It’s no lie that most, if not all, new vehicles require a host of specialized tools and training to work on. From the multiple computers that run everything from the transmission to the climate control, the world of modern vehicles is one that is electrical. It’s ironic that in less than two generations, we’ve gone from points distributors and vacuum actuators to computer controlled systems that are virtually maintenance free.
So what is left to actually work on in your truck or van?
Not to worry, there’s still plenty that you can do to keep your truck or van on the road for many miles and years after you quit paying for it. What are they? Keep reading and start making your list. Of course, regular oil and filter changes are understood to be important, so we’re going to NOT mention them, as they should be second nature.
- Electrical health: Anyone who fought with the 6.5 liter diesel engine that GM used in their work vehicles in the 1990’s knows how important this is. In the salty winter environment we live and work in, making sure that all your ground straps are firmly secured is critical. Why? Electrical gremlins. Corroded grounds lead to higher resistance on wiring and can cause the computer that controls certain systems to “see” more or less voltage than it should, leading to trouble. The solution? Find ALL your grounds – at the minimum, you should have one from the battery to the frame, engine to the frame, and possibly firewall to the chassis or engine. Detach the ground, clean the mounting surfaces and hardware with a wire brush and treat the whole connection with dielectric grease to preserve the clean surface. (Some of you will suggest a conductive grease at this connection, and you could do that, too. We just see more folks with dielectric in their toolboxes and it works well). As simple as it seems, minimizing voltage drop across your vehicle’s electrical system can even help fuel economy since the ignition systems and oxygen sensors can react faster to lean or rich situations.
- Fuel system: There is no better way to keep your fuel delivery system working properly than by keeping it clean. This isn’t about ethanol but about using good fuel and keeping filters clean. Yes, we know that many filters are now housed in the fuel pump, which, of course, is usually in the actual tank, but it’s worth understanding what the lifecycle of your fuel filtration system is and how that system is serviced. Sure, you can do it yourself, but even using a reputable service center is fine – make sure you ask for the old parts to be returned to you and demand high quality replacements parts be used. This is not the area to “go cheap” with jobber-level parts. At the same time, using a high-quality cleaning agent, such as Seafoam or its equivalent, in your tank every 10,000 kms is also a good idea. We’ve seen Ford 4.6 engines have an appreciable “bump up” in fuel economy with just a bottle.
- Tires: Most of our vehicles are heavy and demand at least a D-rated tire and many of them run best with E-rated rubber. Over the years, we’ve seen name-brand E-rated tires go well over 90,000 kms with proper inflation and rotation. The key? Keep that rubber balanced, rotated, and inflated properly. Sure, the E-ratings come with a premium cost, but how many sets of tires will you actually buy for a vehicle? Buy the best you can afford, and then have the discipline to manage them as the valuable asset that they are. Of course, tires directly affect the noise and fuel economy of a vehicle, so take your time and understand your options. If you save an extra gallon in fuel economy each day, you are easily saving the costs of replacement tires when the time comes.
- Corrosion: One of the biggest killers of any work vehicle is the rust worm. The salt on our roads in the winter has reduced many a fine vehicle into an unsafe heap in just a few years and the scrapyards are filled with low-mileage drivetrains surrounded by rotted out bodies. What can you do? As hard as it is, even the most basic washing of the undercarriage with clean water when possible can help to get extra years out of a vehicle, but, if you have a new truck, the first step is opting for a corrosion-resistant undercoating. Next, take the time to keep that maintained over the years. Cleaning areas where the undercoat has rubbed away and re-treating it is virtually mandatory and there are a number of products that can serve to “convert” minor surface rust into inert black oxide, then they can be painted over with a rubberized undercoating. At the same time, the paint and body panels of your work vehicle need protection, too. Tree sap, bug guts, and even the air can oxidize the paint and clear-coat to allow corrosion to take hold and taking the time at least once a year to thoroughly strip off old wax, polish the surface, and treat it with a high-quality wax can add years to the life of the paint, extend the corrosion protection you need, and add thousands of dollars to the value of your vehicle. Chrome and aluminum – toolboxes, bumpers, and wheels – need the same sort of attention paid to them and the result will be a good looking, functional equipment that lasts the life of your vehicle.
- Interior: Here is where the problems usually start. The spilled cup of coffee that stains the carpet, then it attracts dirt. Add in some salty slush from the jobsite in the wintertime and before you know it, your carpet is shot. Adding to that is the screwdriver your technician forgot was in his pocket and the seat got ripped. Every one of these is avoidable, with the right accessories. Good, well designed floor mats and liners keep the carpet clean and the salty ooze of winter away from the floor and the right tool boxes and shelving units keep absent-minded employees from carrying items that can tear things up in their pockets. Once a year, of course, it’s a great idea to detail the interior of any vehicle and get everything back to showroom perfect. The end result is a truck or van that is used, but well cared for and will still command a premium when it’s time to sell it.
The total amount of time to take care of these sorts of maintenance items on your work truck or van might add up to a day or two each year, but the overall appearance to your customers and staff will be one of thoroughness. At Expertec, for many years, we’ve discussed how a well-appointed vehicle can help to give you more business and create a favorable first impression, but these hints and tricks also allow you to command higher prices for your used fleet vehicles. You are not only making more money, you are saving money on depreciation by simply being attentive to the needs of your work truck. It may not be points and voltage regulators anymore, but the time it takes to keep your vehicle in top condition has never been this ideal and with the costs of replacement, handling these “little things” can keep more money in your wallet.