Renowned for Maintenance

The foundation for success at John Chirstner Trucking is the continuous efforts to improve the maintenance operation.


With the rising cost of doing business nowadays, effective vehicle maintenance and repair takes on even greater significance. More and more fleets and service providers are working to improve their efficiency in getting vehicles serviced and gain the greatest return on investments in tools and equipment.

But that is not the case at John Chirstner Trucking in Sapulpa, OK, a family-run truckload fleet that specializes in transporting temperature controlled products - from -20 to +90 degrees Fahrenheit. Creating and continuing best maintenance practices has been the guiding principle since day one. When John Christner founded the company in 1986, he built a shop before an office.

His business philosophy can be encapsulated thusly: be proactive in keeping the fleet on-the-road operating efficiently, and constantly be looking for tools, methods and technology that can be used to improve things. And that philosophy has paid off. John Christner Trucking is one of the top temperature controlled truckload companies in North America. It has an industry-wide, well-deserved reputation for having a superbly maintained fleet.

The company operates about 750 tractors - an assortment of Kenworth, Peterbilt, Freightliner and International models. It was an all Caterpillar engine fleet, but with the engine manufacturer no longer building truck engines, John Christner Trucking is now using Cummins and Detroit Diesel engines, from 450 to 470 horsepower. These are mated to 10-speed Eaton Fuller transmissions.

Tractors are ordered with upgraded owner operator specs and components, along with equipment and accessories specific to the fleet's operation and application requirements operation. The power units also come with extended warranties.

Tractors generally average about 140,000 miles per year, with the typical length of haul being 1,100 to 1,200 miles. Tractors are commonly traded after about three years.

The truck specs and mileage help enhance resale value, says Steve Dickson, vice president of maintenance. Plus, it helps keep maintenance and repairs to regular PM work and minor repairs.

"We can literally do anything here," he says. "We can rebuild engines and we have our own body shop and paint booth. But we prefer not to. Most of our major issues and problems are generally handled under vehicle warranty."

The fleet's shop, which operates around the clock, is staffed with 37 truck technicians "who have certifications across the board." It also has a truck wash on the premises, but contracts out the labor.

John Christner Trucking's 970 trailers are all 53-foot, air-ride suspension Great Dane and Utility models, the majority of which have Thermo King refrigeration units. The remainder have Carrier Transicold units. The reefers usually run around 3,000 hours per year. Trailers are on a five-year trade cycle.

Last year the fleet repowered the refrigeration units on some 200 of its trailers to extend their useful life. "We couldn't get good trade numbers so we elected to repower and run them another three to four years," Dickson says.

IMPROVEMENT STRATEGY

The fleet is constantly looking for better ways of maintaining its vehicles and is regularly trying out new products and different ways of doing things. By way of example, Dickson cites the use of ESOC Commercial Trucks' engine oil exchange machines. The units are environmentally safe oil evacuation systems that reduce labor time and costs and help minimize truck downtime.

About three and a half year ago, Dickson first saw an ESOC engine oil change exchange system at a truck quick lube facility. Shortly thereafter he then noticed a couple of his trucks come in with the two special ESOC drain fittings. He began looking into the quick oil change technology system and decided: "It made perfect sense," he recalls.

"With the ESOC system, technicians don't have to worry about removing the drain plug, positioning the bucket correctly to catch all the oil that drains out and doing all the processes associated with changing engine oil," says Dickson. "The technician simply attaches the two lines to the fittings, programs the ESOC machine, starts it and let then lets it do its thing."

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