by Duff McCutcheon
What price freedom? Freedom from the weekly chore of greasing your truck, that is. It’s around $3,000, in the form of a central automatic greasing system or “auto-greaser.”
Auto-greasers squirt minute amounts of grease into all the greaseable points of the truck – slack adjusters, brake components, king pins, spring pin bushings, fifth wheel, etc. (all but the rotating parts such as U-joints) – every couple of hours, or at some chosen interval.
“When you’ve got one installed, it gives you the warm and fuzzy feeling that the truck is always greasing itself,” says Mike Hopper, fleet maintenance manager with Moncton, N.B.’s Armour Transport. “Speaking from a mechanic’s viewpoint, with an auto-greaser, whether you set it at every hour-and-a-half to three hours, you know moving parts are getting a shot of grease. There is a nice feeling about that.”
Most of them work the same. The grease is stored in a canister, and there’s a spring or a plunger that forces it down to a pump that sends the grease out through the lines to the grease fittings.
They also feature a timer device to deliver the grease shots 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.
Return On Investment
There’s a couple of different ways of looking at a return on your investment (ROI). One involves money and the other involves the time you save every weekend not greasing the truck. Of course, one of the benefits of getting out the grease gun and going under is that you can have a good look around on a regular basis and can catch small problems before they get big. Although there’s a big difference between greasing your truck in July and doing it in January, and you might wish you had that auto-greaser for the latter.
“We have a few owner-ops that use an auto-greaser, and they’re happy with it,” says Hopper. “It comes down to your preferences – some guys like to take the truck home, open up the hood and do their own things. In the wintertime, it’s a little unfriendly getting under the truck.”
Hopper says mechanics don’t enjoy icy, dirty water dripping down their backs, and sometimes cut the under-the-truck time a little short. With the auto-greasers, especially in the crappy winter weather, you can still be reasonably sure the truck’s getting the grease it needs.
As for monetary ROI, the systems generally cost between $2,500 and $3,500.
“We sell them by the grease point,” says Jim Pinder of Groeneveld North America. “Every system is going to need a pump, a timer, and a control unit, then we sell it for X dollars per grease point. Your average highway tractor with 32 grease points will be around $3,200 installed.”
Pinder says the average highway owner-operator will see an ROI of around 12-14 months, not having to take the vehicle out of service to have it greased, and extending service intervals to just oil changes. The bulk of the savings comes later in the form of extended component life.
Hopper agrees: “With auto-greasers, you just bring it in, change your oil, check your fluids and ensure your greaser’s working.”
There are also benefits come trade-in time. Having an auto-greaser installed is definitely a selling point. Not only is it a bonus in its own right, but it also tells the would-be buyer that the truck’s been well looked after. Pinder says some users take the units off their old trucks, have them remanufactured and reinstalled on their new rides. “I’ve seen a couple that are 15 years old now,” he says.
Of course, you don’t want to get complacent – while most systems are built solid, they do require periodic maintenance. You wouldn’t want to be running around thinking that all’s well between the frame rails when your auto-greaser stopped working 20,000 miles ago.
“There are electrical connections and a timer that can give you some grief if you don’t take care of them. It’s a mechanical tool. We sometimes had trouble with moisture going inside them, and also some of the components where it pumped, they were sucking up salt in the air and corroding the insides. You’d have to take it to a dealer to get it fixed,” says Hopper.
To avoid headaches, make sure you do a visual inspection of all the grease points when you’re doing your walkarounds – they should look damp. And make sure you get your system installed by someone who knows what they’re doing – the vast majority of the success of any auto-greasing system is the quality of the installation.
The standard OEM recommendation is 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 time.
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 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. 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.
Whatever you choose, make sure you keep the reservoir filled with grease. Some models come with a warning light that tells you if you’re running low. If you let it empty, you may end up having to bleed the lines. How often you fill depends on the time cycle of the greaser, which in turn depends on the season.
“In winter you usually set them to a higher frequency cycle interval because it’s cold – maybe an hour-and-a-half, versus two, three hours in the summer. One longhaul driver would probably fill it every three to four weeks; if you’re running a P&D truck, you’d need to fill it more often,” says Hopper.
Whether an auto-greaser’s for you depends on your mechanical aptitude, how much value you place on your free time, and your patience for getting wet during the winter months. Some guys like doing all their own work, some guys would rather be watching football or chasing the grandkids around the backyard.