Ask Ernie – ”The Apparatus Maintenance Expert”

We have been dealing with rusting, corrosion, and deterioration of metals on our fire apparatus due to what we believe and know to be road salts and ice/snow road chemical treatments. What can be done to help our fleet with corrosion issues?

This is a two-sided approach to the issue for those of you that are saddled with areas of chemicals used on the roadways during freezing conditions, snow, and ice.

The first addresses apparatus already manufactured and in use. These units need to be continually washed under the chassis components to remove as much of the accumulated chemicals as possible. Any “bare” metals with attached salts/chemicals will start an accelerated deterioration of the metal through an oxidation process. Staying ahead of the issue is problematic. Where rusting of steel is found, lose or flaking rust should be chipped away and then coated with a marine product by 3M or others that is known through the industry as a “rust converter.” This will turn the rust into a polymer, which will not continue to rust.



There are many other brands on the market that can encapsulate the undercarriage in some fashion or another. What is known about the salts/chemicals used to mitigate slippery road conditions continues to be an issue even after the season is over. The salts that remain on the chassis attract moisture from the air and continue to be an aggressive oxidizer. Get the stuff washed off. Aluminum corrosion is another issue. The salts attacking aluminum must be washed and scrubbed off. There are also many products on the market that coat over the corrosion areas. Look at it this way, if the paint is chipped and you can see metal at the chip area, road salts will find that exposed metal and attack it.

This leads me to part two of the equation. When specifying new apparatus, think the issue through and think about corrosion prevention measures specifications that can include fully galvanized aerial devices, fully galvanized frames and cross-members. Stainless steel or full poly bodies are popular. Both items are proactive and preventative measures can be found at several manufacturers.

And, of course, with these winter conditions in force, for goodness sakes, slow down. Be careful to arrive at the site of the response.

I have found a crack in the cab, below the windshield center bar and at the top area of the “A” and “B” pillars. What would you do and how do I proceed?

Without more specific information as to age of the apparatus and other contributing factors I offer this: I recommend that you now go under the cab and take a look at the supporting substructure of the cab. You should look at bulging of the engine house panels and for cracked welds there. The source of your cracking issues could all be related to cab substructure issues; especially where the hinge pins are located and the upper lift cylinder attachment area. It may be that the cracks you see are a result of other root causes in the lift support system. That root cause could be the improper cab raise procedure. Once the cab has reached the point where the single safety bar drops into place, STOP. Do not lower the cab onto the safety bar. Doing so creates wracking stress on the cab and lift system and substructure by holding the cab in the up position on only one side. The opposing side is no longer holding the cab up and will wrack (flex). This flexing/wracking issue creates damage to the substructure and cab, and the damage is cumulative. It can build to the point of catastrophic cab failure.

Make sure to train your driver/operators to raise the cab until the safety bar drops onto the cylinder and then STOP. This ensures that the cab is being held in the up position equally on both sides minimizing the possibility of cab and substructure wracking and/or failure. Coordinate any findings with the manufacturer.

Important notes:

If the cab is loaded with substantial gear, equipment, medical supplies etc., make sure you check with the manufacturer to ensure that the cab lift system and design is capable of raising the cab with all the gear in place, or if the items should be removed from the cab prior to raising. Know the weight of all the equipment in the cab before contacting the manufacturer. Is there printed material in the operations manual limiting the weight in the cab?

If the cab “drifts” down onto the safety bar, there is an issue with the holding valve of the lift system — usually due to contaminated hydraulic fluid. The lift’s hydraulic system should be drained and flushed and a new holding valve installed. Make sure the maintenance of the lift system calls for hydraulic fluid replacement at the time of the annual service. If there is an issue with changing the lift system fluid annually, at least have a sample of the hydraulic fluid sent to spectrochemical analysis to ensure it’s within operational standards. This will tell the tale of whether the fluid is in an acceptable condition, or not. With all this info you will still need to contact the manufacturer with associated pictures of the cracks to get a determination of a plan of action to correct the cab cracking issues.

What is going on with all these new oils that will be needed for new diesel engines? Am I going to have to make major changes in operations to ensure that different and specific oils will be placed in all diesel engines? Are the oils reverse engineered to be used with the previous API rated oils?

I cannot speak any more succinctly than this article from API:

WASHINGTON, March 2, 2016 — The American Petroleum Institute (API) announced that it has approved two new diesel engine oil standards, API Service Categories CK-4 and FA-4. These new categories resulted from years of collaborative effort between API’s Lubricants Group, the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association (EMA) and the American Chemistry Council (ACC).

“API has established engine oil quality standards since the 1940s, and these new standards are intended to help protect today and tomorrow’s diesel engines,” said Kevin Ferrick, API Senior Manager of Training and Certifications. “Our new engine oil standards are developed to protect engines, meet new government regulations and ensure engine oil performance.”

These new service categories improve upon existing standards by providing enhanced protection against oil oxidation and protection against engine wear, particulate filter blocking, piston deposits and degradation of low- and high-temperature properties.

API is now preparing to license engine oils against these new standards. Several items related to licensing are worth noting:

  • API CK-4 and FA-4 will first appear in the API Service Symbol “Donut” on December 1, 2016. This delay in licensing allows marketers time to test their new formulations and ready them for market.
  • Most truck manufacturers recommending API-licensed CJ-4 engine oils will likely recommend truck owners start using licensed API CK-4 oils as soon as they are available. API CK-4 oils will better protect today’s diesel engines.
  • API FA-4 oils, however, are different. The FA-4 standard describes certain lower viscosity oils specifically formulated for use in select high-speed four-stroke cycle diesel engines designed to meet 2017 model year on-highway greenhouse gas (GHG) emission standards. Some engine manufacturers might recommend API FA-4 oils for their previous model-year vehicles, but it is more likely that manufacturers will recommend the oils starting with the 2017 model year engines.

For more information concerning API CK-4 and FA-4, please visit

API is the only national trade association representing all facets of the oil and natural gas industry, which supports 9.8 million U.S. jobs and eight percent of the U.S. economy. API’s more than 650 members include large integrated companies, as well as exploration and production, refining, marketing, pipeline, and marine businesses, and service and supply firms. They provide most of the nation’s energy and are backed by a growing grassroots movement of more than 30 million Americans.

(Disclaimer:  Uncle Ernie does not sell any product and is simply the purveyor of available information.)

— Ernie questions answered by
Anthony D. (Tony) Bulygo.

Have A Question About

An Issue On Your Truck?

“Ask Ernie” The Expert

Call: 866.761.1292 ext. 106

or e-mail:

Contact Us

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.