Equipment Type

When Emissions Technology Fails

February 09, 2012

Rod Sutton is editorial director of Construction Equipment magazine. He is in charge of editorial strategy and writes a monthly column for the magazine, The Sutton Report. He has more than 30 years in construction journalism, and has been with Construction Equipment since 2001.

In order to maintain the warranty on my furnace, I must pay $90 each year to have it inspected. I'm now down nearly $200, but it paid off last month when I had a warranty issue.

My thermostat flashed an alert telling me to call the service guy, probably similar to the alert that might be texted to a fleet manager with machines armed with telematics.

Upon inspecting the furnace, Lance told me there was a malfunction in the "electronics" and he had to replace what I can only describe as the "mother board." This 6 x 10-inch piece of plastic, resistors and solder controlled how the new-fangled, energy-efficient unit heated my house.

We're hearing similar stories regarding DPFs and other emissions add-ons, where engines are malfunctioning from fouled up fuel filters or DPFs that are not regenerating properly.

My furnace part (not including labor) would have cost me $650 if it hadn't been under warranty, which is just a couple hundred dollars less than my entire hot water heater cost to replace seven years ago.

I began to sense some of the angst that equipment managers are experiencing in regards to new-engine technology. If that two-year-old furnace had pinged me for $650, what am I looking at in 5 years, after the warranty expires? The previous, less-efficient, furnace lasted 18 years with nary a problem. I didn't inspect it every year, and it eventually wore out.

So what happens when a DPF or engine-control module fails? There is no way those components are going to outlast the iron in which they reside.

An equipment manager told me recently that he is right now engaged in warranty negotiations around a clogged fuel filter that allowed contaminated fuel to blow up the truck engine. The OEM is balking, blaming the fuel itself. The manager says the engine's filtration system malfunctioned.

Previous engines could bounce back from water in the fuel; this one couldn't. That fleet faces thousands of dollars in repair work, which may not be covered by the warranty, that it might not have faced with an older truck.

These issues are just beginning to surface. OEMs say emissions technologies work fine; fleet managers are right to be concerned about how the liability will be spread when they don't.

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