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Oil, Engines & Owner-Operators
OOIDA board members talk maintenance

Owner-operators are independent small business owners. But independent refers to many facets of this small business community. Ask a dozen owner-operators what makes their business profitable, and chances are you'll get a dozen different answers. But the underlying factor in many of those answers is likely to be preventive maintenance. But what is the best way to keep a truck running? Here again the answers are likely to be as many and varied as the truckers themselves.

A lot depends on the way an owner-operator purchases equipment. Some prefer to buy new equipment and trade for another new truck when their engine warranty runs out. Others buy new, and with unwavering attention to preventive maintenance, put a million miles or more behind them. Others prefer to minimize their initial investment by buying used equipment, then design a maintenance program based on the condition of the truck. Successful owner-operators can be found in all three categories.


In 1997, Fred Barnes of Kansas City, KS, took delivery on a new Freightliner Century Class with a 470-hp Detroit Series 60 engine. Fred employs a team to drive this truck, and they don't spend much time sitting around. With 680,000 miles already on the engine, Fred expects it to rack up a million miles before any major work is needed. Fred chooses Shell Rotella T 15/40, drains every 15,000 to 16,000 miles, and has the oil analyzed every other drain. He has his own shop where he does his own PM.

"I plan to keep this truck for awhile," says Fred. "I've also got a 1993 FLD 120 with a 3406E Cat in it that I drive (with a co-driver). I had to have that one overhauled at 856,000 miles, so I'm watching both trucks a little closer now. I expect a lot from these engines, and with careful maintenance and oil analysis, I intend to get it."

Fred has been an OOIDA member since 1973, and was elected to the board of directors in 1994. He started trucking in 1961 as an owner-operator.


In 1994, Eric Beck of Little Rock, AR, bought a 1988 Freightliner FLD 120. The truck was powered by a 350-hp Cummins N14 with a little more than 200,000 miles on its most recent overhaul. As sometimes happens when buying an older truck, there were some problems with the engine. By the time the odometer hit 300,000 miles, Eric was forced to overhaul the engine. He knew that if he was to operate profitably, he must find a way to make this overhaul last. Eric designed a program to do just that, and with 300,000 miles since the overhaul, Eric says, "I expect not to have to overhaul it again."

Shell Rotella T 15/40 is Eric's choice, and he mixes that with one to one and one-half gallons of Lucas Oil at each oil change. Drain intervals are 12,000 to 15,000 miles, or "about once a month." He has his PM done at Petro. Says Eric, "I use oil analysis once a quarter, or every third drain. My engine is in good shape according to the analysis. And I periodically have Cummins check things out too, just to be on the safe side."

Eric has been driving a truck since 1958, and an owner-operator since 1960. He joined OOIDA in 1993 and was elected to the board of directors in 1998.


Jim Mathews has been trucking for 27 years and has been an owner-operator for 15 of those years. He is from Middleton, ID, and runs 48 states pulling a dry van with his 1997 Western Star 5964. Jim uses Chevron Delo 400 in his 3406E Caterpillar engine (435-hp) and drains at (maximum) 16,000 mile intervals. "I've always used Delo 400, and I've always had good luck with it," says Jim. "I don't use any additives or special filters–I just depend on the Delo 400 to do the job."

But when it comes to oil analysis, Jim tells Land Line, "I don't use oil analysis. I've never felt the need. My plan calls for trading trucks every four years or at about 500,000 miles. I figure if I pay strict attention to my PM, I'll be fine."

Jim has his PM done at Truck Masters of Idaho in Nampa. "I've been using them for 14 years. They go over my truck with a fine tooth comb every time I take it in, and that's important to me. You can catch little problems before they become big ones."

Jim joined OOIDA in 1990, and was elected to the board of directors in 1998.