It’s a sunny Sunday morning, the roar of lawn mowers fills the air, and your buddy is on the phone. He needs one more body to fill a foursome for a two o’clock tee-off. You could still manage to get the grass cut, but the truck needs greasing too. “Better say no,” you tell your pal. “I really need to get some work done around the house.”
That’s a bummer, but it could be worse: you could be holed up in Montreal for a weekend in February. It’s 10 below, there’s all manner of road salt, slush, and God knows what dripping off the truck, and it’s been two weeks since you last greased ‘er. Are you likely to get down there in the muck and get it done? If you’re like many, you’ll hold off ’til you’re dispatched to Florida again.
That’s not doing your kingpins any favors, but it’s better than having a slush ball fall from a crossmember, hit you in the face, and then run down your back. That’s a
A centralized greasing system can solve all that. They’re not terribly expensive, they can really help with component longevity, and they can save a significant amount of personal time and energy, but owner-operators don’t seem particularly
enthusiastic about them.
When doing a cost benefit analysis on a greasing system (prices range from $2400 to a little more than $3000, depending on the configuration and installation charges), it’s easy to ignore the time component of the calculation – your time, that is.
How much time would you spend greasing the truck? You could probably hit every fitting in less than 30 minutes if you had a creeper, less if you had a pit and a pressure gun. But then there’s the set-up and clean-up time, plus the time spent looking around for damage and wear under the truck, so is an hour
If you grease the truck weekly, you’ll tie up 52 hours a year under the truck, or 250 hours over the five-year life of a new truck. Now, what’s your time worth?
It’s hard to put a price on an hour’s time when you’re offered a two o’clock tee-off
versus an hour under the truck, but let’s say you’re worth 20 bucks an hour. That’s what you’d make as a well-paid company driver. That makes your time under the truck over five years worth about $5000. Yeah, but you don’t really pay yourself
$5000 to grease the truck, that’s just a number. Well, it’s a number that shows a
$2000 gain in time-value alone over the cost of a typical automatic greasing
While you’re debunking those numbers – we know not everyone religiously greases the truck once a week – consider the advantages of having the truck greased every couple of hours or so.
Metal to Metal
The idea behind lubricant is to place a slippery film between two moving parts so
that the friction generated by the metal-to-metal contact won’t inhibit free movement, and won’t wear away the two contact surfaces. When you apply grease to a fitting, it squeezes in between two surfaces, providing the protective film. But it won’t stay in place forever.
The grease you buy in cartridges is a thick gooey substance containing a mixture of lubricating oil, additives to prevent rust, etc., and soap. The soap is what gives the grease its clinging power: the higher the soap content, the thicker the grease, the longer it stays where you put it. If it’s too thick at ambient temperature, it will
become a problem in cold temperatures, if it’s too thin, it’ll just run out from
between the surfaces when they get warm.
The standard recommendation from truck makers is to use an EP2 grade of chassis lube (EP stands for extreme pressure, 2 is a measure of the viscosity or soap content of the material). The truck makers also recommend certain
chassis-lube intervals because they know the EP2 grease will stay in place under certain conditions for a certain period of time. But if you think about it, you get the best performance from your grease when it’s first applied. By the end of the
service interval, it might be wearing a bit thin.
Going back to our time-value analysis, you can see the downside to not maintaining the lubrication intervals – even if you’re saving money on the cost of the time it takes to grease the truck – and the potential penalty in component degradation if the lube runs dry in a critical location, such as the kingpins or the clutch release bearing.
The idea behind an automated centralized lubrication system is to pump a tiny bit
of grease into the fittings far more frequently that you would with a grease gun. If
for example, a grease gun pumps an ounce of grease into a fitting once a week, the automatic greasers pump in a milligram once every few hours. The result is a
constant supply of fresh lube, and better coverage between the moving surfaces.
Two schools of thought exist on the type of grease best used in the automated systems.
One says a thinner grease, an EP0, offers better flow characteristics, more even
coverage, and it requires a less powerful pump.
The other follows the EP2 theory that the thicker grease provides better clinging power, a more robust film between two surfaces, but requires a stronger pump.
But given that competing systems, and even different systems offered by the
same manufacturer, are priced in the same ballpark, it becomes a matter of personal preference.
Dave Meadows of A.L.S. Vogel is a proponent of the thicker grease. He says it offers the advantage of wider availability, while providing better protection in a
“You can switch to an EP1 grease in the winter if temperature is an issue,” he
The systems consist of a reservoir for the grease, a pump and timer device to
deliver the grease on schedule, and a metering system in the distribution
manifolds to ensure each fitting gets the proper amount of grease.
Slack adjusters, for example, need less grease than the fifth-wheel plate. The systems meter out the grease in amounts suitable to the application.
Meadows stresses that proper installation of the system is critical. “It’s not a
do-it-yourself job,” he says. “But when properly installed, they’ll function for years, and you’ll never know they’re there.”
Systems are available through a Canada-wide network of distributors, or they can
be spec’d new for a dealer installation and rolled into the price of a new truck.
Jan Eisses, director of North American Operations for Groeneveld CPL Systems, says the long-term benefit really has to be less wear on the individual components. We can make the cost benefit argument all day long, he says, but never having to do any serious front-end work to the truck because of excessive wear is a tremendous cost savings.
“We’ve got enough units out there now to say with some confidence that our
customers are reporting improved brake-lining life due to less brake drag, better tire life due to fewer wheel lock-ups caused by sticky slack adjusters in an ABS event, and better steering performance,” he says.
“At the end of five years, the truck should have a higher market value because the buyer knows lubrication was never an issue.”
And if you’re still hung up about getting under the truck for a thorough weekly
inspection, do that too. You don’t need a grease gun in your hand to do it, and if
you slip and decide to play golf or do a little work in the garden instead, your
kingpins will never know the difference.