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Should truck fleets get engine electronic data?

Jim Winsor

More and more fleet maintenance managers are steamed up over the fact they can get little or no electronic data needed to service or change ECM (electronic control modules) settings on their engines. Almost anything requiring a change or recalibration to diesel engine settings now requires a trip to an authorized truck or engine dealer--or sometimes both.

In a flurry of e-mail exchanges I've been part of lately between unhappy fleet managers and OE service personnel, the pot is definitely building up pressure and may pop during the September meeting of TMC (Technology and Maintenance Council of ATA). I now see why this is happening. What I don't yet see is an easy solution.

A couple of my e-mail excerpts illustrate the points.

"Our new trucks are becoming more and more complex and we are finding it very difficult for us and ANY service dealer to repair them in a timely fashion and/or correctly the first time. This is increasing our costs substantially and is also forcing us to keep more 'spare' vehicles."

Here's another: "I received your e-mail the very same day when I had a small problem ... speedometer calibration. My truck dealer couldn't repair it and I then had to take the tractor to my engine dealer to have the ECM reburned, the only way to fix it. If we're forced into truck dealers for repairs like this, they better have the tools and knowledge to do it."

Other e-mails said "right on," this is a serious issue.

"How do we get the OEMs to release us the information we need to repair our own equipment? Specifically, we need the ability to download data from the factory for ECM reprogramming; we need to be able to acquire all the necessary equipment/programming to handle repairs as needed."

Some people who sell products, vehicles and service to truck fleets don't realize, or want to accept the fact, that one of the principal reasons fleets operate their own maintenance shops isn't just for convenience. Time is money and whether it be routine oil and filter changes, tires, brake mimes, leaky radiators or turbo problems, fixing that truck promptly and getting it back in service is of prime concern. Every trip to a truck or engine dealer usually means a day or more loss rune. If the fleet is fortunate enough to have a nearby dealer who can work on the truck the same day--and many don't--a truck may be out of service for days, sometimes a week or more. This is what leads fleets to the expense of keeping more spares or forced into expensive sort-term rentals.

Service work, of course, means bucks in a dealer's pocket. Naturally, a dealer wants and needs plenty of service work. He voluntarily isn't likely to cough up service information which will take business away for him. From a dealer's perspective, there are also franchise laws and agreements with his OEM to be honored. Should these be modified so some fleets, at least, can become service dealers?

Truck and engine OEMs rightfully ask who would certify that each fleet's service facilities, equipment and technicians meet EPA or other requirements? Giving fleets detailed info about ECMs could also lead to hot rod trucks with little regards for emissions.

The independent auto repair industry has been in the same dilemma for some time. To try to force factories and dealers to make more service info available, it has proposed legislation on Capitol Hill called, "The Motor Vehicle Owner's Right to Repair Act of 2003." It's House Bill 2737 and Senate Bill 2138. The legislation has been bottled up in congressional committees even with strong lobbying support from many automotive service groups and the AAA itself.

A good starting point for the tracking industry would be to get wording into the legislation to include commercial trucks. It seems to me that getting action on this bill might be an important issue for the American Tracking Associations' (ATA) political arm to work on. TMC, at its fall meeting this month, has this service issue high on its agenda.

STREET SMARTS IS A MONTHLY COLUMN DEVOTED TO THE ON-HIGHWAY ENGINE MARKET. JIM WINSOR IS EXECUTIVE EDITOR OF HEAVY DUTY TRUCKING.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Diesel & Gas Turbine Publications
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group





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