Tips from Long-haul Truckers

Between me and Mike Smith, we’ve been bangin’ away at this column for more than 30 years now. I remember in 1980 it paid for my first typewriter a used Underwood Five I bought from a college bookstore for $75.

That was before Bill Gates borrowed an idea he later called Windows from a fella named Steve Jobs. Jobs had invented a new kind of typewriter he called a word processor. He developed it into a personal computer, which he named after a piece of fruit. EMS borrows ideas from smart people all the time.

At least half a dozen Tricks installments have proposed easier ways to clean ambulances. I know, Life-Saver, you got into EMS so you could help people, not wash trucks. Anybody can wash trucks, right? None of your certs says a thing about washing trucks, and not one class you took to get them said anything about washing trucks. Am I right?

Well, washing trucks is part of our job. Doesn’t matter where you go, you work in a truck. And trucks get dirty. The driver of that Corolla stopped next to you at your very last intersection doesn’t know the difference between hypertension and hyperbole. But they looked at that immaculate rig of yours, recalled how long it’s been since the last storm, and formed an impression of your medical expertise. You can bet on it.

None of which means you have to spend the rest of your life immersed in what Jim Croce once called “them steadily depressin’, low-down, mind-messin’, workin’-at-the-car-wash blues.”

Every ambulance you ever work in can have a shiny hiney, and you can make that happen in less than 20 minutesÆ’even if you do drive the Big Rigs. In fact, for most of that time, your hands won’t even have to be wet. See, it’s not about suds. It’s about smarts. Try some of these ideas. They come from long-haul truckersÆ’real rig-washers. They get paid by the mile, not by the hour. Like us, they’re expected to make their equipment look as good as possible. But they don’t have a lot of time to spend washing trucks. Next time you get near an interstate truck stop, pull in for a few minutes, grab a sandwich and watch those guys at work.

For one thing, there’s a big difference between dusty and dirty. When you go a whole shift without turning a wheel, soap and a hose are probably the wrong tools for the job. Instead, try using a truck duster. It looks like a dust mop, because that’s what it is. You can get one at a truck stop or an auto parts store for about 10 bucks. One brand, called “The California Duster,” contains something like sweeping compound so it picks up dust. It also has a long handle so you can reach the gutter line on a Type III ambulance without a ladder.

If your ride is too dirty to dust, of course you need to wash it. But once again, learn from the masters. Here are some tips from truckers:

When your vehicle’s dirty, don’t just hose it off. Wash it with soap. That lifts grease and dirt off the surface, instead of forcing you to scrub it, and thus damage the paint. But you don’t need a lot of soap; half an ounce in three gallons is plenty. And no matter what you do, rinse it before the soap has a chance to dry. Otherwise, it’ll increase in concentration as the water evaporates out of it and attack your paint.

Never wash a vehicle in direct sunlight, unless the temperature is 60 degrees or below. Especially if the hood is hot to the touchÆ’ that’s just asking for paint damage.

Avoid spraying cold water on a hot windshield. Especially if you already have dings in the glass; it can cause or worsen cracks.

Use special caution with decals. They’re even easier to damage than paint.

Generally, if you can’t wash an ambulance in the shade or under cover, try to do so in the cool of the early morning or early evening. Then, after you rinse it, drive it around the block a couple of times to eliminate excess water. That can mean less drying time and fewer towels.

If you use ArmorAll on your tires, apply it after you clean your glass. Otherwise, you won’t be able to avoid streaking the windows. Also, ArmorAll is bad for brake pads. So try to avoid spraying it through the air vents in your wheels.

Lastly, try to use a low-viscosity liquid aerosol wax product (like Turtle Wax Express) to keep your paint soft and your chrome looking sharp. It’ll make future wash jobs much easier, especially after bad weather. JEMS

This article originally appeared in November 2009 JEMS as “Trucker Tricks: Tips from long-haul truckers.”

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