Manager: Doug Martin
Title: Fleet manager
Fleet: Hoss Cartage & Distribution Systems, Ayr, Ontario
In Doug Martin's view, if there's one part on a tractor-trailer that's taken for granted, it's probably the fifth wheel. A 37-year trucking industry veteran who got his start in the business working as a mechanic for a truck dealership, Martin has found that the fifth wheel is often the “Rodney Dangerfield” of components: It gets no respect.
“A while back I conducted a survey of 300 owner-operators and asked them what make of fifth wheel they had on their truck,” says Martin, fleet manager for family-owned Canadian freight hauler Hoss Cartage & Distribution Systems for the past two years. “To my horror, over 80% couldn't tell me the brand name of fifth wheel on their truck. That indicated to me they just left it up to whoever serviced the truck to take care of it. It wasn't a high priority.”
Yet Martin believes fifth wheels should be a high priority, especially in a tough winter country like Canada, where snow, road grit and deicing debris can foul up a fifth wheel fast.
“It's a crucial component because that's what's holding the tractor and trailer together. You can't pull a trailer with just air lines,” he says. “If it's not properly lubricated and adjusted, it'll be hard for the driver to hook up and detach the trailer; it'll affect the vehicle's ability to maneuver right, left, back up, and turn corners. All of that in turn degrades the overall performance of the vehicle.”
When Martin joined Hoss, the company's owner and president, James Hostler, gave him a free hand in terms of picking his staff, setting up preventive maintenance schedules, etc. Under that broad mandate, Martin made sure fifth wheel maintenance was no longer an afterthought for Hoss' 60-truck fleet. With insight from his major fifth wheel supplier, Fontaine, he made sure those components were well taken care of year-round, especially during the tough winter months.
In preparation for winter weather, Fontaine recommends thoroughly cleaning the fifth wheel latching mechanism to ensure that all parts can move freely. Grease and road grime also should be removed from the slider mechanism of fifth wheels equipped with sliders.
Once clean, Hoss thoroughly lubricates its fifth wheels, greasing the jaw and wedge on the top and bottom, making sure to separate them with a large screwdriver to distribute the grease along the full length of the mating surfaces. To further distribute the grease, the fifth wheel is then opened and closed several times.
Fontaine also suggests that equipment driven in regions with extreme and/or prolonged freezing temperatures may benefit from lubrication with a less viscous substance, such as 90-weight oil, to help ensure proper movement of the latching mechanism.
Hoss' precise care for fifth wheels is an extension of Martin's simple yet rigid maintenance philosophy: Do it right the first time, every time.
“I have high standards when it comes to maintenance — and I make no apologies for that,” he explains. “When we perform maintenance, we don't consider the manufacturer's guidelines to be a ‘window’ or ‘suggestion.’ We aim to be exact. That increases vehicle longevity, gives the driver a solid piece of equipment to work with, and lowers our costs over time.”
Maintenance Bay presents case studies detailing how fleets resolve maintenance-related issues.