The municipal solid waste industry is one of the most severe environments, combining excessive stop-and-start conditions with a dusty, dirty atmosphere. Because all these factors wreak havoc on a truck’s systems, keeping trash trucks on their routes requires regular maintenance. Although routine maintenance is time consuming and costly, the alternative is even more so.
“Maintenance is huge,” says E-Z Pack’s Robert Carroll. Fleet managers should be proactive, not reactive, he emphasizes.
However, because the waste industry is focused on picking up trash, maintenance often gets neglected. “Maintenance is put on the back burner after daily work issues,” Carroll indicates. “It’s not neglected, but it’s not given 100 percent. It’s not prioritized.” He says fleet managers “get it,” but wonders if they “really get it.”
The reality is that the trucks have to run; they have to pick up garbage. Maintenance records aren’t what they should be because trucks are on the road all the time, Carroll believes. That’s why maintenance is often neglected until it creates a problem. “People put maintenance off,” he continues, “but it can shut a truck down.”
Time Is Money
Nobody wants to shut down trucks. Downtime causes one of the biggest panics in the industry; unscheduled downtime can create chaos and cause innumerable complications, making it difficult to complete all the routes.
However, says E-Z Pack’s Carroll, maintenance is the biggest preventer of unscheduled downtime. “You really must spend time to maintain your fleet or you’ll encounter a number of costly problems.”
In fact, not doing preventive maintenance costs money, Carroll adds. “It’s important. A good program actually keeps costs down because there is no failure of components.” If well maintained, he says, a rear-loader can last five to seven years, a front-loader can last five to 10 years, and an automated truck can last two to three years.
A good program starts with routine maintenance. How often that should be performed depends on several things, but the severity of the environment, with its constant stop-and-go and turning, can shorten intervals.
“Everyone has their own schedule,” Carroll believes, but he suggests a visual inspection conducted at least monthly. “On the suspension, look for rust. Check the king pins and ball joints. Look for oil leaks. Check the front hubs and brake shoes. Look at the grease points: If they’re rusty, they’re dry.” There’s “no room for error” on suspension or brakes, he insists. Carroll suggests monthly inspections of rollers, pins, points, and packer blades.
Every six to eight months, a more in-depth intermediate maintenance should be performed. “[The trucks] should get more than just oil, filter, and grease. You need to check major components every six months,” Carroll states. “You don’t have to spend a lot of time; you just need a good checklist.” That checklist should include paying attention to wear items, such as packer blades, tailgate seals, and cylinders.
“Automated sideloaders take more time and money,” he calculates. It’s a one-man operation that makes 700-1,200 stops a day. Because components on it wear faster, it takes three times the maintenance as a front or rear loader. “You should lube the arm daily.”
The ever-popular rear-loaders typically have one driver and one or two guys and make 500 to 700 stops a day. Carroll says inspections are usually sufficient on a six- to eight-month basis.
“If you’re keeping up with maintenance, you can schedule overhauls,” Carroll continues, reciting an old joke about there being no spares in the waste industry to illustrate the importance and difficulty of scheduling maintenance. “If there are seven routes, you probably have six trucks.” Regular overhauls take place at four or five years, he estimates. At seven years, additional repairs might be necessary. At eight or 10 years, he says, a truck is phased out.
Long before a trash truck goes in for routine scheduled maintenance, a driver should be performing daily inspections and minor tasks to help prolong its service life. Visual inspections and washing the truck are part of the basic care each driver should be responsible for performing. “Cleaning the packer blades is major,” E-Z Pack’s Carroll says. “If done daily, it takes five minutes; if done weekly, it takes 25; if done monthly…who knows?”
Some drivers are required to vacuum and clean their trucks daily, Carroll reports-and are even fined for missed maintenance. “There are various types of incentive programs to get drivers to look after their trucks. They work. But it’s tough to find drivers. It’s a tough industry.”
Another crucial member of the team is the maintenance technician. “Maintenance guys should be experienced,” Carroll insists, advising fleet managers not to try to save too much money on trained mechanics. “Use quality technicians who understand belts, etc. It’s like a DOT inspection. They should understand what needs to be done.” He points out that over-greasing wastes money, for example.
The Calendar or the Clock
While routine service can be scheduled on a monthly basis, some municipalities choose to schedule maintenance around the number of hours a collection vehicle has run. “The Equipment Management Division [of the city of Phoenix] has been able to identify certain mechanical failures by time or hours of service,” explains Brad Frisk, administrative analyst. “These have been tracked and identified in trend reports.”
The city of Phoenix, AZ, covers more than 519 square miles, and it serves approximately 390,000 residential accounts every week, leaving little or no room for equipment failure, Frisk says. Knowing the importance of a good preventive maintenance program to maintain a healthy fleet, the division’s current programs dictate that, at minimum, the following services will be completed every 4,000 miles:
- Replace engine oil and filter
- Replace hydraulic filters and sample hydraulic oil for contaminates
- Check all fluids and top off
- Lubricate chassis, grease all zerks, spray lube bushing and boots, if applicable
- Inspect and lube PTO linkages and shafts, if applicable
- Replace air filter
At the 12,000-mile mark, the solid waste vehicles are put through an intense service that includes a 122-point inspection, Frisk states. At that time, the city of Phoenix EMD will schedule the replacement of certain hydraulic hoses that have been identified through the trend reports to prevent downtime and environmental hazards.
“Hydraulic lines being put to the test daily requires diligence when it comes to maintenance and inspections,” Frisk continues. “The Arizona weather is hard enough on the trucks with trapped heat at and around the brakes.” In addition to a stringent pre-trip and post-trip program, Phoenix Public Works mechanics work to ensure the equipment needs are met each day for operation.
Parts and Service
Meeting equipment needs requires having the right parts to perform maintenance and repair. “The biggest issue is acquiring the parts,” confirms Bradley Rowles, superintendent of public works, Department of Public Works, North Tonawanda, NY. “If we can stock more parts, it keeps trucks on the road. If parts are on the shelf, it cuts maintenance time in half.”
Rowles stocks many consumables, like pins and rollers. To keep hydraulic hoses on the shelf, however, his department makes its own. “We have our own hose-crimp machine, so we can make hoses ahead of time.” Having done the math, he says that if a tailgate cylinder operates 100,000 times a year, hoses will last about two years.
Brake shoes are changed more frequently. Two styles are kept on the shelf, but for most parts only one style is stocked. “We try to spec everything the same: the air dryer, air chamber, slack adjuster, engine, transmission…” Rowles lists. “We keep everything as standard as possible. We buy all the same trucks, order the same tires. Tires and fuel are the largest costs. Tires are one of the biggest issues with our industry; making them all one size makes things easier. It’s easier to replace one if a tire goes flat at a landfill when they’re all the same.”
North Tonawanda, a municipality that picks up roughly 14,000 homes a week, runs Allison HD460s, with Hendrickson rear suspensions. “We keep things as common as possible,” Rowles repeats. “It makes maintenance simpler, faster, and less expensive. Standardized equipment-using the same equipment and the same parts-saves money on parts.”
One place Rowles has been known to go for parts is the salvage yard. “Rails and rollers go bad. They rip out and tear the “˜ears’ out of the panels. It’s a $7,000 part, but at a salvage yard you can pick them up for $700. Then I have a $700 repair, not a $7,000 repair.”
Salvage yards are excellent resources for hard-to-find parts for older trucks. “I can also order parts for older vehicles,” Rowles notes, “but I can’t get a remanned engine from the manufacturer.”
He calls salvage the “last stab at saving a vehicle.” Once, Rowles found a low-mileage engine for an older single-axle Packer at a salvage yard. “I got it for $1,500,” he recalls. “It turned into a good spare truck.”
A Lifetime of Maintenance
Before the trucks get to that point, Rowles tries to keep them in good working condition. Having worked as a shop foreman for 25 years, he says maintenance starts with the drivers, called meter equipment operators in North Tonawanda. Able to do light maintenance, they begin their day with a morning check of fluids, tires, and lights. At night, they the fuel and check and park their collection trucks. But first, they wash them. “We’re lucky to have an automated truck wash. It stretches the life out.”
In-house inspections are performed at 250 hours as part of their preventive maintenance routine. “The new trucks can double that,” Rowles acknowledges, “but I try not to go that long because of the tough conditions they operate in. Routine maintenance is cut and dry: brakes and oil.” Routine maintenance at 250 hours includes checking grease, oil, filter, power takeoff shaft, and drive shafts.
Once a year at inspection time, Rowles will pull the wheels, walking beams, springs, transmission filter, and fluid. Although the new trucks have rubber suspensions, the older trucks still have leaf springs. “To check the s-cams on brakes, you have to pull things apart.” He considers walking beams “consumables” in this industry because the trucks are turning at every corner.
Corrosion is a particular issue in this industry. “Corrosion is on the road and in the material compacted,” Rowles states. “We don’t compact the recycling, we sweep the material into the truck. But the ejector panel on a trash truck is heavier.” North Tonawanda has been using the tote system with its semiautomated lifters since 2004. The 35-gallon recycling totes are manageable, but the 95-gallon trash tote can weigh up to 300 pounds, adding stress to the lifters, along with corrosive material. Preventive maintenance on the body in the form of new floors and skinning the tailgates is performed as necessary.
Some maintenance can only be performed by the dealer, Rowles notes. “We can’t control electronics problems. Dealer-only problems are tough. Often, the same problem occurs in all the trucks over time.”
New York state law requires an annual inspection, so Rowles schedules a “bigger PM” at that time, spacing it out through the fleet so he has enough trucks to complete the routes. “We have nine trucks in the fleet and four spares-older trucks that have been refurbished. Three are in the shop now.
“You want a truck to get 10 years as a front-liner,” Rowles continues. “If you get 10 years. I look at the truck at 10 years, do IM cycles. At an IM cycle point, you can refurbish it for another five years. After that, I just keep them as seldom-used spares because you can’t rent one!”
A new truck costs $190,000. Having purchased two trucks in three years, Rowles is budgeting for another. As costly as a new truck is, he cautions against putting more into an older one than it’s worth. “If you spend over $20,000 a year on an older truck, you’re doing the wrong thing.”
The stop-and-go nature of the waste collection business is unavoidably hard on braking systems. While brakes need maintenance in any application to maximize life, it is critical in refuse trucks that undergo a daily torture. For drum brakes, it’s recommended that new cam bushings, springs, and anchor pin bushings are replaced with each brake reline, as recommended by the brake manufacturer. Additional play in the cam or anchor pins over specified limits, as a result of worn bushings, can be magnified into uneven lining wear and noise. It’s just as critical to maintain disc brakes. Motion of the caliper on the slide pins should be checked, and rotors must not have excessive wear or cracking. Well-maintained brake hardware will pay off in a longer life span and in minimizing noise. It will also help avoid replacement of other hardware, such as chamber brackets and air chambers.
TMD Friction makes original-equipment brake-friction material for passenger and commercial vehicles. Its materials for refuse applications are designed to withstand the high heat that’s generated on a door-to-door route. Extreme heat generally equates to extreme wear, and TMD designs its materials with those factors in mind, such as its Textar drum brake linings and disc pads. The company says even small improvements in brake life can result in significant savings over the life of the vehicle, which can then be multiplied by the size of the entire fleet.
Webb Severe Duty makes brake drums, hubs, and rotors. The company has looked at some of the numbers. Rear-loader collection units can service 600 to 700 homes a day. Automated side-loaders and Curotto Can front-loader collection units can service 1,200 to 1,300 homes a day. Some of the field tests recorded brake shoe temperatures above 600°F, with an average day’s working temperature above 400°F. With that kind of punishment, it’s easy to see why tires and brakes are considered to be the No. 2 and No. 3 cost of refuse fleets. Nate Nielsen, sales director at Webb Severe Duty, says many fleets understand that the true cost is not just in the acquisition but in the life cycle and maintenance costs of their wheel end choices. As a result, these applications will use wider brake shoes and brake drums. While the initial cost is more expensive, a wider braking setup means a heavier drum to handle heat and more surface area to dissipate heat. The 16.5-inch by 8.625-inch or 16.5-inch by 8-inch drive axle setup is specified by many with the 16.5- by 7-inch and 16.5- by 6-inch steer-axle setup.
Some fleets are specifying wheels with an increased number of ventilation holes to help with heat dissipation. Others are specifying more aluminum wheels for the same reason, as well as a weight savings. Using narrow tandem wheels can also help in cooling. Nielsen says it’s about knowing your true cost, the point at which acquisition cost, performance, life cycle, and maintenance all merge together.
As for suspensions on collection trucks…to achieve maximum truck life with minimum maintenance costs, Jim Zito, the national manager of vocational sales for Peterbilt, advises specifications for severe duty work. On top of that, Peterbilt encourages its customers to spec the same suspensions, tires, brakes, and other components for their entire fleet. This is to reduce the amount of replacement parts a fleet needs to keep in inventory and to help keep a uniform maintenance schedule.
Zito says there is a trend toward air-ride rear suspensions for higher ride quality in front- and rear-loader applications. He says 20k front springs perform well with most refuse vehicles, but recommends 23k springs for Curotto Can and front loader applications that can have heavier load spikes on the front axle. Typically for vehicles operating in the eastern United States, a 46k rear axle is recommended, and for lightweight regions like California, a heavy-walled 40k rear axle. This is usually determined by the weight that’s allowed to be hauled.
When it comes to tires, Peterbilt usually specs 315-size, all-position tires rated at 9,000 pounds. They’re durable with an aggressive, all-purpose tread. And the same tires can be used on both front and rear axles, again minimizing maintenance and inventory. Zito says component commonality helps reduce costs and streamline operations.
If time is money, downtime is a serious expense. Even routine maintenance costs time and money, as routes have to be covered while a truck is in the shop.
The typical antifreeze routine maintenance calls for it to be changed out every three years, but the demanding duty cycle of a trash truck, in addition to excessive load, driving conditions, and inconsistent driver training, could require more frequent intervals.
Fortunately, some pitfalls can be avoided with the right products. Waterless coolants from Evans Coolant can extend that interval much longer-in some cases, for the life of the engine. “No periodic maintenance is required, as no supplemental coolant additives are required,” states Mike Tourville, director of marketing. When coolant filters are used, he explains, many are treated with additives, but Evans does not require a treated filter because the coolant requires no SCAs.
Sometimes referred to as a “lifetime product,” a waterless coolant doesn’t need to be topped off or changed, because it doesn’t evaporate. In addition, because this revolutionary fluid contains no water, there is no corrosion or electrolysis, issues that cannot be avoided when water is present.
Water causes corrosion, electrolysis, and cavitation erosion. When water boils, it creates vapor and consequently high pressure, putting stress on the cooling system. Evans prevents vapor formation because there is no boiling. The result is a very low operating pressure of about 3 psi (as opposed to typical cooling system operating pressure of about 15 to 16 psi). Similarly, pressure is eliminated since there is no hot water vaporization stressing the cooling system. Neither is there inhibition of heat transfer due to a vapor barrier.
Because heat can’t pass “hot spots” in the cylinder, an improperly protected cooling system can allow cavitation corrosion-erosion to occur, resulting in liner perforation. When coolant enters the combustion chamber, it can destroy an engine within minutes.
There is less potential to overheat when using a waterless coolant. Dusty radiators and extremely hot temperatures can be tolerated, Tourville interjects. “The coolant will not boil if the radiator cannot reject the heat, or if ambient temps get too high. Evans boils at 375°F-more than 100 degrees higher than water-based coolants in a pressurized system.”
When a coolant helps an engine maintain optimal temperature, it improves fuel efficiency. If the engine is not running at optimal temperature, it often results in oil viscosity that accelerates wear. The stop/start conditions faced by waste vehicles generate heat that prompts the fans. Reducing operating temperature correspondingly reduces fan-on time, contributing to reduced fuel usage.
“Pump cavitation, cylinder liner cavitation, high cooling system pressure, EGR cooler failure… Many of these maintenance issues can be avoided or minimized by using a waterless coolant,” Tourville says.
Another time-saver that comes from using a waterless coolant from Evans is that a dusty radiator won’t have to be cleaned as often during productive hours. That means work doesn’t have to be interrupted: no downtime. Radiators can be cleaned at the end of the day. “Maintenance, performance and productivity can all be improved, along with environmental advantages,” Tourville says. Disposal of old coolant will occur less frequently, CO2 emissions can be reduced and fuel economy can be improved by using Evans waterless coolant.
Payback has occurred in fewer than six months for many customers, Tourville says. New York City used the product in some of its waste vehicles. By the end of a year, they saw 5% fuel economy improvement and reduced CO2 emissions.
Thanks to the introduction of new tools and products, maintenance can now be performed and tracked more quickly and more efficiently than ever before. Fleet maintenance will always have a cost, whether from monetary or scheduling considerations, but preventive maintenance can save money in the long run by keeping vehicles on their routes and reducing downtime for major service or repair.