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To maximize equipment uptime, you need an efficient and profitable maintenance and repair shop, and that is only possible with efficient shop management.

How to create the best truck maintenance & repair operation

In America, if you’ve got it, a truck brought it. That is a fairly succinct statement regarding the importance and prevalence of trucks in our established society. Even the parts and supplies needed to maintain and repair the trucks themselves get to us in a truck.

Trucks began their reign of importance during World War I, when for the first time, battlefields and soldiers were supplied by mechanized carriers instead of via horse- or burro-drawn carriages. The utility of the truck rapidly caught on, and the industry has been growing and adapting ever since.

The first trucks were modified automobiles, in which the passenger areas were given over to and often replaced by dedicated cargo stowage spaces. Fairly quickly, specialized cargo bodies were developed, providing for improved ease in loading and unloading the vehicle and providing ready means for securing the cargo on or in the vehicle.

Today, a vehicle type is available for almost any cargo need that could reasonably be expected to arise—and it goes well beyond the simple dry van, flatbed, or refrigerated trailer. We have trailers equipped with rail systems for delivering clothing items on rolling hangers, or for handling refrigerated or frozen sides of beef. We have “walking floor” trailers for handling bulk loads, with others designed with canvas bags secured at floor level to a set of steel hoppers underneath the trailer. The bag is raised and secured to a reinforced roof with loading hatches, and the whole shebang folds under the floor for use as a conventional van trailer.

We have tankers for hauling every imaginable liquid or gaseous commodity; flatbeds with varying deck heights and steps; dump trailers with top-hinged tailgates, dump trailers with side-hinged or “barn door” tailgates; and dump trailers with two-way tailgates that can be opened either way.

The list is almost unending in terms of trailer makes and models alone, and if a new need arises, a new design follows shortly.

The one thing that each and every truck also has in common with each and every other truck is that need for periodic maintenance and repair, which brings us to the maintenance and repair shop.

To maximize equipment uptime, you need an efficient and profitable maintenance and repair shop, and that is only possible with efficient and professional shop management.

Efficient shop management is a hands-on endeavor that requires the manager to remain in close contact with the operation of the shop. The manager must play a “chess game” in terms of balancing the needs of the customers, the vehicles, the employees, and the fleet at large.

One of the most important considerations within that chess game is the traffic flow through the shop site as well as parking arrangements. If your shop will be servicing trailers, considerable space must be allocated to the parking of the trailers, both on the shop inbound line and on the ready line. Even if the shop will only be visited by trailers, the parking consideration holds. Room is needed for the maneuvering of trailers on the lot—and not every driver coming in will be an “ace operator.” Be sure to plan on offer­ing plenty of maneuvering room for the trailer jockeys.

When possible, it is best to have a one-way flow of traffic through the lot and around the shop. If you can do this, be sure to post plenty of visible signage to properly direct visitors to the site around the premises. Clearly mark the driver’s or customer’s entrance to the shop, and remember to channel these visitors off the work floor and directly to the customer intake area, usually the service writer’s desk or counter.

If your shop has a retail parts sales business component, be sure to clearly mark and direct parts customers to the parts department visitor’s area. If your shop has a driver’s lounge or waiting area, be sure to clearly mark that access as well as access to any public rest rooms that you may provide.

Finally, be sure to provide secure parking for your employees, away from the areas where visiting truck drivers will be maneuvering. It is a sure bet that somebody’s private vehicle will get hit if these two vehicle types mingle, and your employees will appreciate the additional security provided by having their own parking area, away and apart from the transient visitors to your shop. If possible, place the employee parking area in such a location that it can be seen by your employees as they go about their daily routines, for example, in such a location that the parts department windows look out onto that area.

Parking areas must be covered by an effective stormwater runoff or drainage plan, and required stormwater permits must be obtained. Environmental compliance is a specialty area all by itself and generally requires input from a professional consultant at the very least.

Once you address the outdoor portion of your facility, it is time to move indoors. Each service and repair bay must have an overhead or roll-up door at its mouth. Lightweight composite doors are best; they present less of a load on the tracks and the operating system. Ideally, the doors should be electrically operated, but it is important that each overhead door be equipped with a pull chain system to allow declutched operation of the door in the event of a failure or a power loss. Those doors must also be equipped with some type of manual latching mechanism that can be used to secure the closed door against being opened from the outside in the event that the door is disconnected from its operating mechanism. Windows in the roll-up door at eye height are common but are not really necessary.

Roll-up doors are vehicle entry and egress doors and are not to be used by visitors to the shop, such as drivers or delivery people.

Personnel doors should be provided, leading directly to a clearly delineated and marked walkway that will take visitors to your shop’s visitor reception areas, such as the parts counter if you have a retail parts component to your business, or to the service writer’s counter. From there, drivers must be able to reach the driver waiting area, vending machines, rest rooms, or lounge without crossing the shop floor.

Your shop should have a reasonable amount of clearance between service and repair bays. If the circumstance should arise where the vehicles in adjacent bays both need to have wheels pulled, on the sides facing toward each other, the space must be there to allow this to be done.

Similarly, the service and repair bays must be deep enough to accept the full length of the vehicles to be serviced, including space to permit the tilting of hoods or cabs to allow engine access, and to allow the implementation of lifting equipment as appropriate.

Typical service and repair bay widths are on the order of 16 ft., which will allow approximately 4 ft. on either side of a centered vehicle in that bay, and will allow approximately 8 ft. between adjacent vehicles being serviced. If the service and repair bays must accommodate trailers, the maximum length of the trailers permitted in your area will dictate the service and repair bay depths.

For example, if you want to be able to bring a 53-ft. long trailer into a service bay, leaving it connected to a road tractor and fitting both vehicles inside the bay, the bay depth must then be on the order of 75 to 80 ft. This depth will allow the opening of the tractor’s hood, for example, without having to open the bay door in order to do so.

When it comes to servicing vehicles, maintenance pits are a necessity; however, pit safety is of utmost importance. The pit infrastructure must be routinely inspected and maintained. And due to the very nature of pits and the rapidity with which accidents can occur there, all pits and their related structures should be in­spected on a daily basis. This should be done as part of the daily morning routine, e.g., turning on the lights, the air compressor, and the coffee maker.

All pits must be equipped with safety chains or ropes with warning signs hung thereto, to be in place on stanchions when the pit is not in use. All pits must be ventilated and all pit lighting must be explosion-proof, with ventilation and lighting meeting all applicable codes.

As already discussed, all pits must be equipped with appropriate stairwells and/or ladders for entry and egress, and all pit floors must be maintained free of oil and grease spills and accumulations. In addition, understanding OSHA laws and regulations can help protect employees as well as prevent costly accidents.

This is just a minimum safety inspection list. Each shop must develop its own more detailed inspection checklist based on its own specific pit construction and equipment. For example, is your pit equipped with an oil drain system? If so, it must be operational and inspected to be kept in proper operating condition. Is your pit equipped with an integrated chassis lubrication system? If so, add that to your checklist as well. Is your pit equipped with a set of common-usage tools, such as sockets to fit the filler plugs on transmissions and drive axles? That would be another checklist item.

As much as your pit is designed and equipped for the convenience of the technicians, every bit of that convenience must be inspected and maintained. Those are just some of the questions you need to ask—and to answer—as you construct or organize your maintenance shop.

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