Auto Service World
Feature   November 1, 2005   by John G. Smith

High Temps, Hot Markets?

Clean-running truck engines could promote premium products

Truck engines built to meet tightening emission standards are only beginning to emerge in the aftermarket–particularly since most new equipment is left in the hands of dealerships that offer year-long bumper-to-bumper warranties.

But as this equipment arrives, it’s being accompanied by new opportunities to sell premium parts.

Many engine manufacturers meet tighter limits on NOx levels in exhaust by using some form of Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) system, which has led to higher under-hood temperatures that can wreak havoc with an array of components, confirms Robert Braswell, technical director for the Technology and Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Association.

“Belts and hoses are particularly taking it on the chin. Also belt tensioners–they apparently are also seeing premature failures,” he says, noting that an array of seals is also under added stress. In some ways, the real question has simply been the speed at which the problems can occur. “There’s that natural range of failure, from infant mortality to something that doesn’t meet expectations.”

Indeed, many buyers appear to be annoyed with the 2003 engines that were built to meet the standards first introduced in October 2002, according to the recently released J.D. Power and Associates Heavy-Duty Truck Customer Satisfaction Study.

“We saw a very big spike in engine dissatisfaction,” says partner Linda Schultz, referring to the 10th annual survey results culled from 2,500 fleet managers in the U.S. While the percentage of customers experiencing engine or fuel problems has held pretty constant over the past three years, the overall amount of downtime jumped from 3.7 to 6.6 days a year–a factor that could be linked to everything from the availability of parts to the severity of breakdowns.

Problems with valves and seals almost doubled, and there was also a jump in antifreeze leaks, which can also be signs of troubles linked to cooling systems that are under stress.

However, many of the problems seem to be limited to those who haven’t altered their traditional spec’ing practices to battle the challenges associated with higher heats. (The trucking industry was largely caught by surprise by a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ruling that forced manufacturers to speed up the introduction of tighter emission standards.)

“The early failures that people are seeing weren’t seen before, even with many years of [performance],” Braswell says. “But you can spec’ around these problems. They’re not insurmountable.”

Indeed, despite the J.D. Power survey results, many fleets still report few problems outside the general loss of fuel economy that accompanied the engine designs.

“As much as there was talk about EGR and the added heat under the hood…there are no issues at present with that,” says Bill Arthur, fleet manager of LE Walker Transport in St. Thomas, Ont. And his fleet has accumulated as much as 200,000 km on some of the post-’02 designs.

However, it was already using some upgraded components such as synthetic hoses as a matter of course.

Embracing Premium Parts

Given the fact that many potential breakdowns can be solved with the right components, customers who have been plagued by premature failures may be more than willing to embrace premium offerings, even when purchasing parts for aging equipment.

“What have been standard components in the past won’t work today,” explained Jim Leclaire, manager of field service and warranty for Horton, speaking at a Technology and Maintenance Council conference on the issue. “The [traditional fan] bearings are not going to live. The O-rings are not going to live.”

Suppliers have certainly introduced an array of options to handle the new operating environments. Remy Inc., for example, offers a heavy-duty alternator designed specifically to withstand higher temperatures.

In other cases, fleets are embracing components that have long been available, even if they were not widely used. Bigger reservoirs, power steering oil coolers, or longer power steering lines may also become popular options for power steering systems, notes Richard Petrut of R.H. Sheppard.

High-pressure fuel and A/C hoses reinforced with wire braid may also be welcome options for buyers.

Rod Ward of FlexFab noted during the meeting that specifications for many traditional hoses were designed before the latest generation of engines came to market. While a typical A/C hose can withstand temperatures up to 257F, coolant temperatures have been found to exceed 200F under normal operating conditions in an EGR engine. Firewalls on the turbo side of the engines are even reaching 250F.

More Changes To Come

The next round of emission standards, to be introduced for the 2007 model year, could require other changes to the products stocked on jobber shelves.

Most manufacturers, for example, have confirmed that they plan to meet needs for lower levels of NOx by accelerating the rate of EGR, and it’s still unknown how much higher the related temperatures will rise.

But the most immediate changes will involve the fluids to be used in the next generation of engines.

New particulate traps that will be used to control particulate matter will be protected by the introduction of Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel fuel (ULSD), but there has been speculation that the fuel’s changing lubricating properties could shorten the life of fuel pumps.

A new generation of oils is also being introduced to protect internal engine components, requiring yet another formula to be stocked on jobber shelves.

“The reason for the development of the category [of oil] is to protect the emission devices,” explains BP Lubricants’ Mike Lynskey, referring to the new particulate filters that last about 400,000 km before needing to be changed.

Existing oils include a level of ash that’s needed to counteract the sulfuric acid created from the sulfur found in today’s diesel fuel. (Think of it as microscopic Rolaids.) But with the use of ULSD, the ash in new oils will drop from 1.5% to 1% by volume.

Still, there are several unanswered questions about the next formula of black gold. Nobody is committing to a cost as of yet, although suppliers are planning to introduce formulas that are backwards-compatible so they can be used in pre-2007 engines.

“Backward compatibility is one of the design targets for PC-10 [the temporary designation for the new oils],” confirms West Alexander, Chevron Global Lubricants’ senior staff engineer, engine oil technology. But drain intervals may need to be shortened if the new oils are used in today’s engines, he adds, referring to the different “chemical box” that places limits on the way formulas will be created. “This means PC-10 oils may not be drop-in replacements for current CI-4 Plus oils.”

The realities of the new oils may not be a certainty for months to come.

If there is a certainty, it’s that products on your shelves will need to continue to evolve, just as heavy-duty emission standards will.

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