Well, here it is late February and if you're in the Northeast, Midwest and Central Plains of the U.S., you are still knee-deep in the throes of winter and are recovering from the Blizzard of 2005.
Have you dug out yet? Is it cold enough for you? Well, folks, winter's just hitting its stride. Better hold onto your hats and gloves as you wait for March to come busting in like a lion!
There's usually so much snow in February that native tribes of the North and East called February's full moon the Full Snow Moon. Some tribes also referred to this moon as the Full Hunger Moon, since harsh weather conditions in their areas made hunting very difficult. My advice is to keep a bag of nachos in the car just in case you get stuck in a snow bank on the way home from work.
Now let's take a look at what toll this season is having on the vehicles you service.
This weather not only has an impact on us, but it also has an effect on the cars and trucks rolling down our nation's highways. Highway departments in states where snow and ice are annual winter events are fighting Old Man Winter this year with a vengeance. This means laying down tons of corrosive highway chemicals to melt snow and ice in order to make roads safer.
Ordinary salt-sodium chloride-has been de-icing roads since 1938 and something like 15 million tons of it are spread over American highways each year.
Now, however, there are several dozen new de-icing liquid formulations available, though by far the most widely used are calcium chloride and magnesium chloride. In a survey a couple of years ago, Better Roads magazine found that while 58 percent of respondents used salt, 22 percent use calcium chloride and another 8 percent use the newer magnesium chloride. In all, 88 percent of these respondents used chlorides to de-ice roads-and the chloride ion is what causes corrosion.
The new chloride solutions lower the freezing point of water and, when sprayed onto roads before a storm, prevent snow from sticking and ice from forming. Some highway departments, mainly in western states, sprayed the roads up to 48 hours before a storm, forcing truckers to drive through the liquid in its purest form for almost two days, seriously saturating their equipment. By keeping roads clear with chemicals, highway departments save mega-bucks by reducing the need for plowing, sanding and cindering.
The damage done
These compounds, however, are eating away at vital truck components. The potent liquids attack metals of all kinds, even some stainless steels, and are noticeable on wheels, rims, electrical wiring, fuel tank straps, frames, trailer landing gear parts and suspension parts.
Often the damage is cosmetic. But if left untreated, the chemicals eat into aluminum and stainless steel, pitting and scarring the surfaces. Eventually they'll even eat holes in aluminum fuel tanks.
Fleets that have been exposed to these chlorides report that their wiring systems are deteriorating at an alarming rate since the chemicals attract and absorb water from the air, creep into connection points, wick up wires and eat away at copper wiring.
The life and performance of brake shoes and linings have been cut in half. Severe rust build-up on brake shoe tables-called ``rust jacking'' by brake engineers-is causing brake linings to deform, work loose, crack and break. Steel structural elements like I-beams and cross members are rusting away and fears of catastrophic failure at highway speeds are becoming recurring nightmares for fleet maintenance managers.
When magnesium or calcium chloride wicks into a joint between two metals, it's there to stay unless the parts are disassembled, cleaned and painted. I was aghast recently to inspect a hub-piloted aluminum wheel that was removed from a dual position. It had extreme pitting around the stud holes under the flange nuts, and the disc face that mated with the inside wheel also was badly pitted.
These mounting areas were so pockmarked that the wheel had to be scrapped. I had never seen an aluminum wheel with corrosive damage like this before and had always believed that aluminum was resistant to corrosion. Not any more.
This problem is not restricted to carriers domiciled in the ``Rust Belt.'' Fleets that dispatch rigs only occasionally to Rust Belt areas have found that these visits are enough to start the cancer of destruction. And like human cancers that are not caught early, they spread rapidly.
So what's the solution to this problem? Trucking industry associations have raised the alarm about these chemicals and have put pressure on state departments of transportation to change their methods of de-icing roads.
Colorado is altering its blend of magnesium chloride with the addition of anti-corrosive agents so that it is no more corrosive on aluminum and stainless steel than is sodium chloride. That state also is altering its practice of applying the liquid de-icer up to 48 hours before an expected storm by reducing the leadtime. But it will be a couple of winters before we find out if this new stuff does what the Colorado Department of Transportation is claiming.
Until then, anyone operating freight hauling as well as service trucks should employ a rigorous program of faithfully washing vehicles and their undercarriages since this can make a big difference. The use of special paints and coatings on exposed parts and repainting as necessary has now become an integral part of vehicle maintenance-which it did not used to be.
What else does all this mean to you, a commercial tire dealer? Well, it means wheel-refinishing business. You have probably noticed that fleets that didn't have their wheels refinished a few years ago now do, and the number of wheels you put through your wheel/rim reconditioning system has increased. It will continue to do so.
It also means that you will have to scrap out more fasteners and wheels than you were formerly accustomed to doing and have more difficulty in servicing wheel systems.
Your technicians are probably finding that more wheels are stuck on the hubs and are difficult or impossible to remove. More wheels exhibit excessive corrosion and/or pitting on the disc face and under the nut flanges.
If the corrosion is not too severe, these wheels can be reconditioned. But wheels with severe corrosion and pitting that reduces the thickness of the metal must be scrapped. You may want to recommend to fleets that replace a lot of wheels due to corrosion to consider using wheel separators designed to control corrosion and wear. They are not a cure-all but can help in this area. (They are available from wheel manufacturers.)
When servicing tire and wheel assemblies, closely examine the studs and nuts that are removed. At a minimum, fasteners that have rust and scale should be wire brushed well to remove this scale on the threads at every tire/wheel installation. Excessively corroded fasteners should be replaced. Failure to replace them will result in loose wheels and possibly wheel-offs.
Frozen lug nuts also are a problem that is magnified by road de-icers. Both hub-piloted flange nuts and stud-piloted inner and outer cap nuts can freeze. On hub-piloted wheel systems, the flanges on seized or frozen two-piece flange nuts will no longer turn on the nuts. Since multi-piece nuts must turn smoothly on their flanges to function properly, nuts with this condition must be scrapped. Lubrication will help keep these nuts from corroding and seizing as well as ensuring proper clamp load is attained.
Therefore, it is vital that two drops of 30-weight oil are placed between the nuts and the flanges and that the nuts spin smoothly. To help protect the studs and also ensure the proper amount of clamp load is attained to hold the wheel on, two drops of oil also should be applied to the last two or three threads at the end of each stud.
It is also highly recommended that the hub pilots be lightly lubricated to ease wheel installation and removal. But care must be taken to ensure lubricant is not smeared on the mounting face of the drum or wheel. If this happens, you'll have loose wheels for sure.
Frozen inner and outer cap nuts in stud-piloted wheel systems have long been a problem. This condition is one of the main reasons why fleets moved away from stud-piloted wheels to hub-piloted wheels. But now, vehicles still equipped with these wheels are more prone to this condition than ever. When frozen inner and outer cap nuts are encountered, a ``pork chop'' or ``Budd nut'' wrench or other commercially available tool should be used to separate the nuts.
Do not use heat or the wheel will be damaged and will have to be scrapped.
Frozen cap nuts must always be scrapped. Do not attempt to reinstall and ``dummy the stud'' on wheels that come off with the inner cap nut frozen to the outer cap nut. Each nut must be reinstalled properly with each nut tightened to the proper torque level or the wheels will run loose and then come off.
The studs also should be closely inspected as should the outer dual for damage at the location of the frozen nut. If the ball seat area around the stud hole is damaged the wheel must be scrapped. If lubrication is desired to prevent frozen cap nuts, 30-weight oil should be used sparingly-only on the threads of the studs and/or nuts.
Never lubricate the wheel or nut ball seats or mounting faces. Anti-seize compounds should not be used since they can cause overtorquing, failure of the studs and wheel-offs.
Old Man Winter may be playing havoc with us, but don't let him get you down. Knowing how to deal with the problems he presents is critical to your customers' safe operation. And every problem usually comes along with an opportunity.