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Neat Gizmos

by Jim Park
Still looking for that single magic gizmo that'll rid you of all your mundane daily chores? Something that removes unwanted hair, cleans your upholstery, and walks your dog? Maybe you're looking for that silver bullet that'll make you invisible to the DOT - or your dispatcher, for that matter. Good luck.

Well, highwaySTAR's intrepid team of investigative reporters - both of us - have been perusing the catalogues and wading through the propaganda for weeks now. We've come up with a few products that we think will make a real improvement in the way you do business; they'll earn their keep and may even make the job a little more enjoyable.

Tire Pressure Equalizers

Next to fuel and The Payment, tires can eat a bigger hole in your budget than anything else. It makes sense to look after them but boy, checking tire pressures every day on up to 30 wheels can be a real drag. How about a system that will monitor your tire pressure and/or maintain equal pressure in each tire of a dual-wheel assembly?

Tire-pressure equalizers maintain equal pressure in both tires of a set by providing a common valve and lines to each tire. The valve stem is mounted on a pressure-indicating device that alerts the driver to an under- or over-inflated tire. Most equalizers can be purchased in a variety of tire-pressure settings from 90 psi to 110 psi, with the indicator visually alerting the driver to a change in pressure. If one tire blows out completely, the valve senses the rapid change in pressure and automatically isolates the good tire.

At less than one-fifth of the price of a new premium tire, a basic equalizer system is a solid investment in the longevity of your tires and they are reusable on the next truck, and the truck after that.

Then there are the more sophisticated central-inflation systems that add make-up air to your tires while you're moving. Also commonly available are pressure and temperature monitoring systems that allow a driver to monitor tire pressure by using tiny radio transmitters located on the valve stem inside the tire, and a dash-mounted receiver/display unit.

On-Board Scales

Here's surefire relief from those anxious moments between the time you load and the time you find that first scale. If fact, with an accurate on-board scale you may never have to go hunting for a commercial scale again. The key word is accurate.

Yes, you can install an air-pressure gauge in your truck or trailer air suspension and get a reasonably accurate measurement by observing the amount of air pressure required to level your suspension when loaded, then weighing the axle. If 40 psi on the gauge translates into 30,000 lb of ground pressure, you have an idea what you'll weigh the next time the gauge says 40 psi. Each time you load you'll have to repeat the process and record the reading in order to establish a pressure/weight chart.

Or, you can have the truck fitted with an accurate and calibrated on-board scale from one of several leading manufacturers.

Some systems use load cells to translate metal stress in the suspension components into a meaningful weight measurement; others measure air pressure in the air suspension to achieve the same result. The results can be displayed on an in-cab read-out, some will print the results, and others use radio frequency to give you the trailer weights on the in-cab display.

Any way you go, an on-board scale makes maximizing your payload a snap, without the risk of overloading, or having to return to the shipper to off-load the excess.

Power Inverters

Forget the high price and typically poor performance of 12-volt appliances. If it plugs into the wall, you can now run it in the truck. Power tools, computers, TV/VCRs, fax machines, microwave ovens, refrigerators, coffee makers, hair dryers, you name it. An AC/DC power inverter electronically converts 12-volt DC into normal household AC power, and today's technology makes the conversion far more efficient than ever before.

The inexpensive, basic systems have rated outputs of less than 1000 watts, but the more sophisticated systems can easily produce up to 3000 watts. The more expensive systems usually provide 'cleaner' AC power, which is free of surges or spikes that may damage sensitive electronic equipment such as computers.

Many of the high-end systems allow you to plug the truck into an AC source and charge the truck's batteries as the system channels the outside AC power to a power strip for use inside the cab. As well, the better products offer discharge protection to prevent a loss of sufficient charge to start the truck. That's a real danger, so beware.

Bunk Warmers

Keeping warm in winter costs money - big money if your only alternative to frostbite is a 500-hp furnace. If you're interested in slashing your heating bills, consider an electric bunk warmer. They strap onto the mattress and plug into a 12-volt outlet and warm the body in the bed from below. An electric blanket of sorts, these clever devices will keep you warm and toasty at temperatures down to minus 20 C if you layer on the covers. Just remember to keep your pants under the covers with you. It still gets cold in the cab, but who cares. Don't worry about the batteries either, these mattress warmers won't harm a good set of batteries.

You can also keep the whole buggy warm with a diesel-fired auxiliary heater, of course, and the engine too if cold starts are a problem. Auxiliary heaters consume a fraction of the fuel that big diesels do, and they'll save a ton of engine wear over the life of the product. They're relatively easy to install, don't affect cooling system warranties and are available in various output ratings depending on how much heat you need.

Laptop Computers

If you've been salting away those stray loonies and toonies to buy yourself a treat, a laptop computer is what you want. A laptop is THE accessory every driver and owner-op needs. You'll never realize the potential of these particular 'black boxes' until you dive in and buy one.

There's an incredible array of truck-related software on the market now, and more appearing daily. Business stuff, mapping and navigation stuff, games to while away the hours, and an absolute universe at your fingertips in terms of the educational potential.

Don't let your phobia get in the way. Two-grand will get you everything you need and then some, or you can buy a very respectable used machine for half that price. Once you've got one you'll wonder how you ever lived without it.

With the advent of high-quality power inverters, you can even put a home PC in your truck, printer and all. Or, for the cutting edge computer enthusiast, there are several mobile PCs now on the market designed for mobile use. They're built right into the truck and loaded with mobile application software such as navigation and multi-media CD and DVD, as well as all the usual software you'd run at home or in the office.

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