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Techs see increase in after treatment system, electronics-related repairs

Maintenance on Class 8 tractors is increasing in complexity as the amount of technology and electronic controls increase, and technicians say they have seen a jump in the repairs they are performing on after treatment systems and electronic systems.

Maintenance on Class 8 tractors is increasing in complexity as the amount of technology and electronic controls increase, and technicians say they have seen a jump in the repairs they are performing on after treatment systems and electronic systems.

During the recent Technology & Maintenance Council’s (TMC) 2018 National Technician Skills Competition, which brings together truck service and repair technicians from across the country to test their knowledge and abilities, Michael Kerfoot, a technician for TravelCenters of America (TA); Phillip Pinter, a tech for FedEx; and Kyle Ballard, a technician for Clarke Power Services, each took home awards. All three agree that when it comes to maintaining today's heavy-duty trucks, the job has gotten much more complex than it was in years past for a variety of reasons.

Pinter, the 2018 TMC SuperTech Grand Champion, said after treatment systems and engines are continually increasing in complexity. “With more complexity, there are greater challenges," he said.

Kerfoot said the number of after treatment systems he sees in the shop has increased as systems are coming out of warranty. Most of the time, systems simply need a diesel particulate filter cleaned or replaced. Normal run time for the filters, which is set by EPA regulations, averages between 200,000 and 350,000 miles, but recommended cleaning intervals are different for each engine OEM.

TravelCenters of America utilizes the Enviromotive 9000 series cleaning equipment, which consists of at least a soot scale, a flow tester, a blast cabinet and regeneration oven, said Kevin Lindsey, assistant manager for technical development for TA. The company also has Noregon J-PRO diagnostic software at all locations and some locations have engine OEM-specific software.

Lindsey said upstream engine issues with after treatment systems usually derive from an air/fuel ratio problem. “These become more labor intensive as far as troubleshooting the root cause is concerned,” he said, adding that the time and expense associated with an after treatment system depends on the issue.

A scheduled maintenance interval cleaning could be done in just a few hours and for less than$1,500.00 or so, Lindsey said. “An up-stream failure can lead to significantly more diagnostic time, versus a simple maintenance cleaning, along with more labor time involved for the troubleshooting and the repair as well as parts costs,” he added.

Mark McLean, a technician for FedEx and the 2017 SuperTech Grand Champion, said the increased electronics and communication needed in today’s vehicles means the data busses are heavily loaded, and he has seen more issues arising with them. When talking to students and new techs entering the field, McLean said he emphasizes the growing role of electricity. “Everything is electronic now—smart modules, smart circuits,” he said. “The number one thing you can do is understand electrical systems and you can be a very valuable asset. That is where everything is going.”

It is important for techs to know how to use their electrical meter and to understand what it is telling them. “Once you understand that, the rest of it is pretty easy,” McLean said.

In addition to more electronic controls and sensors, Pinter added, driver comforts and hotel loads are putting extra strain on the alternator and starting charger system. Other challenges with today’s technology often center around the growing number of modules communicating with each other over the data link and getting all the modules to agree that everything is working as it should, he noted. 

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