Money to burn?

By Greg Grisolano, digital content editor

Extreme summer heat can play hell on your engine and other components. High temperatures can cause breakdowns of key systems that can lead to extended downtime and costly repairs.

Homer Hogg has spent his entire career focused on keeping trucks up and running, first as a technician and now as vice president of TravelCenters of America’s manager of technical development.

He offers some simple suggestions for a maintenance program that will help your truck (and your wallet) beat the heat.

Tires

Beating the heat starts with tire maintenance. And the foundation of tire maintenance is air pressure.

Hogg says when the summertime heat gets extreme, the heat generated by your tires flexing is intensified. If tires aren’t properly inflated, it can lead to blowouts and more catastrophic tire failures.

“If you’re going to keep your money in your wallet, you’re gonna need to keep the air in your tires,” Hogg said. “Bottom line, heat is the enemy as it relates to tires. If it’s my money and my truck, I’m focusing on tires right away because I know that’s where I’m going to live and die with maintenance costs in the summertime.”

If you’re going to survive the hot weather, Hogg says you’re going to have to make sure the air is adequate for the load you’re carrying.

“I would tell anyone if you’re going to be successful and keep your tire costs in a manageable zone, you’re going to have to do a lot of checks on your tires and touch your tires,” he said.

Hogg’s advice is to make those tire checks when the tires are “cold,” typically first thing in the morning. The reason for doing this is because tire inflation ratings are all designed at the cold inflation zone, not for a hot tire.

While under-inflation can cause catastrophic blowouts, Hogg said putting too much air in the tires during a heatwave can change the wear pattern of a tire, decreasing its life cycle, and potentially hampering the effectiveness of braking and collision mitigation systems.

Hogg says there’s an easy way to gauge the effectiveness of your tire maintenance program: The seasons may change but your costs don’t.

“It should be a non-event for you if your program is world-class,” he said. “And tire manufacturers love to work with you on that, and provide you tons of information for free. If it’s not a non-event, then we have to work on our program.”

A/C maintenance

The second crucial part of an extreme heat-preparedness maintenance package is to focus on the HVAC system, primarily the air-conditioning, and to address any performance problems with the unit ASAP.

“As an operator or owner of that vehicle, if you see any decline of performance in your A/C system, you can’t do what we did years ago and go ‘I’ll wait till I have time,’” he said. “If you wait till you have time, you’re probably going to need a new compressor.”

Hogg says keeping the compressor running efficiently is the key. Modern trucks have rotary compressors, which means that both the refrigerant and the oil required to lubricate the compressor ride together rather than in separate cases.

“A servicing technician must be very, very skilled to keep the oil level in the right range,” he said. “There’s a new set of rules for doing what we call ‘balancing the oil.’ It’s a critically important term to keep your A/C operating properly.”

In the old days, truck air conditioning systems were relatively simple. But Hogg says on today’s trucks, the systems are now some of the most sophisticated and complex components in your truck’s engine.

Hogg says any leaks must be located and corrected. Another simple thing that you can do on the preventive maintenance side is to change cabin air filters regularly, particularly if you operate in a warm, dusty or windy environment. Hogg says to check it twice a year as a rule of thumb.

“You can tell right away if they’re dirty because they get extremely dirty,” he said. “They’re going to get dirty quite quickly if you’re in a dusty environment and running your A/C quite frequently.”

Belts

Belts are often out of sight, out of mind unless you start hearing one of them.

“When it gets hot, you’re going to find out whether or not your belt is ready for the task, and your belt drive system,” Hogg said. “When it gets hot, you’re going to find out if it’s in good condition or poor condition, because you will see it on the road behind you.”

If a belt wears out prematurely, it’s usually due to bad tensioners or bad pulleys. Hogg recommends replacing tensioners every other belt change, at the maximum. If the tensioner won’t keep that belt in the right range, it has to be replaced.

As you prepare for extreme heat of summer, remember to get belt gauges at auto parts stores. Belts now are made out of composite material, which makes it more difficult to spot cracking on the inside or the ribs during a visual inspection. Belt gauges are needed to measure wear on ribs.

Hogg says one item that should never be part of your belt maintenance program is a belt dressing spray.

“If you spray belt dressing, it’s likely your noise is going to go away,” he said. “But you’ve created more problems than it’s worth. The substance is tacky. All the little pebbles, sand and grit get stuck in the belt. Now you’re going to wear out your pulley and drive systems and you have a serious problem.”

Hogg says if you’re going to clean your belts, use soap and water only.

“If your belts are in alignment and they’re clean, you’re going to get good life out of your belts,” he said. LL