Enhancing your company's image and boosting driver morale are good reasons to keep your trucks clean. Protecting the large investment you made in your fleet equipment is an even bigger motivator.

The best way to do this is through regular cleaning and polishing, which are critical to keeping road grime from building up and ruining a truck's finish. There's some debate, however, about whether it's better to wash vehicles yourself or use commercial truck washing services.

There are also pros and cons to using certain types of cleaning agents like dry-wash chemicals that could be too abrasive; brightening agents, which may contain acids that discolor metal trim; or combination wash-and-wax products that tend to cause buildup.

Type of operation, size and budget will usually determine “how” a fleet's trucks get washed. As for the products themselves, truck operators have more leeway, especially if equipment is washed in-house. Fleet managers should arm themselves with as much information as they can about different products, and if considering using facilities at a truckstop, find out what types of cleaning agents and brushes they use.

There are a number of detergents and polishing agents on the market. (The Resource Box below contains just a small sample of the many suppliers.) Most of them do a good job of cleaning trucks; the key is to rinse thoroughly.

Sherwin Williams Transportation Coatings says that besides providing an aesthetically pleasing appearance, the purpose of paint is to protect the vehicle from the environment. Many environmental conditions can affect the finish adversely, including road salts and sodium chloride, road tar, bugs, bird droppings, tree sap, industrial fallout, acid rain, pollution, UV exposure and moisture. These can lead to corrosion, staining and chemical spotting if not thoroughly cleaned off.

Washing vehicles weekly is optimal. When this isn't possible, do it each time they come back to the terminal. Of course, there are some applications — construction and mining, for example — where vehicles should be washed more often. When a truck gets covered with large quantities of a corrosive such as tree sap or bird droppings, wash it the same day.

Detergents with grease-cutting agents work well for the most part. For stubborn stains like road tar, ammonia-based glass cleaners followed by warm soapy water and plenty of rinse water will do the job. Solvent-based cleaners should not be used on bird droppings or tree sap; these water-based stains will eventually dissolve using an ammonia-based glass cleaner and warm soapy water.

Clearcoats need to be maintained regularly, especially in harsh environments. They can appear to fade or lose gloss as the surface becomes contaminated by the environment, according to Sherwin Williams. Occasional washing alone will not always remove the contaminants, so waxes and polishes may be needed.

Besides protecting the paint finish from the elements, fleets can use waxes and polishes to remove minor surface imperfections caused by water spots and acid rain; remove minor scratches by filling them and leveling the surface; seal the pores of the finish creating an easier to clean surface; and enhance the paint finish appearance with more depth and higher gloss.

Most waxes and polishes are designed to clean and polish in one application, whether by hand or machine. According to Sherwin Williams, however, polish applied by machine will last longer.

When applying wax or polish, follow the manufacturer's specifications for vehicle surface temperature. Always wax vehicles in a shaded area. Do not use products that contain harsh abrasives, such as rubbing compounds. Use only the recommended amount of polish, and be sure to remove dried polish from crevices, trim and moldings.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CIRCLE NUMBER ON REPLY CARD:

ALLIED MANUFACTURING CO. 310
www.alliedpressurewashers.com

AUTO TECH MFG. 311
www.autotechmfg.com

CHEMFAX PRODUCTS LTD. 312
www.chemfaxproducts.com

CHEM-TECH INDUSTRIES 313
www.Chem-Techindustries.com

CYCLO INDUSTRIES 314
www.cyclo.com

GENT-L-KLEEN PRODUCTS 315
www.gent-l-kleen.com

HOTSY 316
www.hotsy.com

NIAGARA NATIONAL CORP. 317
www.niagaranationalcorp.com

SYNTEC 318
www.syntecpro.com

TRANSCHEM 319
www.transchem.com

TURTLE WAX INC. 320
www.turtlewax.com

ZEP MFG. 321
www.zepmfg.com