The tried and true Eaton Roadranger can be significantly less expensive to recondition compared to some of the competitive AMT transmissions
At PowerTorque, we tend to focus on the latest improvements and innovations in transport, but, the fact is, there is a lot of older equipment out on the road that requires a level of maintenance and up-keep to maintain its viability. Even with regular servicing, there are still some major components that have a finite life. The constant pressure, heat and speed that these components are designed to work at is also the reason they must be well maintained and, eventually, replaced.
A great example of this is the gearbox of a heavy-duty truck. The forces that are put through a transmission are immense, with a huge amount of torque going in one end, and a huge weight trying to stop that torque at the other.
Even with a good driver at the helm, where driveline shock and abuse are less frequent, the innards of a transmission cop a hiding. Whether it be a manual, AMT, or a torque converter automatic, there will come a time when either a rebuild or replacement will be necessary. With the number of different manufacturers and models on the market, the cost of either option could vary greatly, not to mention the associated time off the road.
Not all AMTs are equal, and, as one operator told PowerTorque recently, “Service costs relating to a specific brand of AMT proved to be much higher than anticipated and resulted in our changing from outright purchase to contract maintenance. We also had a heap of problems in terms of wiring and other issues.
“The AMT was supposed to be driveline friendly, but we encountered continual problems caused by the transmission trying to change gears prematurely when driving over landfill. This caused durability problems that damaged tail shafts, universal joints and smashed yokes.
“The manufacturer changed programmes so they started in 1st gear, but it wasn’t a fix. We had been experiencing problems at 600,000-800,000 km. If we hadn’t controlled out costs they would have blown out. And it was unexpected cost.
“For an exchange AMT from that manufacturer we were looking at a cost of between $25,000 and $30,000. To counter this expense we changed all our transmissions to Eaton Roadranger gearboxes to achieve gains in durability. We know the Roadranger can do 1.6 million kilometres and a rebuild is $3500”.
With the Eaton Roadranger being the favoured heavy-duty transmission in Australia, and to find out more on how Eaton supports its product after it’s done a few hard yards, I caught up with Tom Nielsen, sales and marketing manager for Eaton Australia, at the company’s head office in Rowville.
“Depending on the application, utilisation and driving style, the life of a transmission will vary, obviously,” Tom said.
“With higher torque, higher GCM, and more uptime, it might wear quicker, so we don’t really set a time limit of when you should re-race or rebuild a transmission. Fleets and owners who are more proactive might have their own time frame, or they might look at oil analysis and say it’s showing up enough content that we should look at doing it. We don’t have a set window for it. Obviously, if they can monitor the transmission and do any maintenance before something breaks, that’s ideal.
“If it’s maintained properly, and driven decently, it’s going to live a long time and then even when you do a rebuild or a re-race you’re not necessarily replacing all of the transmission,” Tom continued. “You can get in, have a look at it, and reuse (some of the original componentry) so that, as an operator, you can have that repair that’s not going to send you broke”.
In terms of parts, Eaton offers a wide range of products ranging from single components to full rebuild kits, with Tom saying, “We’ve got service parts available part by part, gear by gear, or you can buy kits. The re-race kit is basically bearings, seals and gaskets, while the master rebuild kit covers more of the transmission – sliding dogs, sliding clutches, the gears, etc. Alternatively, you could replace the original unit with a fully remanufactured transmission. That’s obviously the most expensive, because we rebuild it with parts and labour here, but it means a better turnaround time. If the operator is busy, and can’t afford the downtime to rebuild it themselves, then you can put a ‘reman’ in just to get that truck turned around”.
The remanufacturing process is carried out on-site in Rowville, by a team of specialists based in the main warehouse building. This means they have easy access to parts, the correct tooling and years of experience in rebuilding the various models of transmissions coming through the door.
“We take a used transmission, clean it, strip and rebuild it. We basically put everything new back into it, so it’s almost like a new transmission in a used casing,” Tom said. “It’s all new, it’s all Eaton genuine parts, and it’s built by Eaton people. If there are design or product upgrades along the way, the latest stuff is always built into that, so you’re getting the latest current technology”.
There are other benefits that come with an Eaton remanufactured transmission, and, as Tom pointed out, “They’re all rebuilt and tested, spun through all the gears, and all the systems are tested to make sure the whole thing works properly. You also get the Eaton warranty on it, which is supported nationally through the authorised OEM national dealer network, so you get that peace of mind as well”.
The typical warranty on a remanufactured transmission is two years.
In most cases, the price of a remanufactured transmission is based on a changeover, and includes a core deposit, which is refunded once you send your old transmission back to Eaton. Your old transmission will then be remanufactured and sold on.
In the case of automated manual transmissions, the ECU, clutch actuator and X-Y shifter is removed from the used transmission and transferred to the new remanufactured transmission.
“The Ultrashift Plus reman is just the transmission with the sensors and electrical wiring, because the ECU is often programmed specifically for the application, and that often hasn’t worn out at the same time as the internal part of the transmission,” explained Tom.
“This means the shift profile and software remain unchanged, meaning the new transmission will perform in the way as the one it replaces,” he added.
As Tom pointed out, there are a few ways that a remanufactured transmission can be of benefit to an operator. “You could either send the displaced transmission back, and get your core deposit back, or you could buy out a reman transmission and keep it. So you forgo your core deposit, but then you’ve got a transmission on the shelf. Then when you swap a transmission out of a truck, you can buy the kits and rebuild it in your own workshop before putting it on the shelf and repeating the process”.
In terms of further cost savings, Eaton recommends looking at other components while the transmission is removed. Items such as the clutch and input shaft, also available as genuine Eaton spare parts, are easy to access during the transmission changeover process, and should be considered for replacement at the same time.
Extending the life of a new or remanufactured transmission is always important, and proper lubrication within the gearbox can play a big role in this. Eaton recommends the use of synthetic oil, on the grounds that it not only increases component life, but also has a longer service life than mineral oil. In fact, Eaton claims that oil drain intervals can be pushed out to 400,000 km through the use of synthetic oil, while still providing good protection to the components within the gearbox.
While the basic design of the twin-countershaft Eaton Roadranger has changed very little over the years, it still manages to provide a good, solid means of converting engine output into road speed. Eventually though, the time will come when any transmission needs some attention. Whether you do the work on it yourself, or, like my good self, lack the knowledge and know-how, Eaton has got it covered with its range of genuine parts and services.