From residential street to transfer station to landfill, and everywhere in between, collection vehicles work in the dirtiest, most severe conditions, carrying the dirtiest loads and enduring stop-and-go duty cycles. Zane McCarthy, business development manager for fleet sales with Link Manufacturing, estimates that the typical trash truck makes about 400 stops per day. “These vehicles face unique challenges and severe wear and tear compared to many other vocational vehicles.”
The environments and conditions to which they are subjected mean that regular maintenance is even more critical for optimal performance, extended life of the machine, and minimal downtime.
Daily ‘Dos and regular PMs
As with any vehicle, collection trucks deserve daily look-over. Checking tires (pressures, tread, wear, condition—cuts and bulges), fluid levels (engine oil, brakes, clutch, power steering, transmission fluids, hydraulic fluid, windshield washer fluid), lights (headlights, tail lights, brake lights, indicators), wipers, the battery (for corrosion), and brakes should be on every inspection checklist, but they’re just the start. Hydraulic fluids should also be checked—and the hydraulic lines should be examined for evidence of leaks and to ensure that connections aren’t loose. Air filters should be clean.
Because of the demands of the job, MSW trucks demand extra maintenance attention. Beyond oil changes and fluid checks, their mechanical systems need regular greasing. Compactor body maintenance is important to keep the trucks on the job. Without regular maintenance, the moving parts on the compactor body can weaken and fail as components become stressed. As with all components, follow the OEM’s recommendations. Also, check the grease and lubrication points. Operators should clean behind the packer blade. Look for cracking and metal fatigue.
In addition to the stop-and-go routine, their lift arms are also operating repetitively—all in one of the dirtiest, dustiest environments that contaminate the equipment. Operators should grease the lift arm weekly. They should grease forks and grabbers daily.
Regular PMs are perhaps the most important action to prevent unscheduled downtime. Routine maintenance includes oil changes, tune-ups, and lube jobs. “The number one way to prevent unscheduled downtime is PMs,” insists Joe Burkel, chief business development officer for Autocar. “Be sure to meet the schedules recommended by the manufacturers.” Each manufacturer has a schedule for maintenance. However, intervals are changing. “It’s even more important to stick to the schedule if the intervals are longer because it means you’re even closer to the limit.” But because of that, he suggests running oil samples.
Some specific areas to check on MSW vehicles include the drive train: engine, transmission, and suspension. But PMs are more than just changing the oil. “You need to maintain every part of the machine,” continues Burkel. “Be thorough, be diligent.” Beyond checking the oil, coolant, and other fluid levels, it’s important to ensure tires are properly inflated. Often overlooked items include seatbelts, lights, and steering.
“Check the air system, the air intake, the emissions systems,” advises Dan Holdmeyer, North American industry sector manager, Chevron. “Examine the chassis—the torque and fasteners, transmission, differential…look for UV joint wear, wiring harness chafing. Inspect the hydraulic hoses. The visual inspection is very important.”
The hydraulic system on a collection truck consists of the pump, hydraulic fluid filter, high-pressure hoses, and cylinders. Side-arm loaders also contain valves that need maintaining. In addition to routinely checking the hydraulic fluid reservoir and regularly replacing the fluid filter to protect the fluid from contamination, it’s important to inspect the fittings that join the various segments of the tubing and hoses and to check for leaks and damaged lines.
“Check for leakage and ruptured hoses,” urges Holdmeyer. “You need good quality—clean—hydraulic oil to preserve the hydraulics operating system.” He says it should meet ISO cleanliness regulations, but dirt and contamination often make their way into the hydraulic fluid.
Because fine particles of 3–4 microns that the eye can’t see can cause damage, it’s important to do sampling. “Even new oil can be contaminated,” says Holdmeyer. “It should be filtered every time it’s transferred.” He suggests performing a particle count analysis. “Do it monthly so you get a baseline.”
Sampling provides information that may allow a fleet manager to extend intervals—a money-saving move that has some science behind it, unlike time- or hours-based drain intervals. Oil analysis can also inform maintenance techs of issues that could develop into serious problems, either confirming suspected diagnoses or alerting to undetected conditions. Coolant leakage into engine oil might indicate a cracked head gasket, for example.
Although manufacturers are continually improving the quality of hydraulic oil, engine oil, and coolant to meet the demands of the industry, Holdmeyer cautions against extending intervals beyond OEM recommendation, and he emphasizes the importance of sampling and monitoring. “It’s critical to perform oil analysis, to understand the differences between mineral oils, synthetics, and synthetic blends, and to line up with other PM schedules—not just randomly extend intervals.” Aligning with PM schedules will reduce downtime, he explains, adding that the ability to extend intervals should be considered a cushion and not a strict guideline.
Additionally, Holdmeyer advises, “Check the filters to make sure they’ve been updated with the correct filter rating, and are not in bypass mode. And don’t forget to inspect hoses and seals for leakage.”
Technological Impacts on Service
Intelligent diagnostics can aid in getting to the root of any maintenance issues faster. Autocar’s Always Up Display is more than just a fault code for chassis, engine, ABT, or other issues. As Burkel describes, it also provides instruction. For example, it shows the wiring diagram and routing for electrical issues. “It presents information in a consumable, usable format in real-time while removing distractions from the operator. If everything is okay, the logo is displayed. There’s an error code only if there’s a problem.”
The Always Up Display captures information. As the situation changes, the display does too. Burkel says it issues a slight nudge if alerts are ignored, and that the messages progress and elevate. “You can’t hide from it. It logs issues into the system so everyone sees it.”
Technical changes add to the complexity of problem-solving. As Burkel acknowledges, with more electronics, you have to plug into the computer, although he says some trucks can self-diagnose. “They are easier to service; the key is training. Diagnostics are VIN-specific.”
Data is important, but someone still has to execute. That’s why Autocar doesn’t rely solely on the technicians. “We’re still people,” states Burkel. “We see a lot of things from calls that we can apply to other calls. Experience matters.”
Autocar Solutions is a technical call center for troubleshooting that incorporates telephone and merged reality so the tech can see what the customer is seeing. “We had a call from a customer with an electrical issue,” recalls Burkel. “Using the camera on his phone, he took a picture and forwarded it. Our center drew a circle on the screen to show him where the problem was and sent it back. We’re always looking for ways to use technology and systems to assist the customers and our partners with maintenance.”
While most refuse vehicles today are designed for durability, reliability, and serviceability, some of the innovations have a ripple effect, creating a need for new products and procedures for service. The advent of aluminum radiators has generated the need for a new type of coolant.
Aluminum radiators are more common today because the cost of copper previously used is high, Chevron’s Holdmeyer says. Aluminum is also lighter in weight by as much as 30–40% but is more durable, can be welded, and is resistant to cracking or bending, especially at high operating temperatures. Aluminum radiators typically enjoy a longer life than copper-brass radiators and are generally more efficient and more environmentally friendly.
Efficiency comes from its capacity for uniform heat transfer. Unlike copper-brass radiators that use smaller tubes because they’re weaker, it produces reduced airflow as the solder limits its cooling capacity. Therefore, an aluminum radiator cools better than a copper-brass radiator. An aluminum radiator with two rows of 1-inch tubes is equivalent to a copper-brass radiator with five rows of .5-inch tubes.
“The tubing is smaller for better heat transfer,” confirms Holdmeyer. “In the CAB process, they’re manufactured with finer and thinner fins.” Aluminum radiator cores are brazed in a furnace to join the tubes, fin, and headers. This brazing process is commonly referred to as CAB (Controlled Atmosphere Brazing) for the name of the flux used in the process.
There’s a concern with coolant compatibility, signified by an ammonia smell. Exposed aluminum in the radiator oxidizes, Holdmeyer explains. Ammonia and high pH make coolant corrode. Flux, such as borax, is required to prevent oxides from forming while the metal is heated. Flux also cleans contamination left on the brazing surface, subsequently lowering the pH of coolants, which degrade and form deposits.
Delo ELC Advanced doesn’t react to flux, Holdmeyer says. “It protects the coolant and the radiator. It’s compatible with new CAB aluminum radiators; it’s non-reactive with the new radiator.”
It’s a patented silicate-free formula that improves heat transfer when compared with silicate-containing formulations. Silicate deposits cause wear in cooling systems and can reduce heat transfer and increase downtime due to overheating. Most OEMs recommend the use of nitrite-free extended-life coolants with organic corrosion inhibitors for heavy-duty engines, regardless of fuel type; these typically contain nitrites.
In field trials, Holdmeyer says the fleet managers “don’t have to treat with radiator conditions” and have reported “fewer issues with the coolant system.” Maintenance costs are lower, in part because they have less downtime and use fewer dosages of coolant.
Chevron is also developing a new engine oil for a fourth-quarter launch. “It will address issues such as diesel particulate filters plugging up and not lasting as long as expected,” promises Holdmeyer.
Another advancement that requires adjustments in maintenance involves the suspension. Employee retention, safety, and productivity have led to improvements in the cab, one of which is a better suspension.
Fleet owners want a suspension that is reliable, durable, and doesn’t require constant maintenance. Air Link heavy-duty suspensions, which combine air spring and walking beam technology, are engineered to provide a smoother ride for the driver, deliver superior traction and stability, and be highly durable. This reduces wear and tear on the vehicle, minimizes maintenance costs, and results in a lower overall cost of ownership.
Air Link suspensions provide a smooth ride whether the truck is full or empty, allowing drivers to maintain speed on uneven terrain, which increases their efficiency because it gets them back on the road more quickly.
Another premium cab suspension, Cabmate, was introduced by Link Manufacturing in 1980. This improved ride quality and reduced sway, reasons it became the industry standard, according to Chuck Boden, sales and technical specialist.
Unfortunately, he laments, because it’s not easily visible during routine inspections, maintenance on the suspension is often overlooked“until a driver complains the truckisn’t riding as smoothly as it usedto, a dashboard cracks, or someother problem develops.”
Link Manufacturing developed a checklist for Cabmate maintenance looking for air leaks in the fittings, valves, or the air spring itself.Visible signs include cracks, weather checking, or air springs covered in oil, indicating the need for replacement.
The next question asks when the shocks were last changed. A functioning shock will be warm to the touch after being driven a few hundred miles, Boden says, but it shouldn’t be hot. “We also ask them to bounce the cab by grabbing the handrail and using their body weight. The cab should bounce once or twice. If it continues to bounce beyond that, we’ve hit on the problem.”
Next, they inspect the air side of the system. “We ask them to disconnect the leveling valve and move it up and down to make sure the cab itself also moves up and down smoothly. If it begins to seize up towards the top or bottom of the arc, it’s usually a sign of obstruction from a non-Cabmate part—such as an exhaust pipe or radiator rod in the way,” explains Boden. The issue could also be a bad front cab mount or any number of other parts that could have slipped, broken, or rusted out.
Finally, they inspect the bushings. A lateral control rod keeps the suspension lined up and controls the side-to-side movement, so the Cabmate suspension should not move side-to-side as it moves up and down. If the bushings inside the lateral control rod have gone bad, it will result in a lot of sway for the driver.
Suspensions, like all components of refuse trucks, face the challenges of a severe environment and difficult working conditions both on- and off-road, navigating from residential neighborhoods to the uneven terrain of landfills with and without full loads. “It puts an incredible amount of torque and stress on the vehicle’s suspension,” says Zane McCarthy, business development manager of fleet sales with Link Mfg.
Auxiliary suspensions are fairly straightforward in concept—remaining in a raised position when not needed and dropping down to the road to support a heavy load. However, a lot of sophisticated engineering goes into the steerable and non-steerable suspensions. “The first thing maintenance professionals notice when examining our auxiliary suspensions is how sturdily they are built,” says McCarthy. “In fact, I was speaking with a gentleman just the other day who just had his first Link steerable auxiliary suspension installed, and he was very impressed with how large and robust the bushings and other components were, compared with other suspensions he was more familiar with.”
No matter how robust they are, auxiliary suspensions need to be properly inspected during every complete service job to keep them operating at peak performance. Steerable auxiliary suspensions are more complicated than non-steerable suspensions, due to having more moving parts, but this 12-point Auxiliary Suspension Maintenance checklist applies to both types:
- Frame Bracket Mounts. Make sure it’s mounted correctly to the frame of the truck and check that the bolts are tight and spaced correctly.
- Front Hanger Connection to Frame Bracket. Ensure the bolts are torqued correctly.
- Arm Bushings. These need to be inspected regularly to confirm they are in good shape and the shoulders aren’t worn down or loose. Also, inspect the bolts to ensure they haven’t lost their torque or are sliding around in the front or rear hangers.
- Bushings and Bolts Connecting to Axle. Inspect these to ensure they are in good shape and not worn.
- Steering Stabilizers. These need to be replaced regularly. Put the suspension in the up position and try to turn the tire to the left or right; it should remain tight and be hard to turn. If you can turn the wheel relatively easily—or if the tire is facing left or right in the up position—it’s time to replace them.
- End Play on the Hub. Make sure bearings are tight and adjusted correctly. It should be between .002–.005 inches at the hub.
- King Pin Play. Lift on the wheel to make sure it’s tight and there is no vertical movement.
- Tie Rod and Castle Nuts. These should all be tight and torqued appropriately.
- Alignment. It should be checked every time the front-end alignment is inspected.
- Ride Shocks. This is an option on larger and newer models and should be monitored and replaced just like the shocks on your primary suspension.
- Air Kits. While there isn’t too much maintenance you can do yourself, we do recommend draining the water out of the air kit regularly.
- Tires. Your tires should wear evenly. If it’s wearing on the outside, this is usually a sign of poor toe setting; it needs to be realigned or the tire will become inoperable. If the center rib is wearing faster than the rest of the tire, there is usually too much air pressure or not enough load on the suspension. Flat spotting occurs when there isn’t enough weight, causing the tire to “hop” down the road when the brakes are applied.
Why It’s Important to Make Time for Maintenance
Keeping collection trucks on the road keeps trash haulers in business. Scheduling time to perform routine PMs will cause much less downtime than an unplanned emergency repair—and will cost less as well.
Regular preventative maintenance not only reduces downtime, but it also prolongs the life of the truck. Operators should never be in too much of a rush to do the daily checks, and fleet managers must keep track of PMs.
Create a checklist: Change the oil. Check the fluid levels. Grease the mechanical systems. Check tire pressures. Clean the air filters. Test the brakes. Inspect the chassis and suspension. Above all, follow the OEM guidelines.