Trailer OEMs report that maintenance-related issues are becoming a major problem for fleets large and small, much of it due to increased concern over corrosion resulting from chemicals used to de-ice roadways in winter.
"For all of our product segments, magnesium chloride corrosion is a very important issue," said Bill Harris, director of marketing for Nashville, TN-based Heil Trailers. "[State] Highway departments are using magnesium chloride on the roads for de-icing and it can eats through [trailer] frames, wiring, fittings, etc. [Fleets] would like someone to solve this issue, so we're looking at undercoating and powder coating options."
According to current data, there are some five million commercial truck trailers on the road today, with their life expectancy ranging between seven and 20 years depending on the type of trailer.
The greater threat of corrosive damage from roadway de-icing chemicals is but one reason more fleets are considering brining trailer maintenance more under their direct control, according to Rod Erlich, chief technology officer for Lafayette, IN-based Wabash National trailers.
"More and more fleets are bringing trailer maintenance in-house because the maintenance programs can be better managed," he said. "[But] in-house maintenance or outsourcing does depend on fleet size. The larger the fleet, the more they tend to bring maintenance operations in-house."
Erlich believes one of the biggest challenges facing trailer makers over the next five years will be developing technologies and components that eliminate or reduce trailer maintenance.
"The undercarriage is ... driving the most change in this area," he said. "Now we're pursuing components and technologies that reduce or eliminate maintenance in the undercarriage for 10 or more years."
And as trailer maintenance grows as an issue, it's starting to outweigh price in the minds of many fleets, Erlich noted.
"Maintenance and reduced operating costs are, of course, primary concerns for customers. So as companies start to better understand their equipment maintenance costs, the emphasis shifts toward life cycle value," he said. "Therefore, a higher purchase price is becoming less important if maintenance costs are reduced, equipment uptime is increased, and the total cost of ownership is lower than equipment with a low initial purchase price."