A 6-point strategy for managing the effects of dirt and dust on tank trailers
Cleanliness is next to impossible for truck operators in the Bakken shale area of northwestern North Dakota, where it seems every piece of equipment wears a brick-brown coat of powder-fine dirt.
The operating environment is as harsh as you’ll find in terms of dust, and there’s more of it hanging in the air every day. Roughly 10,000 trucks associated with the oil and gas industry in North Dakota use state and county roads daily. They service more than 6,000 active oil wells in the Bakken region, most of them accessible only by gravel road.
Dirt—and, for that matter, mud and grime—can obscure the kind of mechanical troubles that lead to infractions, premature failures, and all-around poor performance of truck and trailer components.
“It’s impossible to keep equipment clean all the time, and a dirty truck doesn’t mean it’s poorly maintained,” says Tom Stene, general manager of the Polar Service Center location in Killdeer, N.D., which provides parts and service to dry and liquid bulk tank fleets. “You just can’t let a layer of dust create or mask problems.”
Whether you maintain trucks in the oilpatch or some other demanding environment, Stene offers six simple PM ideas you can use to manage dirt and other contaminants on tank trucks and trailers:
1. Rinse the vehicle
Commit to a power rinse once a week. Straight water will do; no chemicals or detergents. Make sure lighting and other conspicuity systems stay clean, and take care when you spray frame attachment points, welds, wheel ends, electrical connections, grease points, gladhands, air lines, and piping.
“A wash is a chance to visually inspect the truck and trailer because you point your eyes wherever you aim the spray nozzle,” Stene says. Note problems on the body or frame so you can address them during scheduled service.
While you’re at it, give the trailer’s inspection decal a wipe. You won’t forget when the inspection is due because the decal is covered in dirt.
2. Expand your greasing regimen
You can eliminate repairs by making sure components are getting the lubrication they need. At the same time, look for worn or broken fittings. A worn fitting will shoot the grease back and the joint or component won’t get lubricated. Inform the shop so you can deal with it before the component fails.
3. Inspect fenders and mud flaps
Dirt and rocks from access roads can hammer away at fenders and mud flaps, causing impact damage and holes. A loose fender or missing mud flap is a hazard to other motorists who have to deal with road spray and errant stones. It’s also going to draw the attention of inspectors to your tires and wheels, Stene says.
“Fenders, mud flaps, and mounting hardware are often overlooked during walkaround inspections,” he explains. If something feels loose, find out why. If you need a replacement, choose a quality component with proper hardware.
4. Check air system filters
Water in the air system is bad news, especially when it’s cold enough outside for moisture in the air lines or valves to freeze. Desiccant in the truck’s air dryer will absorb water, oil, and other contaminants, but over time it will become saturated to the point where it should be replaced.
The simplest way to know whether moisture is getting past the air dryer is for the driver to drain the tanks on the truck every day. Set a schedule that’s realistic and makes sense, and show the driver how to do it. If there’s water on the ground beneath the drain valve, it’s a sign that moisture is getting through to the air tanks
When you buy a replacement air dryer cartridge, match it to the original spec. Off-brand products may not have as much desiccant material inside or use a less effective desiccant.
You may not separate our tractors and trailers often, but when you do don’t let that gladhand lay out open. Dirt can enter the air system and ultimately settle at the end of the line: inside the brake valves.
If the gladhand has an inline filter, talk to the supplier about how and when to inspect it. A plugged filter can disrupt brake timing. If the restriction is bad enough to trip a by-pass feature, you’re still passing dirty air through the system.
5. Don’t get creative
It’s one thing to jury-rig parts to make them function well enough to get you to a repair shop. It’s another to leave them on there.
A part that’s obsolete or just doesn’t fit right is far less likely to stand up to dirt, moisture, vibration, and a more severe duty cycle. It’s better to remove that component and install a new, modern replacement.
You should not have to fabricate something every time you fix the trailer, Stene says. Quality all-makes or genuine parts are designed to give you the fit and performance you expect from the original, they come with a warranty to back them up, and the mechanic can do the installation efficiently.
6. Make time for inspections
Every 90 days, or at an interval that makes sense for your operation, schedule a thorough inspection in the shop. You’ll catch the little things before they become big problems and show everyone—drivers, mechanics, and other staff—that preventive maintenance is a priority.
Stene also encourages drivers to use time while loading or fueling to check their trucks and trailers. The pre-trip shouldn’t be the driver’s only inspection of the day, he says. Drivers are constantly monitoring gauges and mirrors, listening for unusual noises, and feeling the way the unit is handling on the road. Each exit from the cab should prompt another walkaround.
With a systematic approach to inspections, he says, you reduce the risk of roadside breakdowns, unscheduled maintenance, and possibly accidents and injuries.