Making more miles with meticulous maintenance
IN THE road transport game we always seem to be chasing something.
It could be the next load, that east coast daylight saving time difference, less paperwork, more regular maintenance, better rates, more time at home, better fuel economy, or even just the white line down the middle of the road.
Big Rigs spoke at length to New South Wales north coast operator Graeme Nicholson to learn how he keeps the wheels turning.
We were impressed with how well structured his operation was when we spoke to Graeme earlier this year, so we went back to learn more.
Graeme Nicholson and wife Meredith Page own and operate Nicholson and Page Transport out of Maclean on the New South Wales north coast.
It's not a big operation with just eight trucks; five are cabover Kenworths and there's two SARs and a 409, plus there's two "painted” subbies.
They mostly run the east coast: Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, sometimes Adelaide, sometimes Cairns.
But the majority of their work is regular east coast runs.
Big Rigs quickly learnt there is a lot of knowledge and experience gained from Graeme's 35 years on the road, 30 of which have been in his own business, and much of it is applied in the day to day running of Nicholson and Page.
"It's always been Kenworths, but they are now 600hp Cummins and 18-speeds, pulling B double curtainsider Krueger mez decks at up around 60 tonnes.”
Interestingly, two of the older trucks are EGR- powered while the other trucks are E5-powered.
Big Rigs asked two specific questions of Graeme: "How do you achieve better fuel economy” and "What is your maintenance routine”.
"In relation to fuel economy, tyre pressures; we try and get the tyres checked every fortnight, it's amazing how they change,” he said.
" You wouldn't think that in a fortnight the tyre pressures can change, but they do,” Graeme said.
"You wonder where the air escapes out of. We run a certain amount of recaps and if we keep tyre pressure up to them we have no problems with them whatsoever. If you get the trailer tyres down to around 80-85-90 pounds, they drag, they are so heavy to tow. You can feel the difference.
"If you keep all the tyres up around 100, that trailer feels lighter and is so much easier to tow along the road.
"We run the steers at 120psi and the drive and trailer tyres at 100 psi. It's one of the things we check each time the trucks are over the pits at Gary Irons'.
"Another point of wear and tear is traffic and roadworks with all its stop-start rhythms, but that just takes patience to keep rolling with it.”
All the Kenworths are well maintained using the services of neighbouring Irons Auto Repairs, which is owned and operated by Gary Irons whom Graeme went through school with.
"It is part of the driver's job to get the trucks over the pits at Gary Irons' once a week or at the outside, every 10 days, for a grease, oil change if due, brake adjustment and for a thorough, general check-over. Small things are fixed then and there, if there is anything more, like a brake re-line on a trailer, we'll work that in.
"We are a bit spoilt at Gary's as he knows the trucks are working and he always manages to fit us in. "Most times a driver can drop a truck in for its weekly check and be back on the road in an hour with the truck checked over, the oil changed, a re-grease and the brakes adjusted.
"Gary is 'old- school' in that he likes to get in and get the job done and, being an R&MS qualified inspector, he is very thorough.
"The trucks go over the RMS's pits every year as I'm not a big fan of the maintenance management scheme, even though I'm basically doing the same amount of paperwork,” Graeme said.
'If anything at all needs doing we get it done straight away, because that little thing if left will develop into something bigger that is going to let you down somewhere out on the road. And I end up getting a phone call at 2am in the morning saying something is broken.”
"Oil changes on the EGR engines are done strictly every 20,000 kilometres. I've had oils sampled at 30,000km in those engines but it's had it, all soot and full of carbon, so I've stuck with 20,000km intervals to avoid camshaft problems.
With the E5 engines the service intervals are every 40,000 kilometres. So it's actually cheaper to run the new trucks with just five or six oil changes a year with the E5 engines as opposed to 10 or 12 oil changes a year with the EGR engines. That's a big saving.”
Each truck runs about 200,000 to 250,000 kilometres a year and at around the one million kilometre or five year mark, each is replaced. In the week they are due for their annual run over the RMS's pits Graeme likes to take the truck off the road for most of that week. The truck is booked into Brown and Hurley at Kyogle where the brief is to go right over the truck from front to back, bottom to top. Gearbox and diff oils are changed then too.
"If anything needs to be done, it's done. It's nothing to spend as much as $5000 on a truck, but when they go over the pits we know they are right,” Graeme said.
"At around every 200,000 kilometres the trucks are booked into Cummins at Grafton for a tune-up. The settings on these electronic engines are so sensitive that even if they are out by a matter of just a couple of thousandths, it can affect their entire performance.
"The support we've had from the Gary Irons, from Brown and Hurley at Kyogle, from Cummins and from the tyre service, has always been good, especially if there's ever been a problem.
"There's a lot at stake out there on the road, but I know our trucks are as well maintained as the best of them,” Graeme said.
"Check tyre pressures regularly, grease, brake adjustments and a thorough general check-over every seven to 10 days, change the engine oil religiously at the recommended intervals, and keep electronic engines well-tuned.”
And that is some great advice.