With technology gaining ground every day we are seeing more computer systems included in vehicles than ever before. It's kinda obvious that this would happen after all, when Dunlop invented pneumatic tires their inclusion in every kind of vehicle imaginable would follow. Computer systems in four wheelers was an obvious step and now those bits of electronic genius are in Big Rigs too.
Ellen and I are still on our dedicated run between Laredo, Texas and Salem, Illinois. We are at home every weekend which is sweet for both of us but it means leaving early on either Sunday or Monday mornings depending on which week we are in. Today being a Sunday we left the house in Joplin nice and early to make a jump on the traffic. For some reason Sunday traffic is worse than Monday's and an on time delivery means being on the road by 0900 at the very latest.
We were on the Joplin Yard making sure our Truck was in proper working order by 0730 which was actually a little earlier than normal so we were pleased with ourselves. We were still hooked to our trailer because no maintenance had been required when we parked on Friday. That is not normally the case because we usually have something that isn't quite right when we come in for our weekend and like to stay on top of it.
The truck was fine so after checking oil levels I started the engine; Ellen was waiting by our car which contained all the stuff we would need for the week. It is our routine to bring the truck to the "wall" in Joplin which separates the private vehicles from the company equipment and load up.
Normally the truck's air system is low so I waited for it to charge. The normal warning was on the dashboard, "Transmission Air Low". After a while the warning cleared, the associated alarms silenced and I pulled out of the parking spot on my way to the wall.
The reader should understand that our truck has an automatic transmission which is not unlike that of a car in it's operation but a computer controls the gear changes which occur in exactly the same way as if the driver was using a clutch and shifting a regular system. This truck doesn't have a clutch pedal because the computer does it all. Sweet huh? Well it was but not this morning.
On the way to the wall the transmission kept dropping into Neutral and surging to try and find another gear. I figured that the transmission air wasn't quite up to the required pressure so I pressed on. I decided to shut the truck down while loading the weeks requirements and told Ellen, who would be driving out, about the problem. We restarted the truck and drove to the company scale, the issue was still present but again we thought it was the air pressure.
On the scale we checked that our weight was correctly distributed and having gone a little too far over it with the tandems, tried to back up a little. The transmission wouldn't go into reverse!
After trying a few times to gain reverse we decided to take it over to the shop and let the mechanics take a look. A good plan except that now we couldn't get it into a forward gear either.
We called "Road Service" and explained the problem. I was surprised that they suggested we try something involving tools instead of having a mechanic come to us from the shop.
Apparently there are two reasons this issue will come up in the Freightliner's Automatic Transmission. Firstly, if the driver hasn't bothered to drain the air tanks regularly - which we do on a weekly basis - and secondly the Computer in the Transmission needs to be rebooted. The latter involved disconnecting the batteries for 20 minutes to allow the computers to power down. Once reconnected all the computers in the truck, including the one in the transmission, would reboot.
I was skeptical but we didn't want to loose our load to someone else so muttering obscenities under my breath, I grabbed the necessary tools and went to work. I tried both options, disconnecting the batteries and draining the air tanks while waiting the 20 minutes.
Despite my doubts and possibly thanks to a Christmas wish; IT WORKED!!! So we are now on our way to Laredo!
My thanks of course to the guys in Road Service.
Here's one to remember then Gang. If you are in a Freightliner and suffer this issue you might try the same thing. It could have been fixed more easily if a disconnect switch was included in the truck. I have owned a Freightliner which had such a switch and was always turned off when parked for a few days. I never had an issue with restarting the truck when I returned to it either. My laptop will need a daily reboot although the new Windows operating systems are not supposed to need them. Somehow the Truck's computers are on all the time and work consistently - until this morning anyway.
There will never be a time when we don't have these electronic components in our vehicles and I suppose they are a good thing to have but I remember fondly the days when a diesel engine would run until it was out of fuel, even if the battery was dead, a fact that saved me from a road call a time or two. Ellen just reminded me that there was a time when all we had to do was ... Feed the Horse?