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Grease Your Semi-Truck Trailer and Save Thousands!

Updated on March 29, 2021
Oscarlites profile image

Driving big rigs and operating heavy equipment filled a large part of the authors life, living and driving in multiple states of the USA.

The Author Driving in South Alabama
The Author Driving in South Alabama | Source

Maintenance for Long Haul Trucks

There is a fundamental difference in being a owner-operator versus being a company driver but in both cases, the importance of greasing a truck is crucial to safe driving as well as for efficiency and affordable maintenance costs. Recently, I have seen the impact of vehicles not being greased properly, Of owners who are totally trusting of their maintenance people and yet the trucks are coming out the door without being greased properly.

Everyone seems to agree at least in principle that the driver is the best judge of whats going daily on with a specific truck in regards to maintenance. However, on the other side of that coin is the company "vision" that says "we have a maintenance program and we have hired mechanics and management staff that see to it these trucks are maintained according to a set minimum standard." Well, that's all fine and good if its really happening, but my experience is that unless the driver makes sure it got done, he may experience bad events directly related to failure to do the very most important thing in big truck maintenance. (i.e..) THE MOST IMPORTANT truck in the fleet, is the one that he is driving! Every self respecting truck driver by now should be shouting. "Grease my truck!", "Grease my truck!"

What should be greased on a long haul truck such as a Peterbilt, Kenworth, International, or Freight-liner?

Here it is...

Tie-Rod Ends. - tie rod ends are connecting joints to the front steering. if they aren't greased properly they will quickly wear out and make the truck hard to steer. simple as that!

Pitman Arm Joint and Idler Arm Joint. - these connect the steering gear sector box to the driver side wheel and tie-rod that connect across the front of the truck to make the front wheels turn left and right.

Steering Column.Joints. - two or three joints that allow the steering wheel to connect to the steering gear sector box and allow the column to flex and steer the vehicle.

King-Pins on Steer Wheels - These are what make the front wheels turn left and right. These huge knuckles are the main component of steering this type of truck. They act like a hinge, allowing the front of the truck to be turned when you turn the steering wheel. They act in conjunction with the tie-rod and cannot be overlooked when you grease a truck.

Brake Cam Bushings - these are the pivots that allow operation of the air-brakes on a semi-truck. They require just a few shots of grease on a regular service interval. Do not over grease these.

Clutch Release Bushings.- this is a spot that gets overlooked and soon your transmission will not shift properly. just one or two shots of grease is required.

Drive Line U-Joints. -on heavy trucks, there is a single grease point on the drive-line itself that must be greased, Also a carrier bearing, and multiple u-joints that connect the drive-lines to the transmission, and the differentials. these may be factory sealed, or they may be grease-able. You will know simply by the fact if they have grease Zerk on the inner side of the "t". These U-joint assemblies are pretty big and need 20-30 pumps of grease in order to be properly lubricated. Be attentive, because they most likely will have two grease Zerk on each U-joint.

There may be other grease points on a heavy truck, but these are the most critical. Not greasing a truck properly may be the worst mistake of your life. Dry king-pins and steering shafts and drive-lines can ruin your day when they get so hot they sling themselves off of the truck, either causing an accident, or a costly shut down. If these components are not greased regularly, the truck will start wobbling, shaking, wandering, jerking, or any combination of these events. No driver enjoys driving a truck that is in this condition. A good truck can last 1,000,000 or more miles without replacing moving parts if they are greased from the start as new, and then regularly throughout the life of the truck.

Note that the king pins should be greased with the front wheels off the ground, and with wheels turned left and right so that the grease can freely enter the joints. They should be greased until the grease squeezes out the joints. U-joints should be greased until you hear the squish of the grease into the end pins and then let a little grease come on out. Tie-rod ends should be greased until the rubber grease boots are full and grease comes out all around the joint, typically this pushes out any water or dirt, leaving fresh clean grease for lubrication.

Many times the grease job is overlooked or half done, and the owner has to pay for it in buying parts that are costly to install. However, anyone can train themselves to inspect the entire truck in five minutes or less, so that there is no question when they return out on the big road of their truck having been greased properly. Remember: An un-greased or wore out steering component can make you wander off the road, Or it can contribute to a big rig wreck and I say this quite sternly that any grease rack operator who overlooks this important step in lubrication either is trying to put the company out of business or (intentionally or not), is sabotaging the trucks he is being paid to take care of. If I can go one step further, the service manager and company owner should check and make sure that this department is doing their job. If it is checked off as done, and then its found out the truck in question is not properly greased, then maybe a new grease man should be acquired to do this job. Wiping grease on a Zerk fitting so it looks like it was greased, puts it over into a criminal offense in my mind.

Also, when a company has extensively at great cost tried to alleviate the wobbles and shaking of the truck through repeated replacement of steer tires, this is in my mind both negligence and protective of a negligent employee. At some point an owner would ask why the service department is replacing so many tires. Isn't grease a lot cheaper? I'm not even talking about worn and uneven tire treads. I'm talking expensive tire replacement to try to get the truck to steer and drive smooth because the truck was not greased as it should have been. Nope, Drive-lines should not have slung off of new Kenworth's at 100,000 miles. Internationals not able to be driven over 45-50 miles an hour at 240,000 miles. U-joints dry as a bone (after) service appointments.

When going around a curve, either right or left, and you turn the wheel back to center, only to have a delay where the truck wants to keep drifting outwards, then Clyde, you have a problem with loose steering arms. If you run over a bumpy road and the front end keeps shaking with aftershocks, (no pun here) then you've got possible worn tie rod end(s): If you find the wheels shaking, shimmying, and wobbling, then more than likely the kingpins are worn. If the whole engine and front end is shaking go back and look for drive-line (u-joint) failure. Remember there is a carrier bearing and a center spleen where the two drive-line ends meet.

NOTE: even though someone will tell you quickly to expect these type of shakes, shimmy's and wobbles and then try to "smooth it out" with new steer tires, I'm suggesting very strongly they are just treating the symptoms and ignoring the real problem. I ask them point blank, How did this happen to a truck that only has a 100,000. miles? 200,000 miles? At only a half a million miles even? And one last straightforward statement; "If It Had Been Greased Properly And Regularly Then It Wouldn't Be In This Shape At 1,000,000 Miles!"

So, all I am talking about is saving thousands of dollars by tightening up the most important part of the maintenance cycle. Make your truck safer and more enjoyable to drive.

If you get your truck back and upon inspection find it wasn't greased properly, then you must assume that the grease man is not concerned about your safety on the road or of the thousands of dollars the company is paying for drive-lines and tires. In addition, if he checks that he did grease it and didn't, but goes and spends his paycheck, he is in putting himself, the company and the truck in violation of D.O.T. Rules. I really don't know what to tell you at this point; If everyone believed it WAS done, because the (not so) awesome grease guy said it was, and no one questioned, then how can you pin the tail on the donkey when its costing you hundreds and thousands because he really didn't?

THE ANSWER IS and ALWAYS WILL BE, You must witness the grease in the joints at the time of service and the driver is the best one to do this, especially when the grease man is paid by the hour. I ALSO state that you or I can easily learn to examine a truck more or less at any random time and spot what has been greased and what has not. For instance the grease cups will still show round/full, and evidence of grease in the joints, and you will see the zerks are being worn by the grease gun.. A shiny new-looking zerks sans-grease is evidence its not being hit. If in doubt, say with the u-joints, get a grease gun and see just how many pumps it takes to fill them up and hear the tell-tale squish of the needles in the tips of the joints. If its 10, 20, 30 pumps? SAD! -Never should happen if the shop is properly greasing its trucks and equipment on schedule!

In hindsight, all of the mechanics, and other servicemen where I worked were great, except for whoever didn't grease my truck. But as it was seen by other drivers around me, their trucks were missed as well. The end of the story is that the work of the greatest mechanics can go down the drain if the grease man didn't do his work faithfully, simple as that. Its not something that should be overlooked for it is the determining factor of whether you save or whether you lose thousands over the long run in trucking maintenance:

February, 2016

Front Axle Diagram

Front axle assembly
Front axle assembly | Source

© 2016 Oscar Jones


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