I have found it is usually cheaper in the long run to consult the expertise of a mechanic if I’m in doubt of the root cause of a problem.

Have you ever had a problem with your truck, looked at it and tried to determine the cause without having all the information?  You may believe you have all the information when in fact you are fooling yourself.  This trap can cost you increased down time, extra money, and possibly tickets or CSA points.  Problems that develop often have a root cause that is much more complicated than we think it could be.

It is human nature to want to solve the problem on our own and in doing so, save time and money, but if we don’t possess the proper technical knowledge or tools, we usually end up costing ourselves more.  I have found it is usually cheaper in the long run to consult the expertise of a mechanic if I’m in doubt.

For example, if you have a clearance light on your trailer that is not working properly, your first shot at solving the problem may be to check the bulb and the connection between the bulb and the socket.  Cleaning the socket connection and/or replacing the bulb may provide the solution, or it might just prolong the inevitable.  Certainly this is the least expensive, obvious solution and it doesn’t hurt to try it first. 

However, if you run in a part of the country that applies salt, calcium chloride, or magnesium chloride to the roads in the winter, the problem of a “defective” light may be more complex.  We all know salt (sodium chloride) is corrosive but if you are new to the industry you may not know that calcium chloride and magnesium chloride are also corrosive.  It is the chloride atom in this compound that is corrosive even though manufacturers of calcium and magnesium chloride for road applications will likely tell you they are not.  If any part of your electrical wiring on your trailer is compromised, the liquid form of calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, or sodium chloride will find its way into your wiring insulation and corrode the wire.  This corrosion is often times not visible.  In this instance, solving the light problem may require someone with expertise in troubleshooting voltage drops along wire runs.  It may require a partial rewire on your trailer and in doing so, make sure no part of the wire insulation will become compromised.  This is a simple example of a simple problem with a potentially deceiving solution.  If you don’t get to the root cause you won’t solve the problem.

One specific incident that happened to me was last fall at the end of fire season.  My truck has large front tires similar to concrete mixer trucks and they are over $600 each.  The drivers’ side steer tire quickly started showing signs of very unusual wear across the entire face of the tire but the truck’s handling was normal.  As I stood there looking at money going out the door, I was trying to determine the cause and the best path to a solution.  Do I have a faulty tire?  Do I have an alignment problem?  Do I have a larger front end problem?  I tried the least expensive option first and talked to the company where I bought the tires and they said they hadn’t seen that happen before and it didn’t look like something they would typically see with an alignment issue. 

I made a business decision to bite the bullet and pay a mechanic to look over the truck.  In the end that was the best choice and best use of my resources.  A couple hours of labor and the diagnosis was severely worn front axle components.  Over the course of several years and the very rough terrain in which we operate, we had worn out the king pins and bushings on the front axle.  After a complete axle rebuild I had the alignment checked which turned out to be fine and the front tire is wearing normally today.  So the root cause of my abnormal tire wear problem turned out to be far more in-depth than I had originally thought.  The cause also exceeded my mechanical ability to fix and paying for the proper help was the best business decision.

When you face a problem, always try to get to the root cause of the problem.  You may not like the cost of the fix but avoiding this will only prolong the problem and likely drive the eventual cost higher.  Anything less than addressing the root cause is applying a band aid to a gaping wound.  I always try the least expensive possible solution that makes sense, but I’m not too stubborn or proud to ask for help.

Comments (3)

Craig McCue

Business owner and part-time operator of a seasonal business.

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Jeff, I know my limitations as well. I try to start with the easiest possible solution and work my way toward more difficult solutions until I hit my limit and then ask for help.

November 15, 2013 8:18:11 AM

I know my limitations. My favorite is watching a driver replacing a marker light-then discovering that the old bulb was fine. Corrosion in the connection was the problem.

November 14, 2013 4:24:12 AM

Great advice Craig. When in doubt as a professional not your buddy down the street.

November 12, 2013 6:32:42 AM