What Makes or Breaks an Engine Overhaul?
Modern machinery is an amazing thing. With thousands of years of experience in engineering behind us, we can mold a relatively small amount of metal into an amazing volume of horsepower and put it to specific uses. Not only that, but we can run our devices for hundreds of thousands of miles and expect them to work reliably.
However, even the most carefully designed and constructed machinery is going to need serious attention at some point. You can prolong the life of a heavy diesel engine, generator, or marine power unit with careful maintenance, but eventually you’re going to be looking at an overhaul. Otherwise the wear and tear on pistons and other moving parts could render your engines unreliable.
Anyone who has worked in a business that requires heavy machinery knows that budgeting time and money for engine overhauls is crucial. What many tend to overlook, though, is the importance of choosing the right vendor to take on the job. In truth, a rushed or botched overhaul can be worse than having none at all. They can cause you to lose your precious time and money without gaining much in return.
In today’s post we want to highlight a handful of details that can make or break a heavy engine overhaul. Missing out on any of them might cause you to wonder why you paid for the overhaul in the first place. With that in mind, let’s start with the obvious.
Training (and Certifications)
At the risk of stating the obvious, it’s worth pointing out that anyone who’s going to get near your heavy equipment should have the right training. This starts with the necessary certifications, of course, but it doesn’t end with a certificate on the wall. Having state-approved mechanics with manufacturer-directed support is just the first step.
Someone with a working knowledge of diesel engines, for example, might be able to find their way through small repairs. But to get through a job as big as an overhaul, you want someone to have training plus experience, a working knowledge of the latest tools, and (perhaps most importantly) the ability to spot potential problems that can come up along the way. In other words, you not only want someone who can follow the steps for an overhaul, but also to keep an eye out for strange wear patterns.
There is no better time to make small repairs or part replacements than when an engine is already disassembled and cleaned. The last thing you want is for an inexperienced technician to miss something less than obvious that could cause bigger issues down the line.
You might not be able to personally meet and interview every technician who is going to work with your diesel engine fleet. What you can do, though, is speak to supervisors and ensure that someone with the right training and experience will be performing (or at least overseeing) the process.
There are plenty of companies out there that will promise you an engine overhaul for an unimaginably low price. It can be tempting to save a bit of money, but before you do ask yourself why someone would offer to do professional work below market rates. Are you really going to get the skills and attention of a properly trained, certified, and experienced mechanic… or are you going to regret the decision to let them work on an expensive engine later?
From the customer’s end of things, it might seem as if an engine overhaul is scheduled and then performed in a couple of weeks without any forethought. However, behind the scenes there is a great deal of planning that should take place.
What kind of planning do you need to overhaul something like a diesel or marine engine? At a minimum, the team you’re working with will have to schedule the right technicians (see the point above) and free them for working on the project. They also need to set aside working space, stock up on tools and the needed replacement parts, and ensure they can proceed without any major interruptions for as much time as needed.
Even beyond that, someone working on a heavy engine overhaul will want to review previous logbooks and service records. They should be interested in other maintenance that has been performed, as well as any reoccurring issues that seem to arise repeatedly – either with the specific unit in front of them or from the product type as a whole.
And finally, most business shops will have a process they follow for all engine overhauls. This could include, for instance, having a second set of eyes on important parts or procedures to ensure that no one overlooks something crucial.
From the outside, all of this might seem excessive. In many ways, though, performing an engine overhaul is the mechanical equivalent to open heart surgery. And even though lives might not be on the line, hundreds of thousands of dollars almost certainly will be.
Again, you might not check into your vendor’s engine overhaul strategy directly, but you should be able to figure out whether they are taking a detailed-oriented approach to their work. At the very minimum, you should find out whether they perform enough overhauls to have a well-thought-out process they can follow again and again.
Although we have already noted the importance of parts in performing an engine overhaul, it’s worth going into a bit more detail. That’s because the availability of components – and the knowledge to choose the right ones to begin with – is so crucial to the maintenance of any piece of capital machinery.
At the most basic level, an engine won’t perform as needed without the right parts. And during an overhaul, there are some pieces that may require replacement to stay in line with manufacturers’ suggestions. And of course other parts might have become too worn over time to be relied upon.
In a perfect world your vendor will have sourced all of these items before the overhaul begins. However, to stay with our surgical analogy, complications are inevitable. It’s very likely that your technicians will discover something within your machinery that they didn’t expect. And so, they might need more or different parts than originally anticipated.
For a busy shop with the right supplier connections this won’t be a problem. They can often secure components on a same-day basis, allowing work to continue. However, a team of mechanics who only perform occasional overhauls, or aren’t familiar with certain types of engine, might not have the same resources or supply chains. As a result, important pieces could go missing for days or even weeks.
Any delay in sourcing parts from your vendor is going to affect your own operations and profitability. So, it’s incumbent upon you to work with someone who doesn’t just understand the type of engine you rely upon but also can track down any parts or tools that might be needed very quickly. Functionally, that means choosing a maintenance partner that handles enough volume to order in bulk and maintain relationships with the biggest parts suppliers.
If you think about the points we have laid out so far as a whole, you might begin to notice a trend emerging: that performing a major diesel engine overhaul is as much about organization as it is execution. That certainly includes scheduling certain aspects of the job.
At the risk of stating the obvious, your vendor should work with you to set aside a planned time for the overhaul itself. They should give you an idea of how long the process will take and be confident they can complete the work within that window and return your truck or boat to you in ready-to-use condition.
In order to do that they’ll have to make sure they have open bays to work with. And, they’ll have to have employees who can perform the overhaul available to work during those days and hours. They’ll also have to plan for the availability of parts and tools, as mentioned, so that everything can flow smoothly. And then, they’ll need to coordinate each of these without needing to rush the job or cut any corners.
This can be a taller order than you might imagine. And once again, busy shops with lots of experience will have written and computerized processes to follow. But those that handle only occasional overhauls might struggle to keep up with details, particularly if you have a large fleet. They might quote low prices or quick turnaround times, but these won’t prove to be realistic in the long run.
Your vehicles and generators are an important part of your operational setup. Having them be unavailable for longer than planned is going to cost you money and lead to lots of problems in the long run. With that in mind, you should prioritize the ability to schedule and maintain good organization when looking for the right team to work with.
While some might treat follow-up service on an engine overhaul as an afterthought, we think it’s one of the biggest determinants of success. That’s because it can be difficult to tell how effective the procedure has been in the immediate aftermath. Certainly, compression tests and other measurements can give you a starting point, but ultimately reliability and performance are what matter most.
In other words, it doesn’t matter what a report says after an engine overhaul – what you really need to know is how well your vehicles will perform in the months and years to come. Will they be as reliable as before? Will they need service more quickly than expected? And what sort of costs or delays will be incurred if they do?
Ideally, you’ll want to work with a maintenance partner who can complete a thorough overhaul, provide you with performance guarantees, and provide mobile service to back up those claims. And, it’s even better if they can keep your machinery running by following the recommended manufacturer’s guidelines.
Unfortunately, not every shop adheres to this set of ideals. Some perform engine overhauls as quickly as possible and don’t think about ongoing maintenance. Others can work with you locally but won’t be available to step in if you have problems later when your team is on the road.
As you can probably guess, these are all symptoms of prioritizing short-term budgets or schedules over long-term performance. Your best bet, and the way to maximize your investment, is to find a trusted team of diesel engine technicians with a long track record of dependability. That doesn’t just minimize the chances you’ll need unplanned service; it also means you can get your operations moving forward again quickly when you do have unforeseen problems.
No overhaul is perfect, and every experienced mechanic knows that even the best-maintained engines are going to need unplanned service from time to time. The question is whether your vendor is going to have the willingness and capacity to back up their work when you need them most.
Do You Know Where to Turn for Expert Engine Overhauls?
A properly overhauled engine can run like new and extend the life of your truck or boat by many years. Anything less than that is a waste of time and money.
Why not trust your heavy capital equipment to the team with the right skills, training, and reputation? At Valley Power we don’t just have technicians who can work with several leading brands, but also a history of five-star reviews that goes back for decades.
If you have questions about engine overhauls, diesel equipment, or other business and industrial power needs, then we invite you to contact us today and speak with a member of our friendly and knowledgeable team. It won’t take long for you to see why we are the top choice for so many business owners and executives throughout California and the American West.