Bottom Line
Rollin’ old school
With some TLC and regimented maintenance schedules, you can keep your old truck around for a long time

By Jeff Barker, Land Line contributor

Just about anywhere we go, we will meet drivers with 15 to 20 years of experience or more. But how many of them can say that they have done that many years in the same truck? Ray Kennealy, an OOIDA member from San Antonio, TX, is one of the few.

Ray Kennealy bought this 1989 Freightliner FLD120 from the Freightliner of San Antonio used truck lot in 1993. The truck now has more than 3.1 million miles. He hauls time-sensitive air freight on a 550-mile dedicated trip between San Antonio and the Dallas/ Fort Worth International Airport and back at least four nights a week.

He has worked hard to keep his faithful old truck in good cosmetic and mechanical condition over the years. In spite of its age, Ray’s commitment to maintenance still has him averaging 5.5 to 6 mpg.

In the air freight industry, a delay caused by even the simplest of breakdowns can cause a lot of missed delivery commitments. That freight must meet airline loading schedules for flights that are carrying cargo on overnight shipments or going overseas.

“Our trips are required to be run within a predetermined time frame, and the freight has to be there at the air freight hub by a firm deadline,” Ray said.

“The only acceptable excuse for being late is a delay caused by weather. If there’s an ice storm going on in Dallas, then chances are that I may not even leave with a load out of San Antonio. The last thing I would want to do is place myself and my truck in a bad situation where I could total my truck or, worse yet, lose my life.”

Keeping with the old military KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid), Ray likes the fact there are no electronic engine controls to worry about. He carries spare parts and tools so that in the rare event a minor problem comes up he can get his truck back on the road quickly.

“I’ve only had to have the truck towed twice in 18 years. Once for a fuel pump on the engine that went bad shortly after it was replaced, and the other time was due to a through-shaft failure in the through-drive (meaning the front differential),” he said. “I also like not having truck payments, either. I have a family to support and want to always be able to provide for them even during lean times.”

Some upgrades have been done on this truck over the years, including replacing the manual brake slack adjusters with automatic units on all axles, replacing the air bags, and adding some creature comforts to the decked out cab.

Ray has a compact disc changer and XM radio on board to keep him entertained while he’s on the road at night. The original seats have been done away with in favor of more comfortable El Dorado units from Seats Inc.

Ray doesn’t really do anything special other than staying on top of his maintenance and making sure he catches any minor problems at a point where he can address them before they become more serious and cause a breakdown. That maintenance includes a thorough pre-trip and post-trip inspections every time he uses his truck.

Looking under the hood will reveal a clean original Cummins NTC855 Big Cam IV engine that has had a few in-frame rebuilds over the years but is running strong and devoid of oil leaks.

Ray’s relationship with a good shop also plays a big part in keeping his truck in tip-top shape.

“I’m also lucky to have found a shop here in town (Tri-County Diesel in Bracken, TX) that helps me stay on top of everything, too. When I go in to get the Mobil Delvac oil changed every 13,000 miles, they go over the entire truck with a fine-tooth comb. They are also very good about making sure it’s ready to go by the time I need to leave out on my nightly trip,” Ray said.

The immaculate old truck has a good reputation with the DOT inspectors along the Interstate 35 corridor where he runs. They have inspected his truck many times before, and he gets to drive away with a clean inspection report that reflects his commitment to keeping his truck in top shape.

“Many of the inspectors have a hard time believing this truck is a 1989 model when they check it over,” he said. LL

Jeff Barker is an OOIDA member and a former certified diesel mechanic. He can be reached at