Tuesday, September 23, 2008

COMPANY DRIVERS AREN'T ALWAYS ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD

Awhile back I used to drive for a few companies. One of them was the fifth largest trucking outfit in the country. They had their own trucking school. It seemed as if they could not lose, but the last days were very telling. Trucking companies have several ways that they show when they are failing. One of them is when dispatchers disappear the day after they come to work. Another way that the companies start to show a failing business model is when they start paying drivers when the drivers aren't doing any work.

This is always a sign of trouble. Of course another way to tell that your trucking company is failing is when banks start showing up to seize trucks at truckstops and at terminals. Then there is always the paychecks that dwindle down to nothing while you are working. Basically there is one way to run a trucking company. You have to have steady customers, good freight, dependable drivers, and good mechanics to keep the truck on the road.

The largest company I ever worked for had its leadership handed to one of the sons of the owners and he cared more about having fun than running a company. So instead of running it, he ruined it. I remember the day that I started looking for another job while I worked at that company. I called in one day and was greeted with a language that I was unfamliar with. I asked if there was anyone there who spoke English and then he put the phone down. I found out that he was brought in to translate to all of the new drivers that were imported from Guatemala! I wonder what amount of money they were working for. Since new drivers were getting 18 cents a mile, I am guessing that these people were getting at least 9 cents a mile. ARRIBA!!! VIVA LA GUATEMALA!!!!

Yeah these companies will do just about anything for a buck. anything..................

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

GOOD AND BAD ASPECTS OF BEING LEASED ON TO SOMEONE

So you want to buy a truck and lease it on to a company, but you don't know if its right for you? The first thing you need to know is if you enjoy driving. Do you really love love love driving a truck? Most people who have never driven a truck before should go through the paces and obtain a license through the normal channels of the typical company truck driver route. So lets say that you have done this and are happy with the way you get around inside the company.

Companies take care of their equipment and expect you to tell them when something needs to be fixed. Hmmmm. What else do they typically do? They provide you with health insurance, possible retirement plans and a practically guaranteed paycheck. Your miles at the company will depend on how long you want to stay out and how good you are at being on-time. You get new equipment to use most of the time. If you have a problem on understanding your obligations, there is someone there to hold your hand and walk you through whatever is going on.

Here are some key things that you absolutely have to know if you intend to be an owner operator leasing onto someone:

1. Don't ever ever ever purchase a truck from a trucking company and haul for them at the same time for some ridiculously low percentage. Most trucking companies have these lease/purchase programs set up to bleed you dry and make more money off of you than when you were a company driver.

2. Always look for a company with a majority of people with years of experience that are owner operators.

3. Look for a company that allows you to pick your freight rates and load choices.

4. When you drive your own truck, you want to keep maintenance and overhead to a minimum. and the best way to do this is to drive slow and carefully. What I mean is that you are no longer trying to drive the most miles in a day that you can for a fixed (per mile) rate. Ideally you have chosen a company that allows you to obtain the highest rate per mile on each load that is available and at a pace that wont stress your equipment out too much. Number 4 is a long one. So you want to drive around 57 to 60 mph ALWAYS! You want to conserve your brakes in favor of using your engine brake ALWAYS! You want to get monthly oil changes and weekly grease jobs ALWAYS! (Oil Changes and Grease Jobs are the cheapest mechanics you can hire).

5. You want to be able to take off whenever you want without being hassled. To me this is the point of being an owner operator. Otherwise stay at your company.

6. When you become an owner operator leased to a company there are some important things to remember. The freight is endless and the companies are always needing drivers so don't feel obligated to haul a load by some needy salesman (broker/agent) who is claiming that all hell will break loose if this load doesn't get hauled. Too bad because the customer should have ordered whatever it is earlier. Lack of preparedness on your part does constitute an emergency on my part. Agents/Brokers/Salesmen in the trucking industry are EXACTLY LIKE people that work at carnivals. "Hey step right up and win a little stuffed giraffe! Everyone is a winner!" They will sucker you in with anything they have access to.

7. Reputable agents who are established don't need you and could care less if you ever called them to start with. There are agents who have contracts that you could retire in 5 years by doing and the competition for these is cutthroat to the extreme. Drivers make up stories about other drivers to get them kicked out and sometimes lie to each other to try to slip the other drivers up. When one load pays enough to allow you to take a month off in Aruba, you can bet that every driver that knows about it is going to be fighting like a dog to get it no matter who gets in their way.

8. Some new agents (I like to say agents because it is shorter than broker and salesman, but they are all the same) have new customers and are starting to build a reputation. They need good drivers like The Pope needs Catholics. They don't always get the good freight, but if you get your foot in the door with one of them while they are starting up and they go on to attain the good contracts, then there is a good chance that they will rely on you to help them succeed.

9. You have to know how to maintain your equipment. This could be up there at number one if you were numbering these out by importance, but I am not. You don't have to necessarily do the work, but you must understand what the mechanic is doing because sometimes the mechanic doesn't know what he or she is doing. This can be difficult because I have been ripped off by both reputable dealers and people with decades of experience as well as the little shops that claim to be trying to get a good reputation. They will all take your money and not all necessarily for the right reason. You have to find a shop that behaves as if your truck is a person and you are taking him or her to the doctor's office. You wouldn't go to a doctor that just started replacing things without knowing what to replace or why. If you are unsure about them, then leave and make sure that you document everything.

10. Shops that work on trucks have a few MUST DO'S. You must get a written estimate and write on the estimate that no further repairs are authorized, unless you are first informed of what the cost is in writing. Make sure that you write that any deviations from the estimated repairs are brought to your attention and that no approval or payment for any unauthorized repairs will be given without your notification.

11. Make sure the shop's personnel are certified to do the work. Not everything carries a certification with it, but if you are having engine work done, the shop should be an authorized dealer for the engine in question. This is the case for the tranmsission as well. ASE certification is necessary so ask if the shop's personnel is ASE certified. Small shops have warranties only through their shop. Nationwide chains have warranties nationwide, but you may have to wait a little while longer before they can get your truck in. Sometimes if you aggressively pursue an earlier time to get in, they will get you in a week ahead of time if they are really backed up and know that you need the truck and are waiting.

12. Always try to pay with a credit card. If the shop doesn't take credit cards, be leary. Many shops don't take credit cards because if they don't do their job properly, the credit card company can just pull the funds right back out of their bank and it is the shop's burden to prove they did the right thing. Credit card companies typically win these types of disputes. It is easier to get your money back from a bad shop if you don't pay cash.

13. Make sure the shop can fix everything that is wrong. Don't take the truck into a place that only fixes tires, if you also have a brake failure. Don't take a truck to a shop that only does brakes if you have a bad differential. You have to get an estimate in writing that completely diagnoses the issue and spells out everything related to the source of the problem that it could possibly be. Truck manufacturers are the best places to go usually as they typically have all of the tools needed to properly diagnose the problem and these types of shops can usually fix everything from bumper to bumper.

14. Don't assume that because the dealer is a truck manufacturer, that they can fix everything. I have been to places that weren't authorized dealers for my particular engine, yet they were the truck's manufacturer. The bottom line here is to gather every bit of information about the shop that you can before you do any business with them. Especially if you are having the truck towed in somewhere. You want to make sure that your truck repair is being handled in the best business like manner that is possible and that the shop is behaving as much like a doctor's office as can be expected. You wouldn't let a doctor perform surgery on you if he or she was constantly unsure of whether or not they were making the right decision. There are tools out there now to properly take the guess work out of every situation. Don't let someone talk you into kind of thinking that maybe if you do this or that, it will solve your problem. If they don't know, don't go!

15. Don't rush into anything. Being an owner operator requires patience a partially meticulous nature about some things. You must do your homework.

16. My philosphy (Well one of my many philosophies) is that if I don't do it, someone else will and I don't want that. I want the work! I want the paycheck! Not the other person! I am entitled to the business because I will work my hardest and smartest to get it done right. Maybe someone out there is faster, cheaper, and more appealing than me, but that is their business, and mine is to do the best with what I have. When you own the truck, you are the boss and you make the final decision. Sink or SWIM. I choose to SWIM.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

HURRICANE IKE RECOVERY

Hurricane Ike has just passed through and now it is time to pick up the pieces. There is the largest rescue and recovery effort ever attempted going on now in Texas and I am just waiting for the call. 140,000 people weren't accounted for, but I have faith in the Texas spirit and ability to pull through. Once the phone lines are back up and going again things will start to get back to normal. There was flooding in the south areas around Galveston, but it looked like most of the people made it out.

I know that the generators getting up and running along with the phone lines are a top priority. Hopefully the hospitals are in good shape to help whoever needs it. I am amazed that all of the Gulf areas don't have better systems in place to deal with these types of things. Maybe we are on the verge of having an impenetrable system on the gulf which can withstand all sorts of things.

Friday, September 12, 2008

FLEE TO HIGHER GROUND AGAIN!

Hurricane Ike is here. It is here!! Right here!!!! Right now!!!! KahZOW!!!!!!

Just when Gustav was in full force about a week ago, Ike was bearing down on his hiney! Everyone evacuated the Gulf Coast and I couldn't deliver my load! So the people there didn't even have any plan for what I was to do! (Hmmmmph said the camel!-Rudyard Kipling) The load was picked up in West Memphis, AR and then hastily taken to Liberty, TX where I was greeted by a lone secrity guard who was the only inhabitant of the entire facility.

What to do now. The customer didn't know what to do and I didn't know what to do or who to call. Luckily a solution was acquired by the fact that another of the companies branches north of where the storm was hitting was able to unload the stuff. So now I sit and wait patiently on the FEMA list. Waiting and watching the news. At least the truck runs great. He He He

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

ON THE ROAD AGAIN, JUST CAN'T WAIT TO GET ON THE ROAD AGAIN

The new truck arguement is one I have had many times over the last couple of years and I really want a new truck, but I want one that fits my budget. The fact is that a new truck has a new truck payment, maintenance, full insurance coverage, and none of these things ever diminishes for several (at least 3) years. When I have to shell out money for repairs and justify it because I am operating a used truck, I do so like this:

1. The cost of repairs alone is less than a new truck payment.

2. The fact that I don't have a truck loan payment every month is true freedom as if the truck is in good condition, it is as good as a new truck.

3. The new trucks that I have test driven have been exactly like driving my truck as it is and I know what I have under the hood.

4. If I spend $20,000.00 a year on maintenance that is almost $20,000.00 less a year than a new truck payment, repairs/maintenance on the new truck.

5. To replace an engine in these trucks is $20,000.00 and the engine warranties last 3 years so you could replace one every three years and always have an engine warranty as well as the drivetrain.

You could install a rebuilt transmission every three years for $6000.00. So basically you could pay $2500.00 a month for a new truck that is only decreasing in value plus maintenance and insurance you are looking at between $35,000.00 a year and $40,000.00 a year. The other option is to install a rebuilt engine and transmission for around $30,000.00 every three years and only be out around ten grand a year. You do the math.

The thing about the new truck is that it is new and you have the manufacturers warranty plus the tax depreciation and generally less maintenance. The thing about the used truck is that you don't have to make high monthly payments and you roll the dice on installed components.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

SO NOW THAT THE TRUCK HAS BEEN SUCCESSFULLY DIAGNOSED

With truck repairs, the IRS, and the current issues with the trailer, I am at a stand still and waiting. Soon the truck will be back on the road and the next stop will be the accountant's office. I love my country and I also pay my taxes, at least only the ones I am legally bound to pay. The IRS loves to not tell you everything and take as much as they can. That is why a good accountant is the key in dealing with them. Some accountants have more experience with the tax laws than the people doing the audits and taking in tax returns.

So now this truck has two new differentials, a rebuilt transmission, and new driveline which has been properly aligned by the truck's manufacturer. It run's like its on rails and feels like a cadillac. The sleeper is a little small, but it works for now. I was in the market for a larger sleeper, but maybe next year. The large sleeper trucks are nice, but heavy and long. Sometimes they are too long to get into some places like Manhattan or maybe a tiny container yard.

With today's new aluminum trailers, the fact is that lighter is enabling people to customize their trucks and make them into almost anything you could imagine. I have seen trucks with 15 foot sleepers on them which have bathrooms in them that have their own door, corian countertops, queen beds, and even a separate compartment behind the sleeper which houses a motorcycle. I am not there yet, but maybe one day.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

MONEY=GONE

3 transmissions, one driveline, and 2 differentials later.......

My transmission went out, so I called a shop that claimed to be a professional shop. They arranged to tow the truck as stated in previous posts. The shop tried to pull some shenanigans and keep my truck locked up in their shop for hurricane Gustav. A shop that flooded during hurricane Katrina. Upon discussing the storm, it was decided that we would leave with the truck to shelter it from the storm and so that I could have real professionals look at it. I did just that.

After the manufacturer of the truck got their hands on it, they found within 30 minutes of diagnosis that the driveline angle was way way off. This is something that the previous shop should have noticed. This is also the cause of the noisy driveline and most likely the cause of the failed transmission. Because this shop misdiagnosed so much with this truck, further investigation will occur before a determination is made in regards to the condition of the front differential. After the transmission was replaced, the truck was checked at a shop across town and no metal shavings were present in either of the differentials.

Since the first shop I took it to that worked on the truck didn't know what they were doing, it is possible that thousands of dollars were spent chasing a noise that was not properly diagnosed so money=gone

Monday, September 1, 2008

FLEE TO HIGHER GROUND

Well the truck is safely out of harm's way as of yesterday and in line with thousands or millions of fleeing people from New Orleans, LA. Thank goodness that everyone got out of town! There are many people from the area wanting to go home already, but the storm has left a bit of damage depending on where you live in southern Louisiana. The weather channel is the most popular around now. The truck ran well, but seems to have some sort of suspension problem or a bad driveline angle or improperly installed springs or a bad air levelling valve or bad axle spacing or or or or or or. The bottom line is that so far no one knows what the heck the issue is.

Well now that the truck is out of the hurricane zone and Labor Day is over, it is time to get another opinion again. Is it possible that everyone in this country who works on trucks is totally incompetent? Is it? Helloooo? I say it is since no one is answering. That is crazy isn't it? I have the right to be a little crazy after all the crap that just happened.