Maintenance Q&A
Good deals and wiring woes

By Paul Abelson, senior technical editor

Q. My 2004 Pete is getting old with almost 1 million miles. So for the past few months, I’ve been checking with dealers to see what’s available in a reasonably priced used truck. I got a feel for what the market is like and what I can afford.

Then I got a call from a used truck dealer I checked with along one of the routes I regularly run. He got a 2010 Kenworth at a dealer auction, and it’s got almost everything I want. The kicker is that it’s priced at about what a 2007 would be. I could save a chunk of change.

I know that independent used truck dealers don’t have the overhead costs that regular truck dealers (OEM franchised) have, but I never saw that much price difference before. Do you think the truck was stolen? What should I do?

A. There are many reasons that a given truck may be priced less than comparable trucks. If it was stolen, I doubt that a reputable auction house or dealer would buy it. They do VIN checks and have too much at stake. You told me on the phone that this dealer has been around for a while and has several branches. That’s even more reason to think he’s not selling stolen goods.

Other possibilities are that your dealer’s auctioneer may indeed have stumbled on a bargain as a result of a divorce, a bankruptcy or debilitating illness. People desperate for money do sell assets below market value.

But finds like that are rare. A more likely scenario is that the truck may have suffered flood damage during Hurricane Sandy. Not every damaged truck was written off by insurance companies and scrapped. Some were written off as too costly to repair, but others may have been sold privately for parts. Flood damage would be marked on the title only if the insurance company totaled the truck.

Even so, criminals have techniques of moving trucks across state lines. They eventually register them in states with different or weaker procedures for recording damage. Before spending anything, not even just to travel to see the truck, check the VIN with the National Insurance Crime Bureau, They keep records on flood-damaged and written-off vehicles. But private sales may not be included.

Rig Dig is a service like CarFax, but for trucks. You can get complete vehicle histories for up to three trucks for under $50.

If the paperwork checks out, go inspect the truck for any signs of flood damage. This could include excessive rusting, signs or smells of moldy or mildewed carpet or upholstery, recently changed carpeting or door panels and mismatched fabrics. Check under the dash and on top of the glove box for silt or residue.

If there are no warning signs, contact a Kenworth dealer close to where the truck is located. Explain the situation and schedule to have one of their technicians look at the truck.

Have the dealer put the truck on a lift and check for silt on top of the transmission. Take off door panels to check window actuations and locking mechanisms for corrosion or residue.

Check the electrical system, from the battery terminals and cables to the starter and all lamp connections. Turn the key on, but do not start the engine. The warning lights and gauges should cycle through their self-test routine. Your dealer technician should be able to spot if anything is wrong.

Check samples of fluids. If any are cloudy or have solids in them, go no further and walk away. The dealer tech should guide you the rest of the way through the engine start, checking all systems and, finally, the test drive.

Expect to pay the dealer for the tech and shop time. Consider it an insurance premium. It may be costly, but think of what you could lose if you bought the truck and it actually was flood damaged.

Note: In a follow-up conversation, the reader informed me that the truck was available because of the death of the previous owner and the need for his family to pay bills quickly. The truck seems to be performing well for him now.

Q. This winter, I seem to have had an unusual amount of wiring problems around my trailer lights. When I rewire, I leave extra wire so I can clip off a bit to get rid of corroded ends. That used to head off problems, but this year there seem to be many more problems. Am I doing something wrong or have they made the salts stronger?

A. To my knowledge, the road salts haven’t changed in the last few years, but your travels may have taken you through more states that use brines and more aggressive chemicals. And, yes, you can take a different approach.

The best thing you could do is to rewire your trailer with a totally sealed wiring harness. All the lighting manufacturers make them, and most trailer dealers can get them customized for you, even if you have lots of extra “chicken lights.” They will virtually eliminate trailer wiring problems.

When using discrete wiring (separate wiring directly to each lamp), run enough extra wire to make a loop about 8 to 10 inches diameter. Using a wire tie, fasten it with the loop pointing down and the electrical connection up high. Spray that collects on the wire will drip down and fall off instead of dripping into the connector.

Seal all connections. Heat-activated sealant comes in top-of-the-line crimp connectors. One of my favorite tools is liquid electrical tape. The brush-on vinyl seals out moisture and salt spray. It peels off easily if you need to change parts. Also, use a small amount of dielectric grease to protect connectors from corrosion.

When joining wires, use heat-shrink tubing to cover and seal the splice, even if using crimp connectors. If you must ground to the chassis, use a ring-type crimp connector with a bolt and be sure to seal the connection. LL