. Plugged fuel filters will cause poor engine performance, reduced fuel mileage, and possible engine shut-down. Follow the engine manufacturer's guidelines for recommended frequency to change or check these items.
  • Keep electrical connections clean. Keep battery terminals and ground cables clean for proper electrical flow.
  • Buy quality fuel. Buy fuel from your carrier’s fuel network because they have already done the background checks to determine the quality of fuel coming from the truck stops.
  • Check air connections. Look at the air-to-air connections from the air filter to the turbocharger, to the charge air cooler and back to the engine. Look for signs of compacting in the air filter. Check these components every few days.
  • Keep gauges working. Gauges are indicators of potential problems. Here are common problems gauges indicate:
    • High coolant temperature - overheating
    • Loss of oil pressure - engine problem
    • Loss of voltage - electrical issue
    • Loss of manifold pressure - fuel or a turbo problem
    • Filter restriction gauge - fuel issue 

Here are some engine care tips that you should have a mechanic check regularly as part of your PM routine:

  • Check engine for leaks. Check the engine regularly for oil or coolant leaks. If a coolant leak is found, it could just be a faulty hose and you could repair this yourself. Also, an engine oil leak can be an easy fix, however have it inspected by the engine dealer to rule out more serious issues. Trucks are not allowed to have any leaks under new environmental laws. Upon CSA inspection, a leak could cause you to be fined or even worse, force you off the road.
  • Oil analysis. Oil analysis can optimize engine life by identifying performance problems in progress. As engine oil is pumped throughout different parts of the engine, it picks up trace elements of engine component wear and contamination. Testing the engine oil for fuel dilution and high wear metals will assist in diagnosing a possible engine problem.
  • Diesel in the radiator. This indicates a serious engine problem and you need to take your truck to the mechanic as soon as possible. 

Remember, if you make repairs only when the truck breaks down then you aren’t running your truck, it’s running you. PM done on a regular basis and performed properly puts you in charge. PM can be expensive, but neglect is even more costly, especially when it comes to your engine.

Comments (14)

Bill McClusky

I have been in the trucking and construction equipment service industry for 23 years as a service technician, component rebuild specialist (engine, transmission, and axle), service department manager, instructor and consultant. I was a class 8 truck driver for 3 years pulling wet and dry tanks. I have been with American Truck Business Services for 4 years serving as a Business Consultant, Maintenance Consultant, and Instructor.

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Not sure how I missed this article before, but good info!

May 16, 2013 6:52:44 AM

Hi Michael, a gallon of oil every 200 miles is very excessive oil consumption. There are a limited number of places the oil could be going to. 1) An external oil leak which would be visible. 2) Oil in the air system due to a problem with the air compressor. 3) Oil in the coolant due to a ruptured oil cooler. 4) Oil being burned in the combustion process due to failed or broken oil control rings, worn valves and valve guides,or scored liners. 5) Oil being carried out the crankcase vent pipe, which would be visible. The average cost for an in-frame overhaul is about $15,000 to $17,000 for this engine. Engine replacement about $22,000 to $24,000. An engine health dyno test would give you more information on the condition of the engine. What is the price of the truck and how much is he willing to discount the price?

March 05, 2013 10:53:07 AM

I am looking at an 05 columbia with a Detroit 60 EGR engine in it. The owner says the engine is using about a gallon of oil every 200 miles. He is planning on doing an in-frame and selling, but is offering it for sale as is for a discount. The engine has good compression, and there isnt any oil in the air system. Could this be an easy fix and a good opportunity to get a nice truck for a huge discount?

March 04, 2013 19:57:29 PM

Hi David - glad you like the article. I can send this to you in a pdf so you can print it off easily. Is the best email to send this to?

March 04, 2013 10:41:41 AM

This stuff should be truck driving 101 seriously, not enough drivers know about their trucks! And yes I mean company drivers, it doesn't do them any good if they are sitting around a shop waiting for their truck to get back up and running if it was something that could have been caught ahead of time. Fuel quality is something of a gray area, I've got bad fuel at Petro before. Also, keep them things greased up, especially if you are using special equipment for various reasons. I change my oil 15-20k always with a grease job half way in between. Shake them shocks too regularly and make sure they are not busted, bad shocks can do so much more than tear up tires, especially if the steer axle shocks are gone, that's much more impact going straight to the engine instead of the suspension!

March 03, 2013 16:20:17 PM

helpful article, checking air pressure daily might be excessive, but to each his own. I did NOT know about leaks,putting you out of service. THX

March 02, 2013 13:38:14 PM

These are good,common,practical maintenance tips that should be on an owner operators mind daily/monthly to keep our trucks moving effeciently.

March 02, 2013 4:39:26 AM

great article,Could we get all these tips printed in a book, would be handy to have on hand .

March 01, 2013 9:22:17 AM

Great info. Having a great oil analysis program really helps by finding problems long before they become serious.

February 28, 2013 11:46:26 AM

Good article. This is one subject I try to stay on top of.

February 27, 2013 16:40:57 PM

Fantastic article Bill and some very useful information.

February 26, 2013 21:23:40 PM

Great article, and Kim's statement is so true. Delaying maintenance never pays.

February 26, 2013 8:15:19 AM

PMs are a great way to extend engine life!

February 25, 2013 22:18:56 PM

Pay me now or pay me alot more later.

February 25, 2013 17:31:12 PM