Why Do Semi Trucks Use Air Brakes?
It’s a sound you hear all over any major city and on highways everywhere: the unmistakeable hiss of air coming off of a big rig as it rolls to a stop next to you. But have you ever wondered: why do semi trucks use air brakes? Why can’t they use hydraulic brakes like smaller cars?
It all comes down to reliability and availability of resources. In general, the heavier the vehicle, the more likely it is to use air brakes. Hydraulic fluid for small car brake lines needs to be filled at a shop and maintained manually, while air is everywhere, ready to be used in any truck braking system. But that’s just one reason why they’re common in the industry.
First let’s go over how air brakes work. A compressor fills storage tanks to the regulated pressure, set by a device known as a governor. A valve makes sure that air only goes one way through the line, so even if the compressor leaks, the air tanks will not. From there, the air is fed through the brake lines and differences in pressure (created by hitting the brake pedal) are used to move a series of rods, cams, and brake components as needed while driving.
In addition, in a hydraulic system, if there is a leak in the brake line, the entire system will fail since it cannot replenish the pressure needed to activate the brakes and slow the wheels. If you’re in a fully loaded truck or other heavy-duty equipment, it would simply be too dangerous to use hydraulics, since their default setting does not slow the vehicle at all. They are cumbersome, too – above a GVWR of about 26,000 lbs, the necessary equipment become too heavy, inefficient, and hot during operation to be useful.
So why do semi trucks use air brakes instead? These systems are designed so their “inactive” setting is closed, meaning that if all the pressure were to suddenly drop anywhere below 45 psi, the brakes would kick in automatically. They utilize very strong springs behind pistons that extend out and hold all of the drive wheels in place, unless and until an air pressure of about 65 psi pushes the pistons back into its driving position. This emergency system is mandatory in semi trucks and other tractor-type vehicles, for obvious reasons – overall, they are safer, and their stopping power is much greater. These emergency brakes are activated by a simple switch on the dash, immediately bleeding the pressure out and letting the springs take over, bringing the truck to a halt. Beyond that, one truck can control multiple trailers, where the driver can activate regular brakes for all the trailers at once – and if the tractor separates from the rest, all the emergency parking brakes close automatically.
When performing maintenance on a hydraulic system, if the lines are opened, the whole thing must be flushed out and the affected line replaced in order to ensure there is no air left anywhere (because the bubbles would react differently than the fluid inside, causing unexpected shifts in pressure). In contrast, with air brakes, you only have to replace a leaking or faulty line – saving a lot of time and labour in the process. You may even encounter dual air brake systems, where each axle has a different set of lines and storage tanks (though they are controlled by one pedal), further reducing the need to go through the entire system during repairs.
Are there any downsides to using air brakes? One, which can be avoided with proper maintenance and use of air dryers and drain valves, is a buildup of water vapour in the lines, which can cause trouble if it freezes during winter driving. The brakes can also take a little longer to slow down big trucks, since they don’t transfer braking power as efficiently. And another thing to consider is that air brakes can only be operated by drivers with a Class 1 license (or a Q endorsement on other classes), requiring extra training, education, and financial investment in order to become qualified. But none of those are truly downsides when compared to the vast improvements on safety and reliability of air brake systems in semi trucks and other commercial vehicles, and the fact that even in a worst-case scenario, they are designed to quite literally spring into action.
So the next time you hear the telltale hiss of air brakes from a truck behind you on the road, you can breathe more easily knowing that they were built with safety in mind – and that places like West Tech Mobile are here in the shop making sure they work just as they were meant to!
How You Can Keep Your Cab Temperature Livable Without Idling Your Truck.
In recent years, a new trend of anti-idling laws has cropped up in many places around the world, and Alberta could be next in line. These laws are meant to reduce waste and emissions from vehicles that are idling for long periods of time – affecting everything from long-haul trucks at rest stops to the huge cargo ships waiting in a port. The laws are for a good reason, but they often fail to account for the reason why the vehicles are idling in the first place: the weather outside can be extreme, and it’s often quite literally unsafe to be in a vehicle without heating or cooling for several hours.
In the winter, temperatures down to -40º C can only be kept at bay by running a heater in the cab. And in the summer months, when outside temperatures can reach +40º C or higher, a truck’s interior can heat up 10-15 degrees beyond that in just an hour – an absolutely fatal temperature for anyone inside. The conventional way of cooling the cab of a truck is usually with the truck running and using the diesel and electrical system of the truck. Getting the cold air off of the truck systems is a more complex process and requires a compressor to compress your refrigerant; so what is the solution to this considering idling laws are against running trucks in this fashion? That’s where Autoclima comes in.
Designed to be a workaround for anti-idling laws, Autoclima is a battery-powered technology that uses your daytime driving to charge itself and allows you to run air conditioning without having to start your engine. With up to 8 hours of battery life, it’s the perfect way to save fuel while keeping your cab at the perfect climate, and it won’t drain your engine’s battery either. Whether you’re at a lonely rest stop along the Coquihalla highway, or pulled over at a busy gas station outside of a major southern city, you can be sure you’re following any regional anti-idling laws while also staying comfortable – at any time, and in any season.
The Autoclima units can even be adapted to units that were built without A/C – such as older vehicles or big heavy equipment like trackhoes or tractors. It’s simple and quick, and will keep drivers happy during long hot days spent on the road or in the field. And since they run off batteries instead of fuel, your fuel costs will go down since engines will no longer need to idle to keep you sitting comfortably in hot weather conditions.
If you want the freedom and potential that Autoclima provides, look no further than West Tech Mobile! We can install and set up everything for you, keeping you in line with the law so you are saving engine hours and diesel fuel while silently using the free cold air on the days and nights you need it. We’re located in southeast Calgary, near 52 St and Peigan Trail, and from there we can do service all across southern Alberta with our fleet of mobile service vehicles. Contact us today to find out more!
Winter Stopping Components
We’ve already had a few blasts of winter weather here in Calgary, and as the season goes on, there’s bound to be days where you can’t avoid hitting the roads, even when they’re covered in ice. Modern vehicles have all kinds of safety systems built in to help you keep control on slick surfaces – but they rely on proper maintenance and upkeep in order to work their best and do what they’re meant to.
One of these systems is traction control, which is a real-time analysis of how your wheels are moving and whether they are getting any traction on road surfaces. The computers send power back and forth from one wheel to another to try and maximize friction and grip along the road surface, leaving you with (hopefully) better chances of not ending up stuck in a snowbank, or skidding out on the side of the road. Your heads-up display (HUD) on the dashboard should have lights or other indicators to show that the system is working, when your wheels are spinning on gravel, ice, dirt, etc. – and if not, then you know there’s an issue somewhere along the line.
Another system is your shock absorbers, which allow your tires to keep better contact with the ground while driving through rough or bumpy terrain. However, like all good things, they don’t last forever, and when they start to wear away, your driving experience can be significantly lessened: not only will your ride be bumpier and rougher, but factors like your stopping distance will be increased as well. Because bad shocks are less effective at keeping your tires down on the road surface, during a hard brake the rubber is likely to actually lift up off of it as the weight and momentum of the car builds up and releases again and again. From there, it’s simple math – less contact with the road, more time to stop. In fact, depending on speed, it can take an additional 15-20 feet to stop if your shocks are worn down, and in a potential crash situation, that can literally be the difference between life and death.
To know if your shocks are nearing the end of their usefulness, look for some common warning signs: besides the warning light on your HUD, listen for bumps or squeaks when you brake or drive over rough terrain; uneven wear on the tires; loose hardware at the connection points; or leaking fluid or increased wetness around the shield by the shock. A little bit of attention goes a long way!
As for anti-lock braking systems (ABS), they operate by preventing your wheels from locking up and skidding along a surface when the brake pedal is held. This allows for improved steering in a skid and less wear on the friction points when emergency brakes are held. In these systems, the computers track wheel speed, hydraulic pressure, air pressure, and other factors, and if they cross certain thresholds in combination – like when the hydraulic pressure increases while going highway speed – then the ABS system kicks in. It will input and remove pressure from the system, increasing and decreasing the braking ability, to allow for maximum control at the most efficient stopping speed.
There’s no doubt that these systems are great, and that their implementation has revolutionized the safety of the vehicles they are in. But they are all dependent on proper maintenance in order to function, and require systematic checks to make sure they are operating at their best potential. Don’t wait until the snow falls again, or an accident almost takes you out, before you think about what’s going on in your engine and throughout your vehicle. Be proactive, get everything looked at, and save yourself trouble and worry by knowing that you’re doing all you can in order to be safe on the road.
At West Tech Mobile, we are certified to inspect these systems and many others, and our knowledgeable technicians can make sure you’re roadworthy, even in our rough Alberta winters. With our fleet of service vehicles, we can even come to you for an added layer of convenience. Contact us today to find out more, and stay safe out there.
Trucking Accidents Change Lives
Driving has become so commonplace now that we often forget just how dangerous it can be. While safety precautions have come a long way since the first motor vehicles appears at the turn of the 20th century, one of the most effective precautions a driver can have is to simply be prepared and know that everything under the hood is performing well. After all, even minor road accidents can have life-altering consequences – or even worse, ones that end a life altogether.
These dangers increase even more when bigger, heavier trucks or other machinery is involved: with more mass, they take longer to slow and stop when moving, and they cause much more damage when they hit something smaller.
Many factors contribute to accidents when out on the road, beyond the usual blame of weather or unforeseen circumstances. When it comes to collisions between passenger cars and trucks, statistically what happens most often is that the cars veer into the truck’s lane and end up hitting the front, or getting caught beneath the side or rear bumper of the trailer. (The last one is especially dangerous, as the frames of those bumpers collapse when a vehicle breaks it, falling onto a smaller car with deadly results.) While it can be tempting to blame the passenger car drivers for these accidents, inspections have shown that about 75% of the trucks involved had defects that contributed to the final crash.
A report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety states that a truck with an “out-of-service” violation from a Commercial Vehicle Inspection Program (CVIP) is four times more likely to be in a crush incident than trucks without. These violations can be issued for problems like faulty brakes, fraying tire sidewalls, worn shocks, burned-out headlights, and improper tail or brake lights. Faulty brakes alone can triple the risk of being involved in a crush, and worn shock absorbers can add meters of stop time to a fast-moving rig – which could literally mean the difference between life and death.
Furthermore, there is only so much a truck driver can do once on the road – they will accommodate extra space for longer braking (on average, about 40% more than passenger cars), and are more careful around intersections and other vehicles. But once up to highway speed and making split-second decisions, it comes down to the mechanical parts of the truck itself. That’s why we want you to be prepared before you even start the engine – so you won’t find yourself in the ditch after an accident.
New technologies are extremely helpful in reducing the risk of a crash. Anti-lock braking systems, for example, allow wheels to spin during hard braking, which improves driver control of a skid and reduces the crush risk up to 65%. Electronic Stability Control, now mandatory on trucks and buses made after August 2017, also mitigates the chances of an uncontrollable truck. And even newer systems, like lane departure warnings, blind spot alarms, and forward collision detection are becoming increasingly common in the battle against automotive accidents.
There’s no substitute for proper inspection and preparation, though, which will ensure your truck is ready for the road and up-to-spec on all its safety systems. West Tech Mobile is a professional CVIP inspection facility, and your safety is our main concern – our technicians will make sure you are as safe as you can possibly be before you leave our shop. And our repairs and recommendations are always made with the utmost quality in mind.
Even if you’re out on the road and run into trouble – please don’t take the risk of trying to drive an unsafe truck. Call West Tech Mobile and our rescue mechanics will come to you in a fully-tooled service vehicle, ready to go the extra mile to reach you and get you home safely to your family. It’s what we do best!
For further information on Truck driving accidents causes and statistics please visit https://www.truckdrivingjobs.com/faq/truck-driving-accidents.html
The 5 Senses of Truck Service
Have you ever wondered just how to tell when your truck or other equipment needs a tune up? You don’t have to be an expert to get a sense for what’s happening when you’re driving. Just let your senses help you out! Here are some ways to discern potential problems using nothing more than what you’ve already got.
1. Listen: This is one of the most helpful senses when trying to find out what might be going on in your engine. If you hear knocking coming from under the hood, possible causes could be mechanical parts – like valves, injectors, gaskets or pistons – or even some sort of mechanical failure in the engine itself. It could be an exhaust leak, badly aligned tires, or any number of issues. The only way to be sure is to get a mechanic to take a look – ideally before major work is needed. So call us, and save stress and your money! And if you hear honking from other drivers while you’re behind the wheel, then that is probably a good sign that something might be wrong. Stop right away, check over your truck, and make sure everything is okay to drive!
2. Feel: If the steering wheel pulls on one side when you drive it could be a wheel alignment issue, or even a blown tire – which, if you have 18 of them, you might not even notice until your control starts to slip! If the steering pulls to the side when you apply the brakes it could be air lines, or a hydraulic brake system problem. Keep alert and be aware of what your truck is telling you, through every vibration, jolt, and drag.
3. Smell: This is one of the least desirable senses to encounter in a truck, as it’s very rare that a noticeable smell means something good. It could be burned oil, rubber, brake pads, friction dust from the transmission, or even an exhaust leak into the cabin (for which you’d notice a smell of combustion), or coolant vapours, which are somewhat sweet and very distinct.
Brake fluid can leak by the push rod inside the cabin and smell oily, and the engine air HVAC system can sometimes smell if the air conditioning hasn’t been used for quite a while (get a mechanic to take a look if it doesn’t go away within a day). Even the smell of diesel can seep into the cabin if there’s a faulty fuel line. Keep your nose attuned to what’s going on with your truck and you will likely end up saving yourself a lot of trouble!
4. Sight: You might see more than hazy heat lines coming up from your engine one day! There might be smoke, steam, or coolant vapours – and if that last one happens, it can be very dangerous, since it means coolant has splashed on the exhaust manifold, leading to a possible fire, where you’ll see the flames and feel the heat!
If any of your dash lights come on, take notice immediately! Don’t ever assume they’re an erroneous warning. If the lights are yellow, make plans to get the systems checked out, but if they are red then you must stop immediately or the engine will seize. Even something as simple as a warning light for oil pressure should be followed, because if you keep driving, the engine will seize due to friction…and it is much more expensive to change your engine than to swap out your oil!
5. Taste: While taste generally isn’t something that helps identify engine trouble, we hope it goes without saying that you should not taste any of the substances and fluids that you might find in your engine or other systems – but we’re not the only ones to worry about. Due to the sweet smell of coolant that we mentioned earlier, furry friends like dogs usually love the taste of engine coolant and should not be allowed into any areas where they might encounter it in a container or on the ground. It’s fatal if they ingest it, so we make sure not to let any dogs into our service bays, and we hope you do the same.
If you’re ever unsure of what might be going on with your truck, don’t take the risk of letting it turn into something major – call West Tech Mobile to get an expert opinion on how to keep your rig flowing smoothly when you need it. Use our contact page to get a hold of us by phone, email, or message, or even drop in to our shop at 22-5555 51 Ave SE in Calgary, Alberta!
Big trucks can mean big business – and with that can come some intense regulations that helps keep the drivers and the public safe. As technology gets better and more capable, regulations can change from year to year, and it’s in everyone’s best interest to keep up with the latest laws and equipment requirements.
As of January 12, 2018, new government regulations will come into effect regarding the presence and use of positive air shutdown systems in diesel engines. While these systems are already mostly in place for trucks that come into contact with atmospheric gaseous hydrocarbons, many of them are still either manually activated, or automatically reset after they have been used. The new rules target this specifically: only trucks and equipment that may come into contact with hazardous gaseous hydrocarbons will be required to have positive air shutdown systems, and furthermore, they must automatically activate in the event of an engine runaway and remain on until they are manually reset. All Class 2 & 3 chemical haulers must be equipped with RPM controlled manual reset positive air shutoff systems.
If you drive a unit with a diesel engine and work in an industry that has exposure to airborne hydrocarbons – like at a refinery, an oil rig or well, or a power plant - then these new regulations will affect you! Even if you don’t drive one of these vehicles yourself, you are likely in close proximity to them on these potentially hazardous job sites. These changes will help ensure that you, and everyone else at work, is safe while doing their job.
If you already have a positive air shutdown system in place, make sure to get it inspected and serviced regularly as part of your pre-trip checklist – and especially before you use your unit to transport hazardous and combustible materials. It’s much better to find the problem before it threatens your equipment and your life. If you don’t have one of the January 2018 compliant positive air shutoff systems already, you’ve found the right place!
At West Tech Mobile, we are COR-certified, which means we do everything to the highest standard of work. And when it comes to installing positive air shutdown systems in Calgary, we know how important it is to get it done flawlessly. We have an excellent relationship with an outstanding Alberta company, Headwind Solutions, which manufactures some of the best and most reliable systems you can find. We use their flagship product, the Shocker P.A.S.S., and we rest easy knowing that our customers are staying safe while they’re working to keep Alberta’s economy going – and we’re helping, since the systems are manufactured, built, assembled, and sold right here in Alberta. It’s always a bonus when we can help support our local community and the people of this great province.
So don’t be caught out in the cold this January! Book your diesel truck or equipment in for a positive air shutdown system installation at West Tech Mobile, and avoid government fines or unnecessary danger. If you can’t make it to our shop – well, that’s no problem, since we have a fleet of fully-equipped service trucks that will come to you! And if you have a system already, bring it in for inspection to make sure it’s up to the standards you’ll need next year. After all, since we’re COR-certified, we live up to the best safety and health standards you can find, and it shows! Get in touch today to avoid the big rush that’s sure to come in January. We are conveniently located at #22, 5555 51 Ave SE in Calgary, Alberta, or you can reach us by phone at 403-265-5699. We look forward to making you a repeat customer!
New requirement for automatic engine air intake shut-off devices on diesel engines (7.1 (j))CSA B621-14 requires automatic engine air intake shut-off devices on diesel engines used during loading or off loading. These devices are important in preventing engine runaway in case of exposure to flammable vapours that could lead to catastrophic engine failure which could provide the ignition source for a fire and/or explosion.
Have you ever gone to a workshop or a place of business, seen how it operates, and left feeling put off by the employees and their lax safety standards? We have. Whether it’s a messy and dirty work space, improper procedures, incorrect equipment, or just plain bad attitudes – an industry like ours is full of companies who don’t take their safety seriously. And that’s why here at West Tech Mobile, we’re committed to going the extra mile with our workers. We want them all to get home safe to their families at the end of the day, and to prove it, we are proud to show off our Certificate of Recognition (COR) from Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety department.
A COR is our way of saying we care about more than just the vehicles we work on – we care about our employees, our customers, and making sure our jobs are done right. We perform at the highest standards of safety, which is beneficial to our customers for many reasons, and ensures that every task, from an engine overhaul to a stuck lock replacement, is done with extra care and caution. When it comes to dangerous mechanical and repair jobs, with heavy equipment, moving parts, and specialized knowledge, that extra care really plays a huge part in getting the work done well.
We’re not just guessing, either. As a company that’s earned a COR in Alberta, we follow strict rules for every job, and take the time to properly analyze situations as needed. We have our basic safety courses and our certification for everything from operating equipment like service truck cranes or forklifts to doing first aid and putting a bandage on. We know how to treat hazardous materials and are up to date on WHMIS protocol. We are properly trained on safety procedures and PPE usage when we enter job sites to work on units – helping to prevent an Alberta OHS representative from handing down fines and penalties, which in turn, saves you money!
We’ve known for a long time that having a COR certification is in our best interests – it structures our company with health and safety on top, and shows any potential employees and clients that we are serious about it. It’s not something you can buy, either; it has to be earned. It takes an entire year, involves interviews with employees, and has a test at the end. It’s serious dedication, but we know that it is worth it for the long-term benefits.
So spend less time worrying about whether our technicians are trained to operate your equipment, whether they are current on their worksite safety, or whether they have the right tools and knowledge to be around your crews. All of our service trucks have first aid kits, hard hats, safety vests, fire extinguishers that are inspected monthly – all of our crews can do hazard assessments with your Health and Safety Officer, which results in less accidents – and all of this saves you time, because when your officer sees that we are as serious as they are, they are more likely to let us do the job you called us to do!
If you need work done on your heavy equipment, truck, work units, or other heavy-duty gear, West Tech Mobile is the place to go! Our COR is just one more reason why choosing us results in less headaches for you. After all, it doesn’t cost more to have a repair done by a COR-Certified shop… it costs less, because of all the reasons above!
For more information on COR, visit the Alberta government’s OHS and MHSA sites. For more information on West Tech Mobile in Calgary and how we can help you, give us a call at 403-265-5699 or visit our shop at #22, 5555 51 Ave SE – the feeling you get when you walk in will be a lot different from other shops!