When business is on fire and your vehicles and truck drivers are constantly on the go, it can be tempting to overlook simple damage to your tractor’s bodies. Yet, in doing so, you may be causing more harm than good over the long run.
It is no secret that keeping a large fleet in tip-top shape is not an easy proposition. Still, with new products and technologies arriving by the day, it should be easier than ever to ensure your fleet looks good and performs well, no matter the state of your business or bottom line. Sure, trucks don’t have it easy, with long hours on the road and dents and dings seeming to happen by the day, but these are more than simple nuisances.
Fleet managers rarely want to pull trucks out of the line to handle what they consider to be “cosmetic” issues, but simple dents, dings, rust or otherwise are about more than aesthetics. Not only do truck body malformations and simple damage impact factors like fuel economy, but they also damage your company’s reputation. Even more, if you allow too many trucks to suffer too many minor damages without addressing them, it will be much harder to fix them later. Compounded, these issues present a logistical nightmare.
Is it Difficult or Easy?
OEMs, body, and material paint suppliers are continually refining their methods and products to address truck body damage concerns. This means there should be no reason why fleet managers overlook truck body damage. There are lots of new and innovative ways to get it fixed.
On the other side, you will find many a fleet manager bemoaning the complex nature of advanced truck design, which uses new components and materials in ways that they had never been used before. With many different OEMs using proprietary composites and designs, fixing truck body issues can be more complicated than one thinks.
As one example, Daimler utilizes aluminum cabs while Navistar uses steel. Other OEMs use fiberglass panels and other composite materials. As a result, today’s fleet technicians need specialized sets of skills, especially if a motor carrier is using trucks from different OEMs.
Historically, metal has always been an easier material to work with, but today technicians need to deal with composites, plastics, and other materials of different shapes and forms. With a complex repair process seeming to get more complex by the day, another worry on fleet managers’ minds are the overall repair costs to keep truck bodies in good shape.
Simple items like glues and adhesives can run close to a hundred dollars and there are few ways to get around using them. Ensuring the truck body is repaired properly is about more than good looks, but is also about safety, fuel efficiency, and more. If a fleet repair technician does not carefully follow the repair procedures outlined, mistakes can be costly.
The Advanced Components Used in Truck Bodies
OEMs are not the only ones continually on the hunt for better materials and new, advanced building methods. Businesses that produce the materials used to repair commercial motor vehicles are also under pressure to be continually innovate within their space. What is one example of this needs for constant innovation?
One example could be the obvious decreased used of rivets in truck body manufacturing. While less rivets is good news for those painting the trucks, this manufacturing methods creates headaches for those repairing truck bodies. Plastics and composites require specific materials and procedures to be repaired.
One company has introduced repair procedures and processes that utilize seam sealers, foam installations and bonding adhesives. Now that rivets have gone the way of the DoDo Bird, the only way to repair or ready panels and joints is through the aforementioned products. The same company has also introduced a liquid-molten resin, which can be used in many different truck body repair applications, regardless of the material used to build the body.
In the ever-increasing rush to decrease truck weight and increase overall fuel efficiency, more unibody designs are hitting the streets by the day. With everyone on the learning curve, holding to the manual when it comes to repairing truck bodies has never been more important. Fortunately, a lot of these materials are in themselves lightweight and come with built-in cost advantages.
Composite sidewall materials are even being used on dry vans and trailer bodies. Plates are made from a high-density core bonded to a steel skin. Repair technicians find that not only are these panels more resistant to damage, but they are quick and easy to work with in a pinch. Instead of cutting out whole sections of the body to repair damage, a simple swapping out of the composite sidewall panel is all it takes to get the job done.
Large Fleets Partner Up
One of the ways the trucking industry is driving innovation in the space is through partnerships with established brands. Large trucking fleets are building relationships with the companies who manufacture truck body repair and sealing products. Working closely with those creating the products fleet technicians use carries inherent benefits to both the fleet and the company manufacturing the materials.
When a large motor carrier works closely with commercial vehicle repair material OEMs, their shops increase turnaround times and do a much better job repairing their truck bodies than they would have otherwise been able to do on their own. When a shop can turnaround minor damage within one day, fleets experience less downtime. Larger accidents require more work, but when the small jobs get off the block at a faster rate, the bottom line doesn’t suffer any negative impacts.
Yet even for larger accidents or damage repair work, advanced composite materials can decrease the downtime fleets suffer. They can be used to handle major body repairs in a faster time than would otherwise be possible using standard rivets or other material design and building techniques.
Painting Over Problems with New Materials
The fact is, every fleet wants to minimize the amount of downtime a tractor suffers. Every minute spent in the body shop is another minute the vehicle is not making money for the business. Now, OEMs are coming out with commercial grade products that allow touch-up paint jobs to be completed without committing the vehicle to days in the shop.
When a vehicle can be touched-up in a fleet maintenance facility rather than the paint booth, everyone wins. The fleet saves on time, labor and money. Paint touch-ups can also be completed using rollable and aerosol products. Even wheels can be brought back to tip-top shape using these materials.
New advances in quick body touch-ups also include such unexpected developments as using ultraviolet light to cure paints. Some of these technologies have been long in use in the passenger car market but are now being adapted for use in commercial motor vehicles.
Ultraviolet light can be used to quickly identify areas on the body that need to be touched up before the underlying structure becomes corroded. It is vitally important to ensure moisture does not contact metal, which allows corrosion to set in. Why not take care of a minor paint touch up before ignoring it creates the need for major body work?
There is even greater innovation in paint colors, which have often been a stumbling block for fleet repair technicians. With computer programs now available to complete paint matching, paint refinishing can now be completed using techniques that take things like natural fading, sunlight damage, and discoloration into account when formulating the correct color. With different players involved in the repair and refinishing of truck bodies continually refining their methods, what excuse do you have to not keep your fleet looking as good as it should be?
Looking Good for your Company’s Sake
Keeping these considerations in mind is as much about preventing downtime, increasing fuel efficiency, and keeping your shop technicians happy, it is also about burnishing your company’s reputation. What kind of impression do you think gets made if a potential client or customer sees your vehicles barreling down the road looking like they have seen better days?
Motor carriers are operating in very competitive environments, and that’s not just where finding new trucking clients are concerned. As the trucking employment squeeze seems to go on without end, finding experienced truck drivers to work for your company is as much about what you are offering as it is about how you look. Prospecting truckers are going to go with companies that demonstrate they care by maintaining a good-looking fleet. Showing you care about your equipment can also be construed as caring for your truck drivers.
The fact is, you don’t want to be losing potential recruits or business to competitors for the simple reason that they keep their trucks in better shape than you do. With all of the new materials available today, there should be no reason why any fleet should be operating vehicles that don’t look the part.