Lube truck mechanics may have hundreds of pieces of heavy machinery to service on a rotating schedule. Completing this preventive maintenance (PM) efficiently helps keep equipment performing optimally to prevent downtime. And because time is money, it’s critical for mechanics to finish PMs on schedule so they can move to the next job.
Hear from three lube truck mechanics — Vernon Patrick and John Ehlinger, both with Hoopaugh Grading Company in North Carolina, and Stewart Hanserd with Thompson Tractor in Alabama — about their biggest challenges and the importance of having reliable tools and equipment that help save them time.
Q: What is a typical day like for you with your mobile lube service truck?
Vernon: Our company owns about 500 pieces of equipment that need service. My boss usually sets me up with two services per day. We offer three types of service — a 500-hour, a 1,000-hour and a 2,000-hour. Some of these machines have up to 25 filters and depending on the service, we change all the filters. A 2,000-hour is a big service. We’ll drain all the differentials, all the hydraulic fluid, all the steering, all of the engine oil. And that can be up to 500 gallons.
John: Our boss usually sets us up with two PM services a day. We'll do one in the morning and one at lunch, and we'll spend the rest of our evenings filling the truck up with the oils and picking up filters for the next day. A 1,000-hour service would take about 90 minutes and the 2,000-hour service can take up to four hours.
Stewart: We do preventive maintenance work in the field, on machines in our company’s rental fleet and also on customer-owned machines. Some mornings, I'll start at 3:00 in the morning, some mornings I start at 5:00. And 14 or 17 hours later, I come back home. I must do about 50 services per month.
Q: Describe your truck setup.
Vernon: I have a 2019 Peterbilt box truck. I have an all-in-one system on the truck and a heater in the back that runs from the fuel tank. That keeps the back of the truck warm in the winter. The oil flows a lot better and faster when it’s warm. If the oil gets cold, it gets thick and runs really slow. Inside the box truck I’ve got shelves for all the filters. I carry about eight different types of oil because each piece of equipment requires different types. I have tanks that hold anywhere from 200 to 500 gallons each.
John: I have a box truck with a PTO system and an air compressor, and it carries everything you could think of to do an oil change on heavy machinery. I have pumps that pump the fluid out of the tanks with the oil guns and a suction hose that sucks up the waste oil into the waste tank. Pretty much from the time I leave the house to the time I get home, that truck’s running.
Stewart: I have a Class C Peterbilt. It has tanks and I have an all-in-one system in the back.
Q: What are the biggest challenges or issues for you on the jobsite?
Vernon: The weather is a big challenge. I've had to work in three inches of water running underneath the truck and you got to crawl under there and change the oil. I've had to sweep snow off the top of the machine to get to it. I like to keep my truck running because if I get cold or hot, I can hop in the truck and cool down or get warm. There are days where you can’t feel your fingers, so you have to get warm to keep working. The cab is like my home away from home. I spend so much time in there.
John: When it rains and makes everything muddy, that can be a challenge. The only other problem might be when bolts break or something like that.
Q: How has your job or the equipment/tools you’re using changed in the past 5 years?
Vernon: Switching from a PTO to the all-in-one system was a game changer, as far as I'm concerned. Since I’ve got the all-in-one, I can suck the oil out and I can fill it up at the same time. That has really helped us keep things moving a lot faster. Where before with my older PTO system, a 2,000-hour service might take me eight or nine hours, now I can do it in significantly less time. I’m saving time, I’m saving fuel and the operator gets to go back to work quicker.
Stewart: There's different equipment, different applications. I've got hydraulic reels or hydraulic pumps, where years ago all they had was air pumps. It's a whole lot faster. The equipment we service has gotten bigger and there’s more to do on them.
Q: What are the most important factors that keep you happy and efficient in your job?
Vernon: The newer the truck, the easier it is on the mechanic because I have to drive two to three hours sometimes just to get to one jobsite. And if you don’t have the right stuff, you can’t get the job done efficiently. That includes my all-in-one, my tanks being big enough, my heater, and having the right tools.
Stewart: I don’t want any wasted space because you always need places to put things. On lube trucks, you need all the storage you can get. Some of these air filters take up a lot of room. If you run out of supplies, you're going to have to go back, or you’ve got to find something to use to do your job.
Q: What is the biggest misconception about your job?
Vernon: That it’s just an oil change. It's a lot more complicated than just the engine oil. Because you’ve got hydraulics, transmission differentials, drop box, swing motor, final drives — and all of these take different types of oil.
Stewart: It's hard work. You endure the elements: the heat, the rain. It's just a fast pace. You’ve got to manage your time, manage the oil, manage your truck and get back home in a safe manner, too.
About the Author: This article was authored by Cari Groppel, market development manager for Miller Electric Mfg. LLC, and edited according to WT editorial standards and style to provide useful information to our readers. Opinions expressed may not reflect that of WT.