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Learning The Basics On Someone Else’s Dime

A truck waiting for inspection

Driving someone else’s truck can help you learn the basics without getting too involved in the business.

As a company driver, you should be opening the hood frequently and learning what everything is that makes the truck go down the road. As a part of your pre-trip inspection, you are required to look for failed components, but how can you know what has failed if you don’t know what you are looking at or what it does.

Under the hood, you will find a laundry list of gadgets and necessary components. Every truck is designed differently, but they all have the same basic equipment.

There is the air conditioner condenser, radiator, oil cooler, engine fan, fan clutch, power steering pump and gearbox, alternator, air conditioner compressor, air compressor, turbo, exhaust gas recirculation system, diesel particulate filter, diesel exhaust fluid tank, diesel tanks, air tanks, transmission, U-joints, driveshaft, differentials, wheel bearings, wheel seals, grease fittings, brake shoes, brake drums, air filter and air cleaner, coolant reservoir and overflow tank, windshield washer fluid reservoir, windshield washer pump, crankshaft damper, engine fan shroud, fuel lines, air lines, electrical lines, and the engine ECM.

All of this makes up the many different things you should know about before you buy your own truck. As the driver of someone else’s truck, you get the opportunity to experience it all first hand. You can see what it does, how it works, and what the general maintenance repair schedules are.

During your time as an employee driver, you should be taking advantage of every chance you have to become proficient at describing what a component sounds like while it is working and what it sounds like when it fails. Many failing components can start with a vibration or a loud noise. These are clues to future failure and they shouldn’t be ignored.

In the list above I leave out the engine because it has its own needs and it is the king or queen of the truck. The engine needs regular oil changes, filter changes, and overhead valve tune-ups. These tune-ups are extremely important.

The old saying goes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
This is certainly true of a truck owner.

During a tune-up, the technicians will take the valve cover off the engine and check to make sure that the valves are set correctly. They will then check out all of the components under the hood to make sure that everything is within specifications. Some operators will get the engine tuned up 2 or 3 times a year depending on how many miles are driven.

Usually I opt for a tune-up every 100,000 miles and in between tune-ups, I just monitor the fluid levels and check everything during my pre-trip inspections and when I fuel the truck. The tune-up will sometimes include a readout from a dynamometer. This will tell you how much oil is blowing by the rings in the engine and how much power you are getting to the ground. If something is wrong, the tune-up will usually find it. From there you can decide how to repair the problem, should it arise.

Sometimes small problems will crop up and go away completely. These trucks have sensors and an elaborate electrical system that sometimes can have a glitch or two. The glitch may be a serious problem or just a passing anomaly that is meaningless.

When you are a new driver or the driver of a company truck, you can learn the difference between a glitch and an actual problem. The old saying goes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. This is certainly true of a truck owner.

Many times you have to wait for a part to fail before you fix it because it is hard to find the heart of the issue. Sometimes a fuel injector will start to show signs of wear, but unless the shop performs what is called a “leak down” test, you won’t know which injector it is. The shops perform many types of diagnostics to determine where the problem is so your money isn’t wasted repairing the wrong part.

When you are just the driver and not the owner, you can watch the maintenance process without the burden of the repair bill afterward. You can also see how some mechanics cut corners on things like cheaper filters or perhaps not doing all the necessary repairs.

Mechanics are people too and sometimes a corner is cut or a step is left out. The more you learn as a company driver, the more you’ll know when the time comes for you to purchase and maintain your own truck as an owner-operator.