A semi truck’s fifth wheel acts as the point of connection between the truck and its trailer. As such, the fifth wheel is one of the most critical components for both maneuverability and safety. Unfortunately, fifth wheels also tend to be one of the more neglected components of a trucker’s rig.
Unfortunately, those who fail to inspect and maintain their fifth wheel often end up facing aggravating — and potentially dangerous — problems. Operators must be proactive about proper maintenance. This article will help protect your truck from fifth wheel problems by outlining three crucial aspects of fifth wheel maintenance.
Lubrication is the most important thing you can do to ensure that your fifth wheel continues to function the way it should. A fifth wheel that lacks sufficient lubricant will experience above-average levels of friction. Such friction will affect the movement of your trailer, making it harder to maneuver in tight spaces.
A lack of lubricant will also cause both your fifth wheel and your trailer’s kingpin to wear down much more quickly than they should. Top plates will experience chafing and wear. Soon the jaw locks will begin to corrode. As such problems escalate, steering your vehicle will become more difficult.
Fortunately, you can keep such problems at bay by regularly lubricating your fifth wheel. A quality chassis grease manufactured by a reputable company makes the best form of lubricant. One exception exists to this rule, however. Chassis grease won’t work as well for those who operate in regions where wintertime temperatures frequently dip below 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
At such temperatures, the grease will lose its lubricating capabilities, causing your truck’s maneuverability to decrease. Trucks regularly exposed to severe winter weather should use heavy gear oil for their fifth wheel lubrication. While it won’t cling to the fifth wheel as tenaciously as grease, heavy gear oil retains its lubricating powers at virtually any temperature.
Although lubrication may be the key to prolonging a fifth wheel’s lifespan, lubrication can also be the cause of certain problems, especially for those who slap a new coat of grease on top of the old one. This practice tends to have an adverse effect on performance. The older grease will have broken down, making it less capable of providing quality lubrication.
Grease also tends to pick up a lot of contaminants as the grease ages. Dust, sand, and roadway grit become suspended in the grease. These contaminants increase the amount of friction exerted on your fifth wheel. Those substances will continue to cause wear unless the contaminated grease is thoroughly removed.
Old grease also poses problems when winter rolls around. The presence of contaminants lowers the freezing point of the grease. In colder temperatures, the grease will solidify and harden, impeding the free movement of various fifth wheel components.
To avoid problems, always remove old grease before lubricating a fifth wheel. Wipe away as much as you can using a clean, disposable cloth. Then use a degreaser to remove any lingering traces of grease.
Cleaning your fifth wheel prior to lubrication allows you to fulfill another key maintenance goal: inspection. You can’t get a good look at your fifth wheel when it’s covered in a layer of dirty grease. Once you have finished your degreasing, give your fifth wheel a thorough visual inspection.
Look for structural issues such as cracks and damaged or separated welds. Make sure your top plate is not missing any parts. Check the bracket pins for signs of wear or cracking. Finally, inspect your trailer’s kingpin and bolster plate for any signs of deformation. Ideally, the bolster plate should be perfectly flat.
Truck operators must be proactive about keeping their fifth wheel in good operating shape. For more information on what it takes to keep your rig running strong, contact the trucking industry experts at Godfrey Brake Service.