Renowned for Maintenance

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


The fleet has always been big on tracking maintenance and repair costs, ever vigilant for issues and trends, Dickson says. It incorporates technology to help do this.

Among the technologies its uses to help manage fleet logistics is Qualcomm satellite mobile communications and information management systems. Qualcomm units are installed in each tractor.

To improve reefer maintenance, the fleet is using Qualcomm's refrigeration unit monitoring service. This allows remote monitoring of load temperatures and unit status.

The fleet also uses various technology systems to monitor and track onboard vehicle operation and collects this information through engine downloads.

All this data is analyzed and used to more efficiently run the fleet's maintenance operations, explains Dickson. By regularly collecting this data and benchmarking, the maintenance operation can measure its performance, see where improvement is needed and identify any maintenance or service issues, trends or problems.

Several years ago, he discovered that the fleet was having wheel end issues on its trailers. High wheel end temperatures were creating the need for repairs, which caused added vehicle downtime and maintenance costs.

In looking for solutions, Dickson settled upon the Meritor Tire Inflation System (MTIS) by PSI with ThermAlert. An option, the ThermAlert is a wheel-end heat-sensing capability that acts as an early warning system to help reduce potential risks, costs and downtime associated with wheel loss, and wheel and tire fires and failures.

The system not only solved the wheel end issues, Dickson notes, but had the added benefit of increasing tire life and reducing tire maintenance costs.

MTIS is an active, fully automatic inflation system that monitors and maintains tire air pressure. It uses compressed air from the trailer's air system to inflate any tire that falls below a preset pressure whenever the vehicle is in operation. As air pressure drops below the tire manufacturer's recommended level, MTIS automatically routes air through a control box, then into each axle. The axles carry the air to a rotary union at the spindle that distributes the correct amount of air to each tire as needed.

The ThermAlert system detects when air is escaping from the axle's thermal plug and out through the hubcap tee vent. This occurs if a wheel end is operating at an abnormally high temperature. If the temperature of the wheel-end exceeds the melting point of the eutectic material, the thermal screw will melt causing pressurized air to vent through the hub cap tee vent.

When this situation happens, the MTIS indicator light will come on to alert the driver to a problem. Air escaping from the tee vent produces an audible noise, which helps to identify the wheel end that is overheated.

MTIS with ThermAlert has been retrofitted to about 500 John Christner Trucking trailers and is now being spec'd on all new trailers.


Another way the fleet is working to reduce operational expenses is by outfitting its tractors with auxiliary power units (APU). About 70 percent of the tractors have APUs. This component has been added, Dickson says, to lower fuel costs by reducing idling. This conserves fuel and helps reduce engine wear and tear, which in turn can help extend tractor engine service intervals.

The majority of the APUs are Thermo King TriPacs systems.

John Christner Trucking initially started looking at APUs in 2004 when the fleet participated in a study on using battery-powered HVAC units on trucks. The study was conducted by the Sacramento, CA, Municipal District. The fleet had a dedicated operation there.

"We had six trucks with the units," recalls Dickson, "and we got the best performance of all the fleets involved in the study."

John Christner Trucking became a SmartWay Transport Partner in 2004. Becoming a Transport Partner means a carrier agrees to assess its operations and take actions to improve its fleet fuel efficiency. The fleet won a SmartWay Excellence Award three years later.

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