Tires, Wheels, and Brakes
Keep the caps on
You walk onto the commissary parking lot to discover your food truck has a flat tire. How in the heck did that happen overnight? If the tire valve is missing its cap, the culprit might be a leaky valve. Those little caps keep out dirt and moisture that can cause leaks, so be sure to keep caps on all your tire valves. Another tip: When you replace tires, remind the tire shop that you expect new valves with the tires.
Maintain proper inflation
Under-inflated tires are a tire salesman’s best friend. They create excessive heat and stress that can lead to tire failure. If you want to get every last mile out of your tires, get yourself a tire pressure gauge and use it at least once a month (more in hot weather) to keep your tires inflated to the recommendation in the vehicle’s owner’s manual. Check tires when they are cold for an accurate reading.
Check for uneven wear
Make sure you check tires for uneven wear. If you’ve maintained tire inflation properly, uneven wear may indicate the need for a wheel realignment. It can also mean improperly operating brakes or shocks, a bent wheel, internal tire damage, or worn bushings.
Check tread for safety
Most states require tires to be replaced when they have worn down to 1/16-inch of remaining tire depth. Tires sold in North America are required to have “wear bars” molded into them to make it easy to see when tire replacement is legally required. However, if you’ll be driving in the rain, you should change your tires when there is 1/8-inch of tread left. Otherwise, water may not escape from under your tires fast enough and you risk hydroplaning. Stick a quarter between the treads in several places. If part of Washington’s head is always covered, you have enough tread to drive in the rain. If you drive in snow, you’ll need at least 3/16-inch of tread to get adequate traction. Stick a penny between the treads. If the top of the Lincoln Memorial is always covered, you’re ready for winter driving.
Rotate your tires
Rotating your tires helps to distribute tire wear evenly and ensures that you’ll get the maximum road life out of them. The first rotation is especially important. Your owner’s manual should specify both rotation period and pattern. If not, rotate your tires every 6,000 to 7,500 miles — your tire dealer should know the correct pattern of tire rotation.
When temperatures affect tire inflation
When outside temperatures drop or soar, tires tend to lose pressure. A drop of 10 degrees F, in fact, will decrease a tire’s air pressure by 1 or 2 pounds. Tires can lose even more air in hot weather. Under-inflated tires can result in accelerated wear and poor driving performance. If you live in a place where temperatures vary a lot, check your tire pressure often and add air as needed.
Lube your lug nuts
Lug nuts, if not lubricated occasionally can seize or “freeze” to the studs due to corrosion. Repairing them can be expensive. Having to call a tow truck for a flat you can’t remove is even more expensive. The next time you change or rotate your tires, pick up some anti-seize lubricant at your local auto supply store. Clean the stud threads with a wire brush and wipe them with the lubricant. It’s formulated to prevent the lug nuts (spark plugs, too) from seizing and won’t allow them to loosen as you drive, the way other lubricants might. If a lug nut does freeze to a stud, try spraying the nut and stud with WD-40 or Liquid Wrench. Allow it to penetrate for 10 or 20 minutes. Use a heat gun to apply heat. Then use a ratchet wrench to remove the lug.
Hang on to your hubcaps
Clang, clang, clang! There goes your hubcap, rolling off to destination unknown. Hubcaps, wheel covers, and center caps can pop off your truck’s wheels as you’re driving if they were not reinstalled correctly, have loosened over time, or if they were damaged by being jammed against a curb while parking. Here are some things you can do to keep these expensive parts on the car:
- If your older metal hubcap has loosened, remove it and pry the metal clips outward slightly. This should fix the problem.
- Newer plastic-type hubcaps and some wheel covers are usually held in place by a retaining wire ring that snaps into tabs on the wheel. When installing such a cap or cover, take care that you do not bend or break the tabs.
- One way to make sure your expensive hubcaps aren’t damaged by a repair shop is to remove them yourself before taking your truck in for a repair that requires wheel removal, such as a brake job or new tires. When reinstalling hubcaps, rest the hubcap in place and then tap it gently with a rubber mallet. Don’t hit the hubcap hard, or you might break the clips underneath. If you prefer to have your repair person remove the covers, check to make sure they were reinstalled properly. They should look even and flush.
Have wheel alignment checked
Have your truck’s wheel alignment checked every 30,000 miles, or as recommended in your owner’s manual. Also have it checked after buying new tires and when you replace a rack-and-pinion steering unit or other steering parts. Improper tire alignment will shorten the life of your tires as well as cause poor handling. If your steering is stiffer than normal or the vehicle pulls to one side, you probably have an alignment problem.
Top off your brake fluid
Check brake fluid monthly. Wipe dirt from the master cylinder lid before you open it. If you need fluid, add the type recommended by your car’s maker. Never substitute other fluids, such as transmission or power-steering fluid. And don’t use brake fluid from a previously opened container. Once exposed to air, brake fluid absorbs moisture and contaminates easily.
Care for anti-lock brakes
An anti-lock brake system is sensitive to moisture, which can ruin the expensive ABS pump and rot the brake lines from the inside. Since brake fluid attracts moisture, it should be “bled” or purged at least every three years, or as specified in your owner’s manual.
Car Engine and Other Systems
Check engine oil at every other fill-up
For an accurate reading, follow this procedure:
- Run or drive your truck for about 15 minutes to warm the oil; then park it in a level place. Turn off the engine and wait 15 minutes to allow the oil in the engine to drain back to the oil pan.
- Remove the dipstick and wipe it clean with a paper towel or rag. Reinsert the dipstick, being sure to push it in all the way, then pull it out again to check the oil level. It should be somewhere between the hash marks on the dipstick.
- Add the type and amount of oil as specified in your owner’s manual, if necessary.
Change oil frequently
While owner’s manuals for today’s trucks recommend increasing long intervals between oil changes, the fact remains. Frequent changes flush abrasive dirt and metal particles out of the engine, prolonging its life. Most owner’s manuals recommend a more frequent interval for “severe conditions.” To maximize the life of your engine, follow the severe intervals recommendations, especially if drive regularly in stop-and-go traffic.
Avoid overfilling your crankcase with oil
Don’t overfill your engine crankcase with oil. If you do, the oil can rise into the crankshaft, where air bubbles will get churned into the oil. Your oil pump can’t do a good job of circulating oil with air bubbles. The result can be overheating and stress on engine components. Overfilling can also foul your spark plugs. In fact, overfilling is a bad idea with all automotive fluids.
Wipe oil pan plug clean
If you do your own oil changes, clean the drain plug and washer with rags before reinstalling your oil pan. Some plugs are magnetized to trap metal particles.
Don’t forget the filters
There are several filters (the main ones are oil, fuel, transmission, and air) important to preserving your food truck’s engine, and they should be changed according to the schedule in your owner’s manual or as follows:
- Change the oil filter at least at every other oil change — every change is even better because the old filter contains nearly a quart of dirty oil that will remain with the new, clean oil. If you change your oil yourself, wipe the filter threads with an anti-seize lubricant, available at auto supply stores.
- Check the air filter every two months and replace it when dirty or as part of a tune-up. Air filters are generally easier to get to than oil filters. You find them under the big metal lid in a carbureted engine or in a rectangular box in a fuel injected engine — check your owner’s manual for the exact location. Extend the life of air filters by blowing them clean with compressed air.
- Despite claims by makers and dealers that some newer fuel filters never need changing, it’s smart to have it done once a year. A clogged fuel filter will cause poor engine performance (hesitation and starting difficulties) and is an early warning that there may be corrosion in your gas tank.
- Change your transmission fluid filter after the first 5,000 miles of driving and every 25,000 miles or two year thereafter.
Don’t forget the PCV valve
The PCV (positive crankcase ventilation) valve is an emissions control device on older engines — check your service manual to see if your truck has one. The valve recirculates partially burned gases from the engine’s crankcase to the combustion chamber. Important to a properly functioning engine, the valve should be changed every 30,000 miles or as specified in your owner’s manual. In addition to helping you get the most from a tank of gasoline, it helps to prevent the buildup of harmful sludge and corrosion. When replacing your PCV valve, be sure you use the correct one or you may damage your engine.
Heavier is not always better
Use the oil viscosity grade that’s recommended in your owner’s manual for the temperature range you expect for the coming season. Lighter grades (lower viscosity, such as SAE 5W-30), will deliver easier starts and better engine protection in winter and improved gas mileage throughout the year, thanks to less internal engine friction. Do not use a heavy grade of oil in cold winter climates or you will risk damage to your engine.
Maintain your transmission
Change automatic transmission fluid and filter after the first 5,000 miles and after every 25,000 miles or two years thereafter, or as recommended in your owner’s manual. If you use your food truck for towing, change the fluid and filter every year. For manual transmissions, change the lubricant after the first 5,000 miles and after every 50,000 thereafter. Use synthetic motor oil or gear lube for longer transmission life unless the manufacturer recommends otherwise.
Consider adding oil coolers
Since a food truck kitchen is so heavy, your truck’s engine is under heavy load every time you drive it because of this if not already equipped with coolers, consider having them added. Aftermarket engine oil and transmission fluid coolers are simple, low-cost add-ons that operate on the same principle as your truck’s radiator. The fluid flows through them, and many small fins absorb and dissipate heat. Cooler operating temperatures of engine oil and transmission fluid can add significantly to the life of your engine and transmission.
Spark plugs do need changing
The advent of electronic ignition and on-board computers has eliminated the need for regular tune-ups, but you still need to change your spark plugs. Many manufacturers recommend changing plugs every 30,000 or 40,000 miles to ensure good fuel mileage and engine performance. Some newer trucks come with long-life plugs (sometimes called double platinum plugs) that can last for 100,000 miles. If your truck isn’t so equipped, make the switch after 30,000 miles. The extra cost is only a few dollars per spark plug. While you’re at it, change your spark plug wires as well. Their typical life is 50,000 miles. Deteriorated wires can cause those high-tech new spark plugs to foul.
Avoid hose hassles
Check the hoses under your hood every month or two to avoid the hassle of a broken hose while you’re on the road. With the car cool and off, squeeze the hoses. If they are hard or make a crunching sound, replace them. Ditto if they are extremely soft or sticky. With the car warm but off, examine hoses for bulges and collapsed sections. If you find any, the hose walls are weak, and it’s time to replace the hose. Never drive with a ruptured coolant hose, or you are liable to overheat the engine and damage it. Other hoses are crucial to operation of your power brakes system.
Test drive-belt tension
Check the tension and condition of your drive belt (or, with some trucks, multiple belts) every month. Belts that are too tight can wear out the bearings in accessory components, such as AC compressor, water pump, and power-steering pump. Belts that are too loose will wear out faster and may fail prematurely. Perform your examination before you start the car to avoid injury due to a hot belt or moving engine part.
Check for tension by pressing in the center of the belt’s longest exposed run while holding a ruler next to it. If you can depress the belt 1/ 2 to 1 inch, but not more or less, the tension is good. If not, adjust the belt tension yourself according to your truck’s service manual, or have your dealer or auto repair service do it. Also check for belt damage, such as glazing (often due to oil leakage), fraying, and cracks. If you spot damage, have the belt checked by a pro and replaced if necessary.
Don’t forget the timing belt
On many trucks, it’s the belt you can’t see that is the most critical. If your manual says, as many do, that you should replace the timing belt at 50,000 miles, do it! A failed timing belt can, depending on engine type, cause thousands of dollars worth of damage to your engine.
Clean your engine
There are several reasons to wash your engine at least every year or two. A clean engine will run cooler than a dirty one. You’ll be more apt to tackle routine belt and hose checks and the like if you know you won’t get covered with grime every time you do so. A clean engine will also make it much easier to spot leaks and to service components. Remember to protect sensitive engine components; including the air intake, distributor, and electrical parts, with plastic bags before getting started.
Use dishwashing liquid or other grease-cutting detergents and a bristle brush to scrub engine and components surfaces. Rinse thoroughly. Heavy-duty engine cleaning products are available at automotive parts stores. Follow the directions carefully. You may also have your engine professionally steam cleaned.