February 23, 2024

Peterbilt 520 and 320: 6 Common Issues and How to Repair Them

Discover how to tackle common issues in Peterbilt 520 and 320 trucks with our comprehensive guide. From engine and transmission problems to brake and cooling system issues, learn effective troubleshooting and maintenance tips for peak truck performance.

Peterbilt 520 and 320: 6 Common Issues and How to Repair Them

Known for their robust nature, reliability, and enduring performance, Peterbilt trucks are some of the finest on the road. Although we could wax lyrical about the entire Peterbilt range, today, we’re going to be focusing on the Peterbilt 520 and 320 models, which have become the go-to choices for those who demand the best from their vehicles. 

Despite all of this, these vehicles aren’t invincible and can be struck down with issues that can plague any truck. In this article, we will discuss six common issues that these trucks can face and how to resolve them.

Understanding Your Peterbilt Truck

Model Overview

The Peterbilt 520 is renowned for its waste collection and recycling capabilities, featuring a low-cab forward design that optimizes visibility and maneuverability. 

On the other hand, the Peterbilt 320 is a versatile workhorse, ideal for a range of vocational applications thanks to its tight turning radius and customizable chassis. High-torque, fuel-efficient engines that can easily manage the heaviest loads power both models.

Common Issues and Troubleshooting

Engine Performance Issues

Symptoms: Loss of power, decreased fuel efficiency, unusual noises, and excessive smoke from the exhaust.

Causes: These issues can stem from a variety of sources, including dirty air filters, fuel system problems, faulty injectors, turbocharger issues, or even engine wear and tear.

Solutions: Regular maintenance checks, including air and fuel filter replacements, injector cleaning or replacement, and engine diagnostics, can prevent or resolve these problems.

Transmission Problems

Symptoms: Difficulty shifting, slipping gears, or the truck not moving at all.

Causes: Low transmission fluid, worn gear synchronizers, or damaged clutch components can lead to these symptoms. For automatic transmissions, solenoid or sensor failures might be the culprit.

Solutions: Maintaining proper fluid levels, ensuring the use of the correct transmission fluid type, and having regular transmission services can mitigate these issues.

Electrical System Faults

Symptoms: Non-functioning lights, dashboard warning lights coming on, or the truck failing to start.

Causes: These can be due to a weak or dead battery, alternator failure, corroded connections, or broken wiring.

Solutions: Regular battery checks, ensuring clean and tight connections, and inspecting the alternator and starter motor for wear can help prevent electrical problems. 

Chassis and Suspension Wear

Symptoms: Uneven tire wear, poor handling, or unusual noises when driving over bumps.

Causes: Worn-out bushings, damaged shocks or struts, and issues with the steering system can lead to these symptoms.

Solutions: Regular inspections of the suspension system, including shocks, bushings, and steering components, and replacing any worn parts can improve ride quality and handling.

Brake System Issues

Symptoms: Increased stopping distance, squealing or grinding noises when braking, or a brake pedal that feels spongy or too hard.

Causes: Worn shoes, damaged drums, or air in the hydraulic lines can cause these problems.

Solutions: Regular brake inspections and maintenance, including shoe replacement, resurfacing or replacing drums, checking for airline leaks, and bleeding the system of air, are critical for safe operation.

Cooling System Failures

Symptoms: Overheating, coolant leaks, or steam coming from under the hood.

Causes: Leaks in the cooling system, a failing water pump, a clogged radiator, or a malfunctioning thermostat can lead to overheating.

Solutions: Regular checks of the coolant level, inspections for leaks, radiator cleaning, and thermostat and water pump inspections can prevent overheating issues.

Maintenance Best Practices

Remember, a stitch in time saves nine, and never has that been more true than when it comes to heavy-duty trucks. Proper maintenance practices can help prevent issues from developing in the first place. Below are some maintenance best practices for you to employ to keep your trucks in peak condition.

Regular Maintenance Schedule

Adhering to a structured maintenance schedule is critical for the health of your Peterbilt trucks. This schedule should include:

Engine Checks: Perform regular engine inspections, including monitoring engine performance, checking for leaks, and ensuring that all engine components are in good working condition.

Fluid Replacements: Regularly check and replace engine oil, coolant, transmission fluid, brake fluid, and power steering fluid as needed. Use manufacturer-recommended fluids to ensure optimal performance.

Brake Inspections: Inspect brakes, shoes, drums, and air systems. Check for wear and tear and ensure that the braking system is functioning correctly to maintain safety.

Tire Maintenance: Regular tire inspections are crucial. Check for proper inflation signs of wear, and rotate tires according to the manufacturer's recommendations to ensure even wear and extend tire life.

Air and Fuel Filter Replacement: Dirty air and fuel filters can lead to decreased engine performance and increased fuel consumption. Replace these filters at intervals recommended by the manufacturer.

If you’re a fleet manager overseeing multiple vehicles, make sure that you utilize fleet maintenance software. This allows you to streamline your operations and automate preventive maintenance intervals, meaning you never miss an important date again.

DIY Maintenance Tips

If you want to handle some of the maintenance tasks yourself, here are some practical tips:

Regular Inspections: Conduct weekly visual inspections of your truck for any obvious issues, such as leaks, tire damage, or worn belts. Early detection can prevent minor issues from becoming major problems.

Lubrication: Keep all moving parts properly lubricated to prevent wear and tear. This includes hinges, latches, and other components that might not be immediately obvious.

Battery Maintenance: Regularly check the battery's charge and clean the terminals to prevent corrosion. A healthy battery is crucial for the reliable starting and operation of electrical components.

Cooling System: Check the coolant level regularly and inspect the hoses for signs of wear or leaks. The cooling system is vital to preventing engine overheating, especially under heavy loads.

Lights and Electrical Systems: Ensure all lights are working correctly and replace any burned-out bulbs. Regularly check the electrical system, including the alternator and starter, for proper operation.

Remember, safety first! Make sure that, when you’re carrying out these tasks, safety precautions are in place. Make sure the vehicle isn’t running, there are chocks for the wheels, and you’re wearing all the necessary safety gear

Seasonal Maintenance

Adjust your maintenance practices based on the season:

Winter Prep: Ensure your engine's coolant system is prepared for freezing temperatures and that you have winter-grade lubricants in place. Consider using anti-gel additives in your fuel to prevent freezing.

Summer Prep: Check the air conditioning system and ensure it's fully operational. Overheating can be more common in the summer, so pay extra attention to the cooling system.

Record Keeping

Maintain detailed records of all maintenance and repairs. This documentation can be invaluable for diagnosing future problems, selling the vehicle, and used as evidence to prove regulatory compliance.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it! You’re now armed with all the knowledge you need to resolve and even prevent any issues with your Peterbilt 520 and 320 trucks. By staying informed and proactive, you can ensure these trucks continue to meet the rigorous demands of their operations. 

Although you can handle smaller tasks for complex repairs, consulting with professional mechanics is always the best course of action. Remember, investing in your truck is investing in the success of your business.