Thinking Outside the Toolbox

What tools do well-equipped, well-trained techs need?


One of the biggest and perhaps the most important changes for the heavy-duty truck technician is integrating technology to predict, diagnose and fix problems. How a truck operates today is largely based on technology, but technology is also a tool, and is what helps get trucks out of the shop and back out on the road in a faster, more efficient way. Technicians who accept the changing trends will inevitably become experts in their field, but it is technological expertise and knowledge that will set them apart from their peers as leaders in a new era of heavy duty trucking.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE

Diesel technician Steve Schultz of Schneider National finds that keeping up with technology is critical to his job and has most likely contributed to his eighteen years of career success.

"For the most part in today's trucking, the technology has advanced so rapidly. To me there are now two sides to a good technician," Schultz says. "You have the mechanical side, which has always been your basic engine: troubleshooting, engine transmission and driveline."

"Now with the technology, you have a second side to that and that is the electronic technician. You have to be constantly educating yourself on what the technology is doing," Schultz says.

Being a good technician also means having the proper tooling to work on it, according to Schultz. Tooling is a major cost factor for a technician, due to the costs associated with building up the basic toolkit. This can be challenging for a young person coming into the field, but the initial investment could help with career advancement.

"What separates the most advanced guys is the fact that they have more detail-oriented tools on hand able to make the fine measurements with meters and so forth," Schultz says.

For instance, Schultz uses laptop computers with component-specific diagnostic programs to diagnose engine, ABS system and dash problems, which can be tricky, he says, because there can be multiple symptoms for the same code.

"You might get a flash code, say 39, and it can mean several different things," Schultz explains, "so you have to have the laptop in order to determine which component is causing the failure."

Schultz also relies heavily on multimeters for measuring electrical values and symptoms on a truck, which he says are becoming increasingly complex.

"As trucks are becoming more complicated, we're starting to have to have more sophisticated meters," he says.

Since there are more complex systems on board, Schultz says, a failure or glitch in any of the systems that tie in with the engine can give a tech the false impression that something is going wrong.

"But it's not really an engine problem," Schultz says. "It's the technology causing that perception."

With all of the technological components on a truck, Schultz says that a technician can't just specialize in engines. "You have to be a total truck technician now," he says.

Because so many different truck systems could require maintenance, Schultz has created a personal library of information to organize and document specific problems he encounters with subsystems. He keeps track of the complaint, what happened and how he fixed it. This is helpful, he says, especially when he sees problems or repetitive codes and a way to monitor trends and patterns.

As a result, Schultz says that he's able to pinpoint problems and solve them faster with detailed documentation, which ultimately saves the customer time and money.

TECHNOLOGY AND LOGIC

"Since almost every part of the truck is tied to electronics, the technician's knowledge is essential to successfully troubleshoot the many needs of the sub-system components," says lead mechanic Kirk Kabel, also of Schneider National.

Advanced equipment also helps troubleshoot areas on trucks needing quick access and repair, Kabel explains.

"The way we measure electrical measurements is a lot more precise than it used to be," Kabel says. "It's not just a matter of getting approximation down, you have to actually test the leads in your meter before you make a call on a component."

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