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Podcast Interviews

3 Things You Need to Know About Diesel Emissions Systems

Learn the 3 things you need to know about maintaining and repairing your diesel emissions systems to maximize uptime.

Episode 121: One of the largest costs affecting fleets right now is managing and maintaining their diesel emissions systems. However, if you operate a commercial vehicle with a diesel engine, there are 3 things you need to know to maximize uptime, and lower costs.  

In this episode, my guest is Joel Christianson, President at American Radiator. He has worked in the heavy-duty truck industry for 40+ years and is the man who can help us maintain and repair our diesel emissions systems.

American Radiator logo, a company that is helping the trucking industry with diesel emissions systems.

To learn more about American Radiator visit RadiatorPros.com.

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Complete Transcript of Episode:

Jamie Irvine:

You’re listening to The Heavy-Duty Parts Report. I’m your host, Jamie Irvine. And this is the show where you get expert advice about heavy-duty parts that keep trucks and trailers on the road longer while lowering cost per mile.

If you operate a commercial vehicle with a diesel engine, then there are three things you need to know about maintaining that diesel emission system. And those three things are what we’re going to talk about today. As well we’re going to hear about a great company that has an excellent story from somebody who’s been in the industry a very long time.

So this is the episode for you if you’re interested in learning more about maintaining your diesel emission system. My guest is Joel Christianson, president at American Radiator. He’s worked in the heavy-duty industry now for 41 years, and he’s the man who can help us with maintenance and repair questions about our diesel emission systems. And also of course about our cooling systems, but we’re going to focus on diesel emission systems today.

Joel, welcome to The Heavy-Duty Parts Report. So happy to have you here.

Joel Christianson:

Thank you. I enjoy it. I think you’re doing some great things out there and I look forward to some of the opportunities in the future.

Jamie Irvine:

I really appreciate that. And honestly, you know, this would be a very, very tough show to produce as an interview show if I didn’t have great guests like you. So without people like you it just wouldn’t work. Hey, let’s get right into this subject that we’re talking about today.

We’re here to talk about diesel emission systems. It’s a subject that comes up repeatedly on my show because it’s a subject that our audience wants to always learn more about. So let me ask you, what do vehicle owners really need to understand about their diesel emission systems?

Joel Christianson:

They need to understand that in my opinion, is an education on how the system works. I believe in the same filter for the same truck, or car, that fits that situation. And that also most failures that are DPF related are upstream problems that they need to look farther into it.

Jamie Irvine:

All right. So let’s go into some detail here. So basically it’s three things, that you need to educate yourself about the system you want to replace like for like parts and you also want to explore upstream issues, really find a root cause. So let’s break that down one at a time. Why is there a need for that educational component? Why is there such a lack of education in the industry 15 years into our diesel engines having these systems?

Joel Christianson:

I don’t know if I’d say it’s a lack of education. In my opinion, it’s a lot of things have changed. They’re changing so rapidly that you got to stay on top of the current cleaning methods, the current technology, I mean, it’s just changing so fast as the technology advances, what worked six months ago, doesn’t work today.

Jamie Irvine:

It reminds me of when I was a kid and computers were first out and every six months, you needed to buy a new computer because it was changing so much. Even in the last few years, since 2016, when I came back into the trucking industry and got back involved in heavy-duty parts, I was surprised in many ways how a lot of things hadn’t changed.

And yet since I’ve gotten back in the industry, you’re right, every year, there’s this acceleration of technology and changes to equipment. And also just the requirements for service repair shops and vehicle owners, it’s a lot to keep up with.

So I see how it may be, not be a lack of education, but really just keeping up is a challenge. You’ve probably dedicated a fair amount of resources towards educating your customers.

Joel Christianson:

Yes, we believe it’s the biggest factor and making sure, you know, they’re getting the right education, we’re offering a proper repair procedures or cleaning procedures for the filters. It all ties hand in hand. And we learn from our customers every day, too.

There’s times that we’ll walk into a shop and they’ll say, oh, did you see this new bulletin? And you read through it. And it’s like, okay, we’ve got to adapt and overcome and make some changes to what we’re doing.

Jamie Irvine:

That makes a lot of sense. So when you say the filter, you take off as the filter, you should put back on a, like for like part, are we talking about the difference between will fit and exact fit? Like what exactly do you mean there?

Joel Christianson:

I’m talking about longevity of a filter. You know, if a fleet has 200 trucks and there’s four model years that that filter fits from, let’s say 2015 to 2020, well, if they pull one out of a truck that has 150,000 miles on its first cleaning, take the one off the shelf, the side of a four-year-old truck, that’s got 400,000 miles on it.

And that truck now gets a filter and it gets traded six months later with a year old filter or a year and a half, whatever their intervals are. And now we’ve got a truck we’re going to keep for four more years, it’s got a four-year-old filter in it. So you’re going to be buying a filter for that truck sooner than expected. So it’s hard for them to figure out their cost per mile.

Jamie Irvine:

Okay, well now you got my attention because cost per mile, lowering that cost per mile is what this show’s all about. That kind of makes me think of not that distant past, there was a big push on what they called reman. And one of the issues of course was if you give up your filter, then you don’t know the history of the filter you’re getting back. Is that really what we’re talking about?

Joel Christianson:

You don’t know if that filter you’re getting was 90% used or, you know, it could go both ways. You could get a six-month-old filter or a four-year-old filter, but it solved the biggest problem at the time was it was faster than sending the filter up to be cleaned and so many fleets go around on downtime basis.

Also that they were taking that into factor, taking the one off the box, but the truck and you’re going two hours later instead of the next day or possibly the day after that.

Jamie Irvine:

Yeah. Balancing that need for uptime with the total cost of operation and the cost per mile down the road. It’s a constant battle. And that third point that you brought up about really identifying the root cause.

I mean, that is the source of most of the people’s complaints about diesel emission systems in my opinion. It’s a failure to identify those root causes. And so, you know, the customer is just throwing money at the problem, replacing parts, but they’re not replacing the right parts or they’re not addressing the core issues and that’s causing an increase in costs.

Is that been your experience and is that why you put that as number three on our list?

Joel Christianson:

Yeah. And a lot of it is, you know, you get the call from the customer. I just had that filter cleaned two weeks ago. Now it’s plugged again, the filters junk. In reality, the filters plugged and it stopped the carbon from passing through. So it did its job.

Now there’s a possibility to coating was gone, you know, and it wouldn’t burn, but more than likely they missed an upstream problem. And it caused the filter to, to plug again and getting that information out to the customer on, you know, what to look for and how to do it has been a big part of what’s been successful for us.

Jamie Irvine:

So what’s at stake if vehicle owners don’t get these three things right?

Joel Christianson:

Well, some of the larger fleets that we do business with, is let’s say that filter fails on them halfway between delivery point. Not only do they have more expenses than downtime, unless they have a power unit close, now, they also got a late delivery.

In today’s age, late deliveries, that’s a critical factor that they can’t put up with. So they risk their on-time delivery rate if they have too many failures on the road.

Jamie Irvine:

So one of the things I remember selling parts as talking to fleets and the owners of the fleets would often say to me, I’m not in the repairing truck business or truck and trailer business. I am in the delivery of, you know, whatever they did, that’s the business I’m in. And you know, I have to fix my trucks, of course, to succeed in that business, but it’s not where our expertise lies.

And so it’s a real struggle for fleets today, especially going back to that point that you brought up about how quickly things are changing for them to keep up. So they need to rely on companies like yours to provide them with that support.

Joel Christianson:

It’s a give and take for sure. It’s a great industry to be in. And, you know, the opportunities that come to teach and to learn has been critical for us.

Jamie Irvine:

We’re going to take a quick break. We’ll be right back.

This episode is sponsored by DPFXFit a manufacturer of DPFs and DOCs that offer OEM durability and performance with aftermarket affordability. To learn more, go to DPFXfit.com.

Before the break, we were talking to Joel about the three things you need to know about diesel emission systems and what’s at stake. And now I’d like to learn a little bit more about American Radiator.

So Joel, you haven’t always been in the diesel emission systems business as the name of your company indicate. So can you tell us the story of how you got the company started and where did your company get it’s start and how did you get from there to being involved in diesel emission systems?

Joel Christianson:

Yeah. Origination goes clear back to 1976. My partner Dave Johnson opened a radiator repair shop. I went to work for him in 1980 and basically the trucking industry is going through now what the car industry went through back in the eighties, as far as electronics, emissions and sensors and things like that. And we started losing customer base to new replacements and faster parts.

So we grew the radiator side of it as well as a repair side into distribution facility for heavy-duty radiators, charge air cooler, air condition, condensers, you know, things that we were very familiar with.

And when the emissions market came around, it was a good fit. You know, we’re pretty good at anything that transfers heat, air, water, or oil, and it just was a natural fit for us. And we’ve progressed into what it is today.

Jamie Irvine:

So speaking of that progression, if you’re looking back on over four decades of work in this industry, what were the things that really helped you get to where you are today? If you could narrow it down to a couple core things, what was it that helped you build the company to where it is today?

Joel Christianson:

Our employees. We’ve always seemed to be able to hire really quality people that have been willing to go the extra mile to get things done. Attending a lot of trade show meetings, making sure that we stay on top of proper repair procedures for radiators.

You know, NARSA has been great for us, all the people in the industry and us not being afraid to say, we don’t know what we’re doing and ask for help. I mean, that’s probably the biggest thing is we’ll do whatever it takes to get the information, to do the job, right?

Jamie Irvine:

Yeah. We had Mark Taylor on the show recently, introducing The Heavy-Duty Parts Report audience to the NARSA trade association. So I’m glad you brought that up at the end of the day. I remember when I started in the industry, my mentor said, Jamie, this is a people business. It’s always going to be a people business.

And it sounds to me like whether, like you said, whether it’s employees or supply networks or just other great people in the industry, without asking for that help and being willing to learn and to surround yourself with great people, it’s pretty hard to succeed.

Joel Christianson:

Yeah. I agree a hundred percent, you know, the networking and the contact base that we have here is unbelievable. And we’re always willing to sharing information. We have to anybody that reaches out rather than they’re a customer or not, we just believe in information. That’s good for everybody, even if your competition has it.

Jamie Irvine:

So we love to celebrate success. And I mean, I love to talk about the things I’ve done that I’m proud of, but sometimes we learn a little bit more from some failures that we’ve had. Could you tell us a story of a time when things didn’t go as planned and what you learned from it?

Joel Christianson:

American Radiator opened in 2001 before I merged with my partner today. And I would say the biggest failure I’ve made in my career was trying to do what everybody else was doing and worry about what they were doing. And that would always put me in a number two situation, you know, when I found our own way and had our own vision, things turned around and have done very well for us.

You know, I feel we lead the industry in a lot of ways, but you still get the competitor that comes out here and sneaks in your back door. And I mean, that’s what’s made it fun. It’s made a challenging, and it’s just an enjoyable business to be in, but probably to sum it up was driving our own vision was what’s helped the most,

Jamie Irvine:

That really resonates with me. I know what The Heavy-Duty Parts Report we’ve tried to be out in front and try to innovate and be a leader. It’s not always easy. And sometimes I have to be very careful. I started looking at, you know, metrics and if I was to compare myself to someone else, it’s not a fair comparison because we’re coming from different places.

We’ve got different experiences. And really at the end of the day, our organization is unique and we can provide the industry something. And if somebody else is going to try to do something similar, well, there’s usually enough business out there for everyone.

But I think that thing that distinguishes you the most and gets people to react to you and, and want to do business with you is when they see that you don’t sound and look like everyone else. If you act like everyone else, you’re going to get treated like everyone else. And that’s not a good position to be in.

Joel Christianson:

One thing I always try to let our employees know, and I try to remember myself also, is if you’re in business today you have to have a competitive price and you have to have good service. So you have to take it to the next level on top of that, because that’s, you know, that’s just an average business anymore, it’s a great service and a great price.

You have to go above and beyond that and do things on the backside and after the sale and, you know, and follow up and things like that. And I think that’s where we really shine is our commitment to the customers.

Jamie Irvine:

Oh, you’re now speaking my language. I’ve often asked people, why should people do business with you instead of your competitors? And you’re not allowed to say years of experience, quality products, competitive pricing, and fast delivery or good service. Those are barriers to entry into this business. If you don’t do those things, you’re not going to be in business very long.

So what would you say then has helped you to really stand out? You kind of listed a few things on service, but if you were to kind of sum it up into one or two things, what were those one or two things that you did that really allowed you to be head and shoulders above others?

Joel Christianson:

We have utilized a lot of our vendors to be honest with you. And, you know, we have open houses, bringing people in for educational seminars on the newest emission updates that we have, product line introductions, but probably the biggest thing that we’re different than anybody else on is we’re still a fairly small company and it’s easy to go left or right. You know, if water changes a little bit, we can adapt in a half hour where it takes some companies weeks.

We tend to be a little bit more liberal with our warranties, and help a guy out. You know, if he picks up a new DPF and it goes, and it fails two blocks down the way cause he got in a wreck or hit something most of the time we’ll cover something like that, just in good faith to let them know that we do want to work with you and you know, we’re here for a long haul.

Jamie Irvine:

Well, I appreciate anyone that has that attitude because the trucking industry is the backbone of society. And I remember one time when I was selling parts, we covered a transmission warranty and it was like the third time the transmission had failed.

There was clearly something going on and you know, the guy had been working with us to try to solve the problem. It wasn’t entirely his fault. And I remember when we finally made the decision to cover that warranty, his wife passed on a message that just said, thank you so much, it was so much stress on us, and our family, trying to take care of our little kids and have this big bill over our head.

And that made me realize, you know, it’s not just about business. It’s about people and their families. And when we all come together, the trucking industry supports the society in a larger way. So it’s pretty important to have that. And I think, I think in the long run, it doesn’t ever cost you money does it?

Joel Christianson:

I’m a firm believer that it makes you money. If a customer’s happy, he may tell one or two people, I don’t know what the exact number is, but if he’s unhappy, he’ll tell a hundred. I mean, it’ll go on for days and weeks, he’ll have a bad memory forever. And we try and stop that. I mean, there’s a point in there where you have to say no, but very seldom do we get there.

We do whatever we can to make it right. We’re one of the few companies in the industry that I know of and I could be corrected, but we actually pay labor claims. You know, if the gentleman puts a product in or a customer and it fails at warranty time we negotiate a fair settlement with them so they can get back up on their own and get going and don’t have to pay for it towards,

Jamie Irvine:

We’re going to take a quick break. We’ll be right back.

This episode is sponsored by DPFXFit a manufacturer of DPFs and DOCs that offer OEM durability and performance with aftermarket affordability. To learn more, go to DPFXfit.com.

We’re back from our break. And before the break, it was really great to hear Joel’s perspective and how they’ve grown their company and the things, the values that really underpin their success.

And, you know, as we were just coming up to the break, we were talking about how important it is to support the trucking industry. Joel, we’ve talked already about how fast things are changing. When you look to the future, where do you see the biggest opportunity for a company like yours?

Joel Christianson:

It’s going to be autonomous trucks. And of course hybrid trucks or full electric trucks. I’m very excited about what’s coming in the future. You know, we’re looking at batteries. And some of the things we’re seeing is there’s going to be cooling plates between each cell in the battery. Well, we’re already repair facility for cooling products, so it should be a good blend for us.

And you know, my biggest excitement for me is thinking about the time when a truck pulls into our parking lot to pick up a part and there’s nobody in it, you know, are we going to have a robot that goes out and throws that part on the truck for them? Or, you know, just getting that all figured out and what’s coming. It should be very interesting, 2027 from what I’m reading Navistar we’ll have the first completely autonomous truck. The technology’s there now, but it’s just getting into the mainstream. So we’re very, very excited about that.

Jamie Irvine:

Your excitement is not necessarily shared by a lot of people in the industry. There’s a lot of fear. I think really when we look at 5G and we look at what that will do for telematics autonomous vehicles, this is the thing that is really going to open the door for all of the possibilities.

And I love what you said about how you’re already in the cooling business so you’re looking at these new technology opportunities to be able to pivot your business as necessary. It makes me think of how important that vision is for the company.

You know, when you think about the railway companies of the 19th century, the 1800s, when they went into the 20th century, the 1900s, and all of a sudden, you know, there’s airplanes and there’s these big ocean-going vessels like the railway companies, their mission was just to connect people and things across this great country.

They should have been able to easily adapt and they should have become the Ford motor company or the Boeing jet. And they failed to do that. So when you have a vision and you’re willing to kind of work inside of the parameters of that vision, what you do is dictated more by the opportunities in front of us than by the history behind it.

Joel Christianson:

I’ve said that things are changing every day. And we have to constantly look for new opportunities. We don’t want to be a me too company. You know, we always want to be out in front. We want to be a leader and an innovator. And you know, of course, we do have the me-too products, but our most success has always come from something new.

Jamie Irvine:

When I look at these potential opportunities, you look at a lot of the things that are changing, what are some things that aren’t going to change about your business?

Joel Christianson:

Well, as long as I’m here, it’ll never be an automated phone system, press one for this press two for that, you know, you hear the word customer service all the time. I like to focus on customer experience. I want them to be able to come in and when they leave, feel good about what happened, not just get a good product. So we always start to focus on the customer experience. Whether it’s the young kid comes in with his dad and, you know, give a candy bar or anything along that line.

So it’s just, we try to give them a good experience. So they have good memories about, you know, what they received because you know, he’d come in $2,000 bill and leave not feeling good about it you know, they’re not going to remember you well. So we try to make them feel extremely pleased when they leave.

Jamie Irvine:

One of us like to have to fork out that money. But when it’s a work vehicle that makes us money, as long as we’re keeping those maintenance things in check, and we’re not having catastrophic failures then that’s part of doing business and we’re getting a positive return on investment.

So then if on top of that, we have a great experience, who are they going to come back to? And your customer experience with the integration of digital technology. I hear a lot of people almost having the attitude of like, well, you know, we did it the traditional way, the offline way, and now we have to abandon all of that and do it the digital way.

And I don’t see it that way. I mean, customer experience is both in the shop, in the store, as well as online on our website, wherever they’re interacting with our business, that focus on customer experience can be applied. And you usually it’s the integration of all of this together that makes for a winning combination. How do you feel about that?

Joel Christianson:

Oh, I agree. A hundred percent. You know, we have the internet and the web store, or they look it up, get OEM part numbers and stuff, but it’s still nice to be able to call that customer and say, Hey, we see you bought this part. And most of the time it takes this when he got a second to double check, you know, by still having the human experience involved in with it, people like to buy from people. And we try to get our people involved in their sale as much as possible or the service.

Jamie Irvine:

It sounds like you’re creating the best of both worlds. Joel, we started off talking about diesel emission systems. Let’s end talking about diesel emission systems. What is the one thing you want people to remember from today’s conversation, if they’re only going to remember one thing,

Joel Christianson:

Just education, follow proper maintenance and just keep things running as smoothly as you can. I’m a firm believer if an educated customer, consumer there’s so much easier to do business with than somebody that doesn’t understand the problem that they’re having. It just, it flows better for everybody. If everybody shares as much information as they can,

Jamie Irvine:

You’ve been listening to The Heavy-Duty Parts Report. I’m your host, Jamie Irvine. We’ve been speaking with Joel Christianson, who is the president at American Radiator. If you’d like to learn more about their company, visit their website, radiatorpros.com. Links will be in the show notes. Joel, thank you so much for being on The Heavy-Duty Parts Report. It has been a pleasure talking to you today.

Joel Christianson:

I appreciate it a lot. Thank you.

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