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March 15, 2017 4:00 PM, EDT
Roadside Inspections, Food Safety Law Spur Increase in Tractor, Trailer Washes

This story appears in the March 13 print edition of Equipment & Maintenance Update, a supplement to Transport Topics.

Regular tractor and trailer washes are helping fleets stave off problems during roadside inspections, extend equipment life and improve public perception. In addition, new government regulations — particularly for food safety — are leading to an uptick in wash intervals and documentation.

Kleen Trans

A wash probably deters Department of Transportation roadside inspections and helps in the removal of grime or debris that could advance the degrading of equipment and wear and tear of parts, “but the biggest thing is we want customers and the general public to know we take care of our equipment and we’re going to take care of their business,” said Amos Rogan, productivity and efficiency leader for less-than-truckload operations at Averitt Express Inc., which is based in Cookeville, Tennessee.

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Averitt Express, which ranks No. 31 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest U.S. and Canadian for-hire carriers, has truck washes at six of its major shop locations and pressure washers at other locations.

“If you have a wash bay on-site and you have a dirty truck, you have no reason not to wash it,” he said.

Tim Ryan, president of Kankakee Tank Wash, in Kankakee, Illinois, said roadside inspectors are looking for oil leaks, which can lead to violations under the federal Compliance, Safety, Accountability program. “Because of DOT inspections, we see more trucks getting their engines cleaned,” he said. “If they have a clean engine, that is a good sign the truck is maintained and no oil leaks.”

Specific procedures need to be followed for an engine wash, said Terry Spencer, service director at Kenworth Sales Co., a dealership based in West Valley City, Utah. Fleets must be careful not to force pressurized water and contaminants into the electrical connection, he said.

Skye Robinson, director of sales and communication at Fleet Clean, a mobile truck wash provider based in Melbourne, Florida, said she has seen an increase in washes to ensure there are no visible leaks and to help with preventive maintenance.

“A clean engine can help spot leaks much sooner, and a clean engine will also not allow dirt, dust and grime to cake up around a leak,” she said, adding that it’s easier to identify problems early on clean equipment.

Dan Carrano, director of fleet maintenance for A. Duie Pyle, said it’s important to clean off areas that have been repaired to minimize the risk of a future violation.

“If you had a leaky wheel seal and somebody pulls that assembly off and puts a new seal in without cleaning the surface, there is no way for the inspector to know it is no longer leaking and it is residual oil,” Carrano said.

Truck washes have been included as part of new construction on the last six terminals A. Duie Pyle has built, Carrano said. They include drive-through wash bays with underside spray nozzles, which Carrano said remove de-icing materials that spray up and cling to vehicles. The ultimate objective is to increase the life of the vehicle, he said.

“Getting the salt and chemicals off helps save the finish on the paint,” Carrano said, adding that A. Duie Pyle typically operates on a 90-day wash cycle but washes more frequently in the winter because of the de-icing material on the roads.

A. Duie Pyle, which is based in West Chester, Pennsylvania, ranks No. 73 on the for-hire TT100.

Rogan said Averitt relies on washes to improve safety. The fleet’s trucks are equipped with collision avoidance and lane departure systems, which rely on sensors such as radar and cameras. “Some of those are external, and they have to be clear from debris to operate properly,” Rogan said.

In addition, built-up debris could inhibit the brakes or transmission, and dirty mud flaps could pose a threat if debris were to fall off, Rogan said.

Washes also help keep trailer lights clear, which is something roadside inspectors look for, Carrano said.

The new transportation regulations under the Food Safety Modernization Act also have boosted the industry’s focus on keeping equipment clean, wash providers said.

Tim McCloy, national sales manager for DyChem International, a truck wash manufacturer based in Salt Lake City, said he has seen an increase in demand for both exterior and interior washes as well as wash documentation, particularly for food haulers.

The new FSMA rules require all transporters of human or animal food to have documentation that they are transporting in clean and sanitary conditions, so this covers many industries, Fleet Clean’s Robinson said.

FSMA doesn’t mandate wash frequency or processes to do it, but only that the process must be documented. The cleaning procedures, such as washout specifications, would be specified by the shipper, not by the Food and Drug Administration, Robinson said, adding the fleets have to say the wash provider is using a sanitizing chemical and potable water.

Blue Beacon has had an increase in customers asking for documentation of washout procedures, said Jeff Dykes, national sales manager for Blue Beacon Truck Washes, which is based in Salina, Kansas.

“We have adopted national washout procedures that ensure that all of our 110 locations use standardized equipment and procedures, focusing on a high-pressure wash with warm, soapy water and a high-pressure rinse with clear, cold water,” he said.

Kleen Trans offers a cleaning and sanitizing service for trailers at wash locations in California and Arizona. Edgar Vargas, the company’s founder, said most of his demand comes from growers and shippers of produce that want proof a trailer has been washed and sanitized before they load product.

“A reefer container is an incubator,” he said. “If it isn’t washed, anything can grow in there.”

Ryan also cited an increase in interior washes for refrigerated trailers, which are cleaned using a power washer, food-grade detergent and hot- and cold-water rinse.

Shippers are responsible for ensuring trailers are clean and odor-free, said Allen Reuber, director of temperature- controlled services for Redwood Multimodal, which has seen an uptick in shippers requiring washout receipts.

“Shippers are doing an excellent job of inspecting the trailers. They’re looking for holes and actually smelling the trailer for odors,” Reuber said, adding that shippers can reject a clean trailer due to smell. “When I pick up a container of chicken, I don’t want it to smell like coffee.”

Chicago-based Redwood Multimodal is writing standard operating procedures and reviews a checklist with customers to determine their needs and expectations for food shipments, he said.

Maximizing drivers’ time is important, and it is helpful for drivers to know wash requirements before picking up a load so they can plan their route, especially for drivers dealing with perishable products. “If there are only two washouts near a chicken plant, they will be busy all of the time and there can be a long wait,” Reuber said.

To save drivers time, Blue Beacon has increased staff and added equipment and washout-only bays so that washout customers don’t have to wait in line. The wash provider also added undercarriage rinse systems that apply a corrosion-control, salt-removing solution to the tractor undercarriages without adding time.

Michael Gordon, vice president at American Truck Wash Inc., a truck wash manufacturer based in Missoula, Montana, offers an automated interior washout system that can complete an interior wash in two minutes. “The system is more set up for doing more trailers with less labor,” he said, adding that the systems can also air dry the trailer to remove excess water.

With FSMA, the shipper is responsible for that load, not the carrier, Gordon said, adding that one customer uses the automated trailer washout to clean and sanitize trailers before every load. Some companies rely on water temperature to sanitize the trailer while others use an approved degreaser or sanitizer.

Overall, for tractor and trailer washing, Roy Gambrell, a member of the Technology & Maintenance Council, part of American Trucking Associations, said companies need to ensure they’re using the right chemicals and procedures for each wash.

“Temperature has a lot to do with how your chemicals act,” he said. “Some are more aggressive at higher temperatures.”