A Little Dab Will Do Ya
by Jim Park
It's a sunny Sunday morning, the roar of lawn mowers fills the
air, and your buddy is on the phone. He needs one more body to fill a foursome
for a two o'clock tee-off. You could still manage to get the grass cut, but
the truck needs greasing too. "Better say no," you tell your pal.
"I really need to get some work done around the house."
That's a bummer, but it could be worse: you could be holed up in Montreal for
a weekend in February. It's 10 below, there's all manner of road salt, slush,
and God knows what dripping off the truck, and it's been two weeks since you
last greased 'er. Are you likely to get down there in the muck and get it done?
If you're like many, you'll hold off 'til you're dispatched to Florida again.
That's not doing your kingpins any favors, but it's better than having a slush
ball fall from a crossmember, hit you in the face, and then run down your back.
That's a real bummer.
A centralized greasing system can solve all that. They're not terribly expensive,
they can really help with component longevity, and they can save a significant
amount of personal time and energy, but owner-operators don't seem particularly
enthusiastic about them.
When doing a cost benefit analysis on a greasing system (prices range from
$2400 to a little more than $3000, depending on the configuration and installation
charges), it's easy to ignore the time component of the calculation - your time,
that is. How much time would you spend greasing the truck? You could probably
hit every fitting in less than 30 minutes if you had a creeper, less if you
had a pit and a pressure gun. But then there's the set-up and clean-up time,
plus the time spent looking around for damage and wear under the truck, so is
an hour reasonable?
If you grease the truck weekly, you'll tie up 52 hours a year under the truck,
or 250 hours over the five-year life of a new truck. Now, what's your time worth?
It's hard to put a price on an hour's time when you're offered a two o'clock
tee-off versus an hour under the truck, but let's say you're worth 20 bucks
an hour. That's what you'd make as a well-paid company driver. That makes your
time under the truck over five years worth about $5000. Yeah, but you don't
really pay yourself $5000 to grease the truck, that's just a number. Well, it's
a number that shows a $2000 gain in time-value alone over the cost of a typical
automatic greasing system.
While you're debunking those numbers - we know not everyone religiously greases
the truck once a week - consider the advantages of having the truck greased
every couple of hours or so.
Metal to Metal
The idea behind lubricant is to place a slippery film between two moving parts
so that the friction generated by the metal-to-metal contact won't inhibit free
movement, and won't wear away the two contact surfaces. When you apply grease
to a fitting, it squeezes in between two surfaces, providing the protective
film. But it won't stay in place forever.
The grease you buy in cartridges is a thick gooey substance containing a mixture
of lubricating oil, additives to prevent rust, etc., and soap. The soap is what
gives the grease its clinging power: the higher the soap content, the thicker
the grease, the longer it stays where you put it. If it's too thick at ambient
temperature, it will become a problem in cold temperatures, if it's too thin,
it'll just run out from between the surfaces when they get warm.
The standard recommendation from truck makers is to use an EP2 grade of chassis
lube (EP stands for extreme pressure, 2 is a measure of the viscosity or soap
content of the material). The truck makers also recommend certain chassis-lube
intervals because they know the EP2 grease will stay in place under certain
conditions for a certain period of time. But if you think about it, you get
the best performance from your grease when it's first applied. By the end of
the service interval, it might be wearing a bit thin.
Going back to our time-value analysis, you can see the downside to not maintaining
the lubrication intervals - even if you're saving money on the cost of the time
it takes to grease the truck - and the potential penalty in component degradation
if the lube runs dry in a critical location, such as the kingpins or the clutch
The idea behind an automated centralized lubrication system is to pump a tiny
bit of grease into the fittings far more frequently that you would with a grease
gun. If for example, a grease gun pumps an ounce of grease into a fitting once
a week, the automatic greasers pump in a milligram once every few hours. The
result is a constant supply of fresh lube, and better coverage between the moving
Two schools of thought exist on the type of grease best used in the automated
systems. One says a thinner grease, an EP0, offers better flow characteristics,
more even coverage, and it requires a less powerful pump. The other follows
the EP2 theory that the thicker grease provides better clinging power, a more
robust film between two surfaces, but requires a stronger pump. But given that
competing systems, and even different systems offered by the same manufacturer,
are priced in the same ballpark, it becomes a matter of personal preference.
Dave Meadows of A.L.S. Vogel is a proponent of the thicker grease. He says
it offers the advantage of wider availability, while providing better protection
in a shock-loading situation.
"You can switch to an EP1 grease in the winter if temperature is an issue,"
The systems consist of a reservoir for the grease, a pump and timer device to
deliver the grease on schedule, and a metering system in the distribution manifolds
to ensure each fitting gets the proper amount of grease. Slack adjusters, for
example, need less grease than the fifth-wheel plate. The systems meter out
the grease in amounts suitable to the application.
Meadows stresses that proper installation of the system is critical. "It's
not a do-it-yourself job," he says. "But when properly installed,
they'll function for years, and you'll never know they're there."
Systems are available through a Canada-wide network of distributors, or they
can be spec'd new for a dealer installation and rolled into the price of a new
Jan Eisses, director of North American Operations for Groeneveld CPL Systems,
says the long-term benefit really has to be less wear on the individual components.
We can make the cost benefit argument all day long, he says, but never having
to do any serious front-end work to the truck because of excessive wear is a
tremendous cost savings.
"We've got enough units out there now to say with some confidence that
our customers are reporting improved brake-lining life due to less brake drag,
better tire life due to fewer wheel lock-ups caused by sticky slack adjusters
in an ABS event, and better steering performance," he says. "At the
end of five years, the truck should have a higher market value because the buyer
knows lubrication was never an issue."
And if you're still hung up about getting under the truck for a thorough weekly
inspection, do that too. You don't need a grease gun in your hand to do it,
and if you slip and decide to play golf or do a little work in the garden instead,
your kingpins will never know the difference.
A.L.S. Vogel Ltd.
Groeneveld North America
CPL Systems Inc.
Lubriquip Centralized Lubrication Systems