Mechanically minded drivers still a must

OPINION: In years past truck drivers had a basic knowledge of recognising mechanical faults - is this changing, and why?

Some of us were born with a mechanical aptitude, some of us were not. Back in the day (you know, the ‘good old days’ before air-con in sleeper cabs, tautliners, etc!) most truck drivers were by necessity capable of basic repairs to keep their trucks going, as well as being capable of knowing when something wasn’t right and stopping to investigate rather than driving so far as to gain social media notoriety.

Those days are long gone.

We all need to accept this change and adjust our daily operations accordingly. I have a good mate who is a fantastic operator without much mechanical knowledge.

While describing a problem over the phone once, he was frustrated with himself that he didn’t know what was wrong. I explained that is not as important as knowing when something isn’t quite right, stopping and checking and getting help.

As a casual driver and full-time mechanic involved in heavy vehicle maintenance, I’ve seen companies of all sizes approach how vehicles are maintained and monitored, from absolutely nothing but fingers crossed, to military like service schedules and such things as temperature monitoring of bearings, spreadsheets and scheduled component replacements etc.

I think we can all agree that a perfect system is very individual and sits somewhere in the middle of these two opposites.

So, what is the answer? I believe we have a huge untapped resource in our people.

Truck drivers

Trucks don’t move without drivers. Drivers must recognise the huge role they can take in a successful transport industry. This comes with responsibility.

As with other members of the industry you must build relationships with the people you encounter and seek out the things you can do to be more efficient.

With some basic training, perhaps an informal setting like a team building BBQ, can be the perfect place for drivers and mechanics to communicate freely.

With a few tips, tricks and basic instruction, even the most mechanically challenged driver can be educated to at least recognise when something ‘is just not quite right’ and feel comfortable to reach out for help.

 Do drivers need better training and education?

While a temp gun for example is an awesome tool, we all have inbuilt sensors in our skin that can let us know if a wheel bearing for example is too hot. Educate drivers how this can be picked up by simple observations.

We all could reap the rewards of investing some time in educating our drivers how to recognise when something is not right. They are spending the most time in our trucks, work with and develop them into ‘monitoring and reporting’ tools.

Our allocators

All but the slackest of employees are, if not driven, at least proud of the volume of work they achieve. This is never more evident than with allocators.

The perfect scenario in their minds is a truck that runs 24/7/365, can both unload and reload simply by driving past the delivery/pick-up address and not need to stop, not even for fuel!

Sadly, there are a couple of components of the chain that do not allow this.

Drivers that need to sleep, eat and … well, you know what … and vehicles that need to be maintained. We all know the 24/7/365 is an unrealistic pipe dream.

 “Even the most mechanically challenged driver can be educated.”

Our business model must allow for the realities of using mechanisation and people to complete a task. I have seen both very successful and disastrous ‘double shifting’ of equipment.

On paper it makes sense, but downtime for maintenance is essential. Allow for it, budget for it and embrace it rather than ignoring and avoiding it.

Scheduled maintenance is far more cost effective than repairs out in the field, it is also a lot safer. Allocators are directly in control of this.

Our mechanics

Another important cog in the industry are our mechanics.

With the introduction in 2014 of ADR 38/04 clause 5.12. mandatory fitment of automatic slack adjusters to trailers and the wider take up of auto greasing systems and vehicles without grease nipples came the false belief that vehicles are becoming ‘maintenance free’. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.

Both regular inspection of the entire combination and checking of all systems including those assumed to be ‘automatic’ is essential for safety and efficiency.

Mechanics must build a relationship with drivers/customers and listen to what they say. They can provide invaluable information.

I recently started working with a medium sized fleet of late model equipment. Driver feedback I received from very early on indicated a problem that was fleet wide but had not, in my professional opinion, been taken seriously enough. It became accepted that this particular problem was ‘just how it is’.

I was dissatisfied with this attitude and so researched the issue, contacted the manufacturer of the component we were having trouble with and opened up a dialogue that is ongoing. I’m sure a solution will be found.

Don’t just complain about things, get pro-active and reach out to manufacturers, parts suppliers and vehicle owners. Every cog in the transport industry should expect a safe workplace for all its members.

Truck owners

Owners of the vehicles we drive must be fully in control. Whether it be a single truck owner-driver, a small family fleet, medium or large private or public listed company the buck stops with them.

If you own heavy vehicles and are not ensuring every cog in your business is committed to safety, you are negligent. Heaven forbid that one of your vehicles is involved in a fatal accident you are the one that must be able to prove you are complying with all your obligations.

You are the one who is responsible at the end of the day, it is literally your business.

So, at the end of the day every person in the industry has an important role to play. Communication is the key. Share your knowledge and experience and most importantly stay safe and get home to your loved ones.

Keep it shiny side up.


*GORDO MACKINLAY is a former president and current board member of the National Road Firefighters Association. To contact the NRFA see the website at www.nrfa.com.au, email info@nrfa.com.au or phone 0493 564 467.

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