A Sure Thing

SBA Transport has enjoyed what could be an all-time record first run from a Meritor tandem drive assembly on a 14-year-old Kenworth cab-over doing linehaul duties. Until they were recently removed, the two carriers hadn’t been touched apart from oil changes at 400,000km intervals using fully synthetic oil.

Highlighting the outstanding durability of Meritor drive axles when used and maintained optimally, Melbourne-based SBA Transport operates a 2007 Kenworth K104B Aerodyne that has remarkably clocked 4.2 million kilometres on the original untouched differential carriers.

The prime mover has been consistently pulling a B-double set at close to maximum weights on the eastern seaboard for all of that time.

While there was no issue with the carrier, a crack in one axle housing necessitated its removal in order for the crack to be replaced.

What’s even more remarkable is that after the units were removed from the truck, disassembled and inspected by Meritor, the company’s Manager Field Sales and Service, Renzo Barone, declared that the components, after a full re-race, were fit for another life of service.

SBA Transport owner, Steve Brunskill, is no stranger to receiving spectacularly long service life from his transport equipment.

In fact, he doesn’t have a specific timeline for turning over his prime movers, instead preferring to maintain them well and employ drivers who look after them, therefore maximising the lifespan potential of each unit. Speaking about the ultra-impressive run he’s had from Meritor axles, Steve shares his view that there are two main reasons for this.

“For me it proves the value of only running fully synthetic oil in the rear axles; and it also proves that Meritor diffs are pretty damn good,” Steve says.

He adds that while this is the longest life-to-overhaul he has ever had from a diff, the run he’s had from Meritor diffs in general, since he started specifying them on his trucks in the mid-1980s, has been exceptionally good.

Not surprisingly, Steve says every new truck he buys now comes furnished with a Meritor tandem drive. Every good product needs an equally good service, support and backup team behind it and in the case of Meritor, Steve believes the assistance he’s received from Meritor and, in particular, Renzo Barone, is definitely something to write home about.

“The service backup I’ve received from Renzo is second to none – the guy is brilliant,” Steve enthuses. “Every time I’ve had an issue, without fail he’s been there to help me.”

Steve concedes that not every truck operator would be willing to run diff carriers for over four million kilometres before an overhaul, but on the other hand he sees it as a bit of a personal challenge to find out just what the superbly engineered and constructed Meritor products are actually capable of achieving.

“We initially wanted to see how far we could go with these diffs, so we kept taking regular oil samples and they indicated that the oil remained fine, so we kept pushing the envelope,” Steve says, acknowledging the Meritor drive axles are one element of a longevity package which also includes Kenworth trucks and Caterpillar engines.

“Our ideal products were traditionally Kenworth, Cat and Meritor, but unfortunately Cat engines are no longer available,” Steve says ruefully.

“So now we can choose either Cummins or Cummins when we buy our new Kenworths.”

Upon inspection the carrier parts laid out here were in good condition after 14 years of service.

Having said that, Steve mentions he also has a soft spot for Detroit Diesel’s venerable Series 60 engine, of which he has had a good number in the fleet since the early 1980s.

With a philosophy of keeping gear going as long as possible, it’s fitting that the oldest truck in the SBA Transport fleet that’s still in active service is a 1980 model Kenworth body truck. The oldest prime mover is a 1985 model Detroit-powered Kenworth SAR, while the second oldest is an ’89 model K100E.

Rounding out the trio of 25-plus-year-old prime movers is a Ford L9000 that was built in 1993. The latter two are powered by Detroit Series 60 12.7 litre engines.

“We also have a 1994 model Kenworth K100E cab-over still going strong on a regular linehaul B-double run between Melbourne and Brisbane,” Steve proudly relates.

“It’s been fitted with a new Series 60 14-litre engine and new gearbox and diffs but is still running the original cab it’s had from day one.” Steve explains that as long as he has drivers who want to drive and look after the older trucks he plans to keep rebuilding and maintaining them in tip top condition.

As for how he got started in the trucking game, Steve says he started working for his father in 1976, and at that stage there was just one prime mover and one trailer. From there Steve grew the business but now has reduced it to a far more manageable 18 prime movers and 40 trailers, most of which are curtainsided units.

“It’s quite a challenge finding good drivers these days, but we now have a good tight-knit team where everyone works well together,” says Steve. “We are fortunate to have a couple of good young drivers under 30 and most of the others range in age from 40s to 60s.”

The company specialises in transporting packaged and bulk dangerous goods and has been carrying batteries for the past 33 years. General freight makes up the remainder of the workload. Much of the business is linehaul in the triangle bounded by Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney while a smaller percentage is local and regional Victorian work.

“We’ve been up and down in this industry – it’s a tough old game,” he says. “But we’ve battled through and working with blokes like Renzo Barone makes it all worthwhile. When you have a problem he does everything he can to help you out.”

He adds that Renzo’s commitment and support over a long period of time has even extended to diagnosing problems that were of a more general nature.

As an example, Steve goes on to describe a time when he had a truck that was bumping and bouncing in the drive axles when turning corners.

“We looked all over this thing trying to find the cause and I was about to pull the diff out thinking that must be the problem,” Steve says.

“Anyway, at the last minute I decided to speak to Renzo about it and he told me it could be worn shock absorbers.

Sure enough, we replaced the drive shocks and bingo, no more bouncing axles.” As for the future of the business, Steve says he hopes to eventually pass the business on to his son just as his father handed it down to him.

At present Steve’s son is doing an apprenticeship as a motor mechanic which Steve believes should stand him in good stead further down the track.

Meanwhile, Steve reiterates that he is grateful for the quality and durability of the Meritor axles and drivelines he uses and the service and backup from the company when its needed.

“The backup service from Meritor and Renzo along with the outstanding durability of the products are prime reasons why I’ve stayed with Meritor over all these years,” he says.

“The proof’s in the pudding when you have a diff that’s done 4.2 million kilometres without having had a spanner put on it since it was first built.”

The Detroit-powered K100E.