Fleets weigh repair-versus-replace maintenance dilemma every day

Truck drivers cover tens of thousands of kilometers every year. Routine maintenance is so important to keep devices working properly and safely – especially as they age. Additionally, a lack of new equipment has put pressure on fleet managers to squeeze even more miles from their current fortune.

The lack of service technicians is a problem in our industry today. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for heavy-duty truck service technicians and mechanics is projected to increase by 8% between 2020 and 2030, for a projected annual need of 28,000 additional jobs this decade. The labor shortage among commercial vehicle technicians has resulted in the existing workforce having to work faster and more efficiently to service trucks and trailers.

See also: Increase in the need for electronic drives for diagnostic tools

The lack of technology has affected how OEMs and suppliers produce trucks, trailers and parts. To increase vehicle uptime and speed up service, manufacturers are improving designs and providing solutions to service them quickly when needed. Such a solution offers full part replacement options that require fewer hours, less engineering, less specialization, and lower overall costs.

The concept of replacement instead of new construction is not new. An example of this would be moving away from the rebuild of a starter motor or alternator years ago to a complete replacement, which is common practice in the shop today. The question we should keep asking is what else makes sense?

Servicing a wheel end when bearings need to be replaced is a tedious job and requires multiple steps including lifting the axle and removing the tire and brake systems. As disc brake systems continue to grow, this process will become even more time consuming and costly. It is important to ensure that wheel end service is performed correctly.

When looking at value, the cost and labor required to rebuild a wheel end is greater than a complete rebuild. Accounting for equipment downtime only increases the savings if you decide to replace it. The two-hour time savings for replacements also increases workshop throughput, allowing the workshop to attend to more vehicles and generate more opportunity revenue.

Modifying a wheel end also involves the possibility of damage or assembly errors. Technicians can damage the casting or bearings when they “knock out” the old cups and “press” in the new cups. Particularly with aluminum wheel ends, technicians may not recognize the maintenance procedures for removing the bearing shells, which require a welder, or installing the new shells, which require heating the wheel ends and freezing the shells before reassembly, or installing gaskets that are improperly performed, resulting in costly additional repairs and fines from the US Department of Transportation.

When a wheel end is rebuilt correctly, only the new components are replaced, typically the bearings and seal. The remaining components used may show signs of wear, resulting in reduced performance and a reduced overall lifespan. Some examples would be worn wheel/drum guides on the casting that can cause improper wheel installation, elongated/rusted wheel studs that could break, or a corroded ABS ring that could cause erratic signals to the ABS system.

Taking this a step further, a preset wheel end can replace a traditional wheel end, adding value to the workshop and fleet. Since the preset wheel head is delivered fully assembled including bearings and seals directly from the factory, the correct installation of the components in the wheel head is guaranteed. By simply sliding the wheel end onto the spindle and tightening the spindle nut to the recommended torque, the technician avoids the eight-step bearing adjustment, including endplay measurement.

Fortunately, the rebuild trend is fading as fleets include interchangeable parts. Replacing the entire hub ensures quality, consistency, and the same original OEM product with the exact tolerances required. Additionally, hub manufacturers offer solid warranties to further encourage the adoption of replacement hubs. Conversely, warranties on the individual parts in a hub rebuild rarely exceed a year and only cover the parts themselves.

The continuing lack of maintenance technique underscores the importance of replacing products versus rebuilding. If you have better quality products that break less often, you don’t need as many technicians. Likewise, fleet managers either need fewer technicians when they can service tractors and trailers more efficiently, or the existing crew can service more vehicles in the same amount of time.

Brian Rieger is ConMet’s Vice President of North America Truck OEM and Aftermarket Sales.