Monday, November 25, 2013

2014 Is Almost Here!

January 1st is the day that my truck is no longer legally allowed to travel in one of the 50 United States of America.

California.

We practically never go to California so it will have zero impact on our business, but it will be annoying.  The idea that I have been paying taxes to the government to go toward the highways in every state in the nation, and then not be permitted to drive on some of the nation's roads because of type of equipment I own, seems wrong to me.  I should be allowed to drive in California despite the dirty air that my engine emits.
I have been considering my options.  Here they are:

1. Stay out of California until my truck needs to be traded in or sold for a new one.  That should take another 2 or 3 years.

2. Buy a new truck.
    A. By trading in my truck for a complete new truck and sleeper.
    B. By buying a new day-cab truck and moving my sleeper and generator to the new truck, then selling my old day cab or converting it into a motor home.

3.  Add a DPF to my existing equipment which will ruin the Series 60 engine under the hood and result in many days of downtime for shop repairs.

4. Or the option that I have spent the most time looking into - selling the engine I have now and getting another engine from a newer, wrecked truck.

That last option I'm going to go into some detail on right now because it is of specific interest to me.

So here goes:

Trucks get wrecked for many reasons.  I don't want to be morbid, but this is the only time the faulty education in trucking works to my benefit.  I'm not saying all trucks are wrecked by students fresh out of school, but I know MANY are.  I also know trucking companies routinely place new students in brand new trucks.  I don't need to tell anyone what happens next.  So skipping ahead...there are new trucks, which have somehow or another ended up wrapped around a pylon or a bridge support, sitting around with new engines in them.  However it happened, the truck is junk, but in many cases the entire contents under the hood are up for grabs.  This includes all the new emissions equipment.

The next challenge is finding a good engine that wasn't involved in a fire, submerged in a lake, or has a cracked block.  So the search begins.  What's beautiful about this option is that all of the major truck manufacturers are making EPA compliant trucks, and as time goes by more and more of them are hitting the roads.  Literally.  And sometimes they hit pylons.  Literally.  So the longer you can wait, the cheaper and more plentiful these engines become.  Fortunately, I can wait a LONG time.  So if I can wait a long time, why do I care about the deadline coming up in January, right?  As a conscientious operator of a truck, I want to be compliant with the laws in all of the states.

Unfortunately, half of our job is trying to keep up with the various laws in each state.  The other half is keeping the truck in good condition, and then the other half is staying in good physical condition, and the other half is finding good loads, and the other half is etc. etc. etc.

When you have found an engine that will fit your needs, chances are the new engine needs new wiring and computers inside the dash.  This is where all the magic happens.  The biggest challenge is the wiring.  The engine will fit under the hood and bolt right up to the transmission you already have.  The DPF and DEF tank will bolt right onto your existing frame.  The mechanical aspect is easy.  Heavy!  But easy.  Once you have the heavy lifting done, you need to mimic the truck the engine came out of.  The trick here is maintenance in the future.  You don't want to be in a situation where the truck has impossible situations to diagnose.  Because you are doing the wiring, you are in control of how easy the wiring access points are.  The truck's dash is still limiting, but most of the gauges and dials in a 2013 truck are the same as in a 2007.  There are a few different additions such as DEF tank level indicator and DPF condition indicator, but for the most part, the HVAC, engine brake, lighting, and other basic dash switch functions are the same.

You're also at an advantage doing this operation because you can video your progress or just take pictures along the way.  Most of the dealerships and mechanics I have spoken with are very against this maneuver for various reasons.  The reputable shops don't want to do this type of engine conversion for warranty reasons, as they don't want to be liable for any repercussions down the line, and the dealerships want you to buy a new truck.  There is no money in this for an operator who can run one truck for 30 years.  There are also shops who are so scared of this type of conversion, they feel you are some kind of sick demented wacko (which I AM) wanting to do something like this, under the guise of "looking out for your best interests", they try to talk you out of what they believe is the most stupid idea they've ever heard of.

Fortunately, California has a number of shops doing these conversions because the millions of people who live in California have to, well, LIVE there.  They don't get to pack up and leave their home or decide to just run a truck outside of the state for as long as they want to.  These shops are charging between $5,000 and $10,000 in labor to perform the conversion.  You just have to supply the parts.  There's even one outlet online that has engines from all over the country.

That website has volumes of information on it, and the people selling the engines will set you up with one of their mechanics and try to get the whole process streamlined into one call and one price.  I've found a few engines on there that range from $15,000 to $30,000.  On top of that price is the cost of shipping the engine to the shop doing the work, that can vary from $1,000 to $3,000.

These engine suppliers will try to supply everything you need to make your old truck into a new one from the dash forward, but  inevitably leave out a few electronic components - either because they were destroyed, or they just aren't there.  In this case, more parts must be found to complete the conversion.  Those parts usually run about $6,000.

So, once you buy an engine, ship it, remove your old engine, and install your new one, you're out somewhere between $25,000 to $40,000.  You'll still have an engine to sell to someone else, which should be worth at least $10,000.  That'll drop your out-of-pocket cost to somewhere between $15,000 to $30,000.  If this conversion means you'll get another 10 years out of your truck once it's done, you've made a wise decision.  There's still a chance that the engine has something wrong with it, though.  So let's say you do this conversion and the engine fails after 100,000 miles for whatever reason.  You can still repair it.  In that 100,000 miles, you should have recouped your investment and now are only doing repairs.  You've lowered your costs.

Even if you have to do an inframe on the engine, as long as the block isn't cracked, you have a good egg to work with.  An inframe will only cost about $10,000 and will buy you another 400K miles or better.  If you're lucky, another million miles.  After all, you're an owner operator and this is your truck.  You take care of it like no one else can, and you can make it last for decades.

This also should increase the resale value of the truck - assuming you have good records and can keep the electronics in such a way that another mechanic won't run screaming from the truck when a sensor fails and they have no electrical schematic for reference.

Regardless of which route you choose, you have to keep in mind the future of your business. Will you lease your truck onto a known carrier, or will you use it elsewhere under your own authority  Can you sell it later?  Will you put another driver in it?  There are many options to consider and you must make a decision.

I am deciding to wait until later this year and keep shopping around.  My current, most attractive option is to buy a new day-cab truck, put my current sleeper on the frame, and sell my old truck day-cab to someone who can use it.  I can do this at any time in the future, at a price I'm comfortable with.  Plus, the day-cab swap route offers more resale value and less mechanical headaches down the road.

Or I could just turn my old truck into this:


This is still legal in California without a DPF.  Oh yeah!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Buy A New Truck And Beat The Old Timers At Their Own Game

New owner operators can get in and scoop up California freight while the majority of existing owners cling to older equipment.  I have a 2007 Freightliner that is in excellent condition along with many other drivers that are in my same position.  We buy these trucks because we want to use them until the wheels fall off.  We maintain them meticulously and make sure they last a long time.  Ideally, you want to buy a new truck and run it for ten years or more.  At the million mile mark, you consider an in-frame rebuild and try to put another million miles on the truck.  You change out shocks, bearings, and maybe some wiring, but you keep the maintenance up and a good truck owner can keep a new truck running for well into 1.5 million miles with no catastrophic failures.
 
Our truck has 600K miles on it and everything under the hood is original except the head on the engine, the starter, and the A/C compressor.  The engine head could have been saved from being replaced, but that is how it happened.  It was a warranty item so it didn’t cost me anything to replace.  The starter had 600K miles on it and the A/C compressor, well, those go out with constant use, but the first one that was original on the truck reached 421K miles until it failed. 

With the California regulations coming to into full effect in January for everyone who doesn't have a DPF installed on their truck, many operators are forced to buy new equipment.  If you are new to the game, you are at an advantage because you don’t have to salvage an old truck or worry about resale.  You can buy a compliant truck and frequent the ports in California or anywhere in the state for that matter and be compliant.  There are some trade-offs though in that the older trucks don’t use DEF or have to have a DPF cleaned every year.  These trucks with the latest environmental technology have higher upfront costs and higher DPF maintenance costs as well. 


The bottom line is that if you go buy a new truck at least 2010 or later, you can capitalize on the new environment of 2014.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Keeping It Lubed

A couple of years ago I bought a system that automatically greases most of the points on the truck which require regular grease service. Semi trucks have numerous components which wear out over time so they are maintained with the repeated application of adding grease.  Each one of these components have one or more grease zerks:


These zerks are the only access point to apply grease to things like slack adjusters:


Slack adjusters are a part of the brake system.  They keep the brakes adjusted every time you press the brake pedal.  They work with the S-Cam inside of the drum brake system.  


When you push on the brake pedal, it increases the air pressure from the air system.  This causes the air brake chamber on the brake system to push on the slack adjuster and the S-Cam, which then turns and forces the brake pads inside the brake drum to spread apart so the pads come into contact with the drums.  This causes friction and slows the brake drum down, slowing the truck down.
Here is a really great old video about S-Cams and drum brakes:


There are many lube points on the truck, but the brake system is the one with the most points needing regular lubrication, so I'm highlighting it here.  In the video above there is mention of broken components in the brake system.  The usual cause of the breakage is lack of maintenance.  

This is where grease comes in.  The average interval for greasing the zerks is twice a month or every 15,000 miles.  To do this, you need a grease gun, a pair of coveralls, and preferably dry ground under the truck.  There is a better way though and it has many attributes that make it an invaluable asset to a truck.

I am referring to a grease pump in combination with divider valves and tubing. 

This system has grease lines that run along the truck's frame to each component that has a zerk and shoots a small amount of grease to the needed area while you are operating the vehicle.  There are many benefits to this; one is longer component life.  Because the grease is being applied regularly, it addresses the concern of a dry grease point and component, and it's also correcting the problem of over-greasing.  

This reduces the cost of maintenance over the lifetime of the truck.  I researched a few different pumps and systems, and decided to purchase this one:
This is the Lincoln Quiklub.  It has variable settings for how often and how much grease it releases. It can handle many different types of grease so if you're in an area that doesn't use one type or another, you can pick and choose.  In addition to being able to fill this pump from a source of grease such as a 55-gallon drum, there's fitting that screws onto the pump which allows you to fill it yourself with a tube of grease.  

This grease system is closed to prevent contamination.  These pumps don't handle dirt particles well and you have to be careful to not allow anything unwanted into the pump.  The best way to avoid this is to fill the grease yourself with a new clean tube.  There are several approaches to this.  One is to fill the reservoir with summer grease for the summer, and winter grease for the winter.  Since the pump depletes the reservoir, you can custom fill with whichever grease you like.  My pump empties itself every 6 months or so - plus or minus a month - depending on how much I drive.  Knowing this, I can make sure I have thin grease in the pump for winter and thicker stuff in there for summer. 

The pump will push the grease at 4000 psi. so it has enough force to get the grease from the pump through the lines to just about anywhere it wants.  

I had this system installed 2 years ago, but I made a slight mistake.  I bought the system and had a trusted mechanic where I live install it.  They had never installed one of these before so they used the instructions that Lincoln provided.  Unfortunately, the system was installed missing a few fittings that were essential to the proper operation of the system, so while it worked it didn't perform exactly as expected. 

Since that time, a Lincoln location became available closer to the house.  They do work on semi trucks and have provided me with excellent service and knowledge regarding the proper installation and usage of this greasing system.  They successfully diagnosed and repaired the mistakes made by the first installer. Their facility is located in Phoenix and has done numerous installs on semi trucks in addition to working on construction equipment:

Lubrication Equipment and Supply Co.
3526 E Broadway Rd
Phoenix AZ, 85040
Duane Richardson
Phone: (602) 437-1245
Fax: (602) 437-8862
Email: lubequip@aol.com
www.lubequip.com

Scott Robinson did the direct grease monkey work on my truck and did a great job.  I only wish Lincoln had had a system in place to alert users of their products to new locations when they became available.  I would have visited their shop sooner! 





Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Improvisation

Here is a unique way of tying down a load with what has to be one of the cheapest methods I have seen.  The flat hook strap is hooked onto a standard trailer winch which is designed for a flatbed winch track.  


This is keeping the pipe wrapped tightly for the small cost of about 25 bucks and it's reusable. 



Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Truckers For Safety

The Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association recently launched a new website that focuses on just about everything that is behind the problems that are plaguing the industry.  The number one issue that we are contending with is driver training.  Lack of training is responsible for things like accidents, failed deliveries, improperly secured cargo, and misunderstanding of the Hours Of Service.  It isn't only drivers who need more training as even the FMCSA/DOT need help crafting their enforcement policies to better create a safer place for truckers and the motoring public.

In effort to focus all of these efforts in one place the OOIDA has created Truckers For Safety.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Make More. Work Less.


The Road Dog Network on Sirius/XM radio has a popular program that continues to pushes the message that in order to make money in our industry, you have to work every single day and never sit around.

I have a different take on this.  Yes, the wheels need to turn to make a profit.  Yes, the trailer needs to be loaded.  Yes, the truck needs to be made use of while you are making payments on it, and yes, the business relies on using the truck and trailer to haul freight.

Despite the realities mentioned above, the truck should ONLY be used when there is profit involved.  In business, you need to take into account the daily, weekly, monthly, and annual net income for your hard work.  At the end of the year, your total gross income will be placed alongside the total miles driven and the days away from home.  You want those days away from home to bring in the highest profit possible.  

The market fluctuates and the freight rates rise and fall.  You want to work for as close to the high end of what your services are worth and you want to balance that out with what the job entails.  

A few examples of this in regard to the job's details are:  

Do you have enough time to make the delivery or are you going to have to drive faster than the truck's optimal speed?  Increased speeds decrease your fuel mileage advantage and add to your maintenance costs.

Does the load place your truck in a favorable location to find another load?  deadhead decreases your profit margin.

Is the climate (and by that I mean the actual weather conditions) conducive to the load being delivered safely, damage-free, and on-time?  Delays will eat up your per-days-out profit.  

Is the customer one that will be easy or difficult to work with?  Will you be detained at the shipper/receiver and not be compensated?  Or will you be in and out quickly, allowing you to get back to making money?

If you don't know the answers, then you'll have to ask as many questions as possible to gain a better understanding of the situation.  Over time, this will be learned by rote.  

Drivers who work as cheaply as possible will work harder longer hours and have less income to repair their equipment, put into retirement, and feed their families.  They will also cement their position as a carrier who will work for cheap.  They will continue to be given jobs that pay less, with more physical labor involved.  Cheap freight that breaks your back can be found all day long.  It's abundant and there for the picking for drivers who don't know what they're doing, because the experienced operator will bypass these loads for higher paying, less physically intensive jobs.

As for sitting around - sometimes you just need to do that for a while until the good freight becomes available.  Companies will need goods moved at various levels of importance.  The more important the load, the greater the demand to get it moved.  This typically translates into more pay.  

This is not an opportunity to gouge a customer but rather, an opportunity to give them what they need at the rate you're willing to do it for.  It's age old supply and demand.  You shouldn't be moving the truck every day just to stay busy and short yourself higher income so the truck doesn't sit around collecting dust.  Sometimes a little dust is ok.

Another type of opportunity involves a load that needs to be moved which has such a high rate of pay but involves more physical labor and more wear and tear on your equipment.  A customer will pay exorbitant rates to move freight that ABSOLUTELY MUST BE MOVED, but because of what they're paying, will expect (and deserve) the most professional, competent, and diligent operators money can buy.  Most of the time with this elite freight, the time given to deliver is exactly enough time to make it.  Or less.  

The skills required to accomplish the task will have to be top notch.  This is where the knowledge of your operation is put to the test.  The operator shouldn't be confused with the loading or unloading process, or not have the right equipment needed to complete the task.  The way to get these loads, time and again, is to display you know what you're doing by KNOWING WHAT YOU'RE DOING.  

There are a few exceptions to the rule of booking only high paying freight or waiting for a good load to present itself.  In some cases, maintaining a customer's loyalty, wooing a new customer, or trying to hang onto an existing customer versus losing them to a competitor may warrant taking a load that pays a little less than you'd like.  Overall, the loads you decide to take need to fit the needs of your business.  

The bottom line is to make the most of your time.  Take everything into consideration when deciding which direction to take.  

Make more.  Work less. 

It sounds simple, but some drivers will spend years pursuing this idea only to come out with the short end of the stick. If you do your research and focus on your business, you will succeed.

Monday, August 19, 2013

This Blog

This blog is the culmination of my years out here on the road.  Watching changes in policy, equipment, laws, and procedures, I've seen quite a bit.  I am by no means a "know-it-all". 

I'm constantly learning, and when I do see something new, I file it away and then share some of it with you folks.  One thing you can count on staying the same is the fact that everything changes.  If you don't like it, just wait a while;  it might get better or worse, but it won't stay the same.


Feel free to ask about anything in trucking that's of interest to you and I'll do my best to give you answer based on my experience and knowledge. 

As far as the new HOS, the CSA, and the EOBR/ELD fight, they're still changing.  The CSA is under review.  The latest HOS update is being screamed about by everyone.  And the EOBR/ELD has millions of drivers upset.  And the OOIDA continues to fight the legal fight for us. 


Let me give you an example of something that changed a few years ago that affected me as a flatbedder.  It had to do with the regulation specifying that bungee cords could not be used to secure freight, or securement devices.

The new regulation stated that you can't use a bungee cord to hold anything on your trailer and binders have to be secured with a wire tie, chain, zip-tie, or baling wire. 

This load (not mine, just a photo I took in a truck stop) is chained down, but the binders are secured with bungees.  This is not allowed.

The bungee cords are not strong enough to keep the binder from popping open.  The "handle" on each binder must be kept tightly closed and to do so, a stronger securement device is needed.
This binder has no securement at all.  Any amount of vibration or movement could cause this binder to pop open, causing the chain to loosen.  If this steel train transmission were to get loose and fall off the trailer, it can cause incredible damage or worse, death.
Any freight you put on your trailer needs to be secured properly.  You're responsible for knowing which securement devices are best (straps or chains) and what the rating is on that securement device based on the weight of the freight.  Everything you put on your trailer needs to stay on your trailer. Other than the bungees being used, the securement of these transmissions are good.  They're in the right place, they just need to be bound to prevent them from snapping open. 

I use a piece of chain about 6"-8" long with a snap link on it which has served me well.  Since it's metal, they can be used over and over for years, whereas wire, zip ties, and other types of binder securement has to be discarded after use.


Keep the bungees for tarping and get in the habit of using the proper binder securements for your chains and binders. At the very least, it'll keep you from getting a written violation or being put out of service (or both), and at the most you may save a life.
New binders have been invented that have built in safety features which help prevent the snap style binders from popping open.
 


And finally there is a small device which is similar to the chains I use to secure snap binders.  It is a "U" shaped piece of metal with a pin that holds it securely onto a snap binder.
 
Of course there is always the ratchet binder which needs no locking mechanism as it will not pop open.
 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Off The Beaten Path

The turnover rate at the major trucking companies has been holding steady at +/- 100% and with new students making it through pathetic 2-week training schools and hitting the highway with little-to-no real real life experience, we have a lot of people out here doing the obvious when it comes to taking breaks.  And this new 30-minute break (not new to veterans, as we've always been taking 30-minutes, just not logging it!) is causing many people to flock to truck stops that they know and trust.

Flying J, Pilot, Travel Centers Of America, Petro, and Love's are the usual hangouts for most truckers.  And they're packed.  But there are many truck stops and parking lots that allow truckers to stay overnight and for several days if need be, you just have to know where they are.  Since they're not major chains, the new drivers don't know to go there, but these places are all over the country.  

It's interesting to see how an old fuel stop with no recognized brand name will be bought by one of the major truck stops and then fill with drivers working for one of the major trucking companies as if they sprung out of the ground brand new.  Every veteran driver knows of a stop off the beaten path with plenty of parking (or a few spots that are never used), good food, and easy access to major highways.

Perhaps the new guys don't know about the other options because they lack good training.  Perhaps the trainers didn't want to give up their secrets.  I know my own experience with numerous trainers turned out to be a huge disappointment.  I didn't really learn until I got out here on my own. 

Our system is set up to control drivers and keep them under the thumb of a company, not to encourage, train, and help them succeed on their own.  Even the insurance companies require several years of experience before they will let a driver buy a truck and go out on their own. 
In order to achieve this level of experience, there's basically one route to take:  go to a trucking school and then drive for a carrier who is self-insured for your first two or three years.  This is the only way to get the experience you need in order to obtain your own insurance.  

It's one way to beat the system.  The large, self-insured carriers like to have a steady flow of cheap new-hires flowing through their doors.  It keeps their turnover rate high so drivers can't plan on working at the carrier until retirement, and it ensures that a driver isn't trained well enough to become empowered to go out on their own.

There is a constant stream of misinformation about how large carriers will prevail and the owner-operators will all suffer and die out.  You hear it on the trucking radio shows, read it in the corporate sponsored trucking magazines, and see it on the fuel islands and docks. Despite this negative false rhetoric, owner-operators make up 80% of the trucking industry.  Company drivers, only 20%.  

And it's these 20% of drivers who clog the truck stops during break times and overnight stops.  If you're one of the mass groups of drivers who've eked their way through a 2-week trucking school to be called a "professional" truck driver, only to be stuck relying on your GPS which will guide you under low bridges and through non-trucking approved routes, and you can only park at the major truck stops because you weren't taught any better, then you owe it to yourself to become educated and stop listening anyone who will tell you that learning about trucking is a waste of time.

Sadly, I don't see this changing anytime soon.  Because it doesn't benefit the powers that be who are disseminating the information.  I don't agree with it, but everything's about money and if it doesn't make someone money, it just isn't worth doing.  Even if it means that lives are lost in the process.  What trucking needs is real training, and for the operators of these large trucks to be considered professionals who have a skill.  But you see, if this happens it will cost the people who rely on trucks billions of dollars.  The major carriers have figured all of this out.  And that's why they don't provide adequate training.

Until they do, truck stops will be full of trucks, accidents will continue to occur, and the HOS will be designed and crafted by the corporations and the government, instead of the drivers. 

It takes years of trial and error, common sense, and the ability to maneuver a 40-ton vehicle around this nation's dilapidated infrastructure and among the growing population of our nation, to successfully operate a semi truck.  


And training from a 2-week school trucking school just isn't enough to achieve it.


Monday, August 5, 2013

The Main Truck Manufacturers

Peterbilt
Kenworth 
Freightliner 
Western Star
Volvo 
Mack
International


These are the major players in the truck manufacturing marketplace.  Until the new EPA and CARB regulations came into effect, these major players used one of three different engines. 

Detroit Diesel 
Caterpillar 
Cummins

The game has changed within the past ten years.

Peterbilt and Kenworth are owned by the same company called Paccar.

Volvo bought Mack so they are under the same management.

International is still the same as it has always been.

Freightliner, Western Star, and Detroit Diesel were bought by Daimler/Chrysler but since Chrysler was purchased by another holding company, now Daimler owns Freightliner, Western Star, and Detroit Diesel.

Another major change is under the hood of these trucks.  Now International, Paccar (Kenworth and Peterbilt), Volvo (Mack), and Daimler, all have their own engines.  Caterpillar removed itself from the class 8 truck market when the EPA started implementing the new Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) and Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) requirements.

What this has done has caused these truck manufacturers to start making their own engines.  Historically the three major engine manufacturers were very reliable.  The new engines that these truck manufacturers are cranking out are untested technology in mass production.  There have been numerous issues with the engines made by Paccar, Volvo, International, and Mercedes.

I personally know about five different drivers who have had issues with these engines.  I have always had good luck with the Detroit series 60 engines and I continue to have good luck with one now.

The point of this post is to illustrate that there is more to these names than meets the eye.  If you are considering purchasing a truck, you need to know what has been happening and what works or doesn't work.  There are a few good places on the world wide web to find reviews and concerns about all makes of equipment and every time a new set of rules is put out there, the industry has to adapt. 

If you left the industry years ago and are thinking of coming back into the business, you should familiarize yourself with the changes that have taken place.  These companies are not what they seem and just because you used to have great luck with a Mack, doesn't mean that will be the case today.


Monday, July 29, 2013

New Hours Of Service For Team Operations

Thanks to my handy dandy Driver's Daily Log program, I have run the new hours of service through the ringer and it came out clean on the other side.  A team can still run around the clock for five straight days continuously without ever stopping the truck.  Teams also can avoid the 30 minute break if they manage their time properly.  Here is an example of a team that started their run at 5 AM and didn't stop until they hit their weekly limit:

Day 1
Driver A:
Day 1
Driver B:
Day 2
Driver A:
Day 2
Driver B:
Day 3
Driver A:
Day 3
Driver B:
Day 4
Driver A:
Day 4
Driver B:
Day 5
Driver A:
Day 5
Driver B:
Day 6
Driver A:
Day 6
Driver B:
Day 7
Driver A:
Day 7
Driver B:
Day 8
Driver A:
Day 8
Driver B:

This example is missing a few elements that most drivers run into such as: Fuel, Meal Breaks, Load Inspections, Pre, Mid, and Post-Trip Inspections.  Every truck would perform a load check within the first 50 miles, and then flatbeds would perform load checks every additional 150 miles, 3 hours, or duty status change (whichever comes first)

This is a 8 on, 8 off, 3 on, 3 off, combination, but an 8 on, 3 off, 3 on, 8 off configuration would work as well. 

Most trucks don't run around the clock like this.  This team hit their 70 hours on day 6 at 9 PM causing the truck to stop until day 7 at 3 AM.  It could move 4 more hours until it had to stay stopped until Day 8 at 7 AM when the team could resume operations again.  

Just as soon as you finish reading this, the HOS will change again.  Who knows when the FMCSA will stop fiddling with these regulations.  Your guess is as good as mine. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Hurry Up And Wait

There is no point in hauling cheap freight.  You use your expensive equipment, your time, and purchase expensive fuel.  You are also putting your life on the line to deliver equipment and toilet paper all while keeping those around you safe from harm.  

Even if your truck, house, and retirement is paid for, you still can't afford to work for free.  Every time the truck moves down the road, the tires lose a little tread, the fuel injectors lose a little life, and the whole truck wears down a little more every day.  When those wheels are turning, you need to be earning.  

My first two years as an owner were filled with disappointments.  I lost money for all sorts of reasons, but I had fun in the process.  One of the ways I lost money was working for cheap.  I was working for people who had zero appreciation for all the money I was saving them.  They would post a cheap load and I would take it.  I would run as hard I could to make delivery early, but it was all for nothing.  

There was rarely a repeat call for my services, but when there was, the customer wanted an even cheaper rate.  There is a drive by the industry to provide affordable rates to the customer, but there are customers that are not worth dealing with because they are unrealistic in their desire to move their freight for as cheap as possible.  

Finding the loads is easy, but getting paid for your time is not.  You must fight for every dollar that you make in trucking.  No one will hand it to you, but it is rewarding when you win what you have worked for.  Anyone who would deny you your hard earned deserved pay for your time is not the kind of person that you want to trust your business to.  And trust is earned, not given away.  

Once you have earned a place as a trusted carrier who is on time, delivers freight damage free, and is honest about how you do your work, you should be paid for your time.  It's as simple as that.  Keep in mind that as a driver, NOTHING, and I MEAN NOTHING, gets done without your hard work.  Even one day when robots will possibly be controlling these rigs, there will be people to maintain them and own them.

Unless the Terminators take over

But then, driving a truck will be the least of your problems.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Watch Your Back

When working around freight, you need to protect yourself.  In trucking, there are two main areas on your body that are prone to damage.  One is your back (your lower back to be precise).
And the other is your knees
There are several ways to protect these areas of your body.  First of all you shouldn't be using your lower back to do anything trucking related.  When you lift something, you should be lowering yourself to the object you are lifting while keeping your back straight.

You should use any steps on your truck or trailer to climb or descend instead of hopping up or jumping down.




When sitting in the driving seat or the passenger seat, you should keep your legs at a 90 degree angle from your back angle. 


One of these lumbar supports has served me well over the years.  This one allows airflow through it and behind it so that your back wont sweat.  If you use it properly and every time you drive, it will save your back.  Of course every person is different and you should experiment with what works for you, but you should take every step you can to protect your back.  It's the only one you have.



Lastly the most important deterrent you can use to prevent injury is moderate daily exercise such as walking around the truck stop or doing low impact aerobics.  If you don't stay active, you will lose your muscle tone, bone density, and healthy heart.  Over the years, trucking will break you down and you will be subject to diabetes, heart disease, back problems, knee problems, hypertension, breathing problems, and so on. 

You must maintain a healthy lifestyle to last in trucking or you will end up at the end of a long career in far worse condition than you can afford to be in.  Do yourself a favor and protect your knees, back, heart, and overall health by being careful, getting moderate exercise, and keeping injuries at bay.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Know How To Un-Do Before You Do

Just as you would need to know how to off-load the truck before you fill the trailer with freight, you need to have a plan to release the securement devices that hold everything on the trailer.

Once a chain or strap is mounted over or through the freight on the deck of the trailer, it will need to be adjusted along the route, and then removed on the other end. If you place a strap where it will get caught in or on the load so that it wont come loose when you loosen it at the unload area, you are in for a trouble.  Chains pose a similar threat as well, but also are far heavier than straps causing a situation that could result in injury.

A snap binder like the one pictured here needs to be used so that when you reach your destination, you can remove it safely.  There are several things wrong with the binder in this picture.  It is tightened upside down so that it will be hard to release and it is secured with a bungee cord, which is illegal (I use a chain with a snap ring).

If this snap binder were on the other side of the chain it could be removed easily and safely.  Whoever placed this binder on this load is in for a tough time removing it later on down the road. 

The same could be said of a strapped load which is compressed by the straps during transit.  Once you have arrived at your destination and it is time to release the straps, you could be in a dangerous situation.  Every care should be taken to make sure that you are nowhere near a point of impact should the load free itself during strap removal and fall off the trailer.

 Knowing how it will be unloaded will be a key in knowing how to secure it to the trailer.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Exit Strategy

When you book freight and show up to haul it, the customer expects you to tell them how to load your trailer.  Sometimes they tell you how they want the shipment situated, but they usually wont be unloading it, so it's in your best interests to have a plan in place before proceeding. 

Many times when you take the freight off, the receiving customer wont have the same type of dock area that the shipping customer has.  You might back into a dock and have pallets loaded from the rear with a pallet jack or a forklift.  Then when you unload that same shipment, the customer might want to remove the freight on the trailer from the side.  If you have a van trailer, you might load carpet rolls with a forklift that has a carpet roll attachment installed and then arrive at the destination where they don't have the same type of equipment.

It is important to ask how it will be taken off the trailer while you're loading because it might dictate how it is positioned on the trailer.  Many times the best thing to do is to call the receiving end and ask how it will be taken off.  If it's obvious how it will be off-loaded then there are no worries.  If you were putting pallets into a van trailer then usually van trailers are unloaded with a forklift or pallet jack. 

Sometimes it seems obvious that the freight would be loaded and unloaded in the same way, but it's not.  On a flatbed, you are more likely to run into this situation because flatbeds can be backed into docks,loaded from the sides, or from the top as with a crane.  It's best to know how the shipment will be off-loaded before it's put on the trailer.  If you don't know, you should ask and if you can't find out, you shouldn't load it. 

You don't want to arrive at a receiver and be stuck in their yard while they are trying to figure out how to unload the trailer.  In one instance, I had a large piece of odd shaped alloy steel loaded in a way that the shipper considered right side up and the receiver considered upside down.  This receiving customer needed a special tool to flip the freight over just to get it off the truck.  There was no way to know that it was loaded upside down because many times the freight isn't something that you've ever seen before. 



Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Valve Adjustment

Trucks break down when they aren't cared for.  One of the yearly mandatory services that you must perform on a truck is the overhead valve adjustment.  This isn't as difficult as you may think.  Over 20 years ago I started adjusting valves on Chevy engines and to this day these diesel engines are practically the same.

There are a few differences.  On the 350 Chevy engine, all you do is remove the valve cover, run the engine at idle and release the valves until they start clacking, then tighten them down a 1/2 turn.

My engine is a 60 series Detroit Diesel and all you have to do is remove the valve cover with the engine off, turn the crank shaft to top dead center for each set of valves and then set the intake with a feeler gauge followed by the exhaust valves.  Tighten the valves with the lock nut and they are adjusted.  Then just clean the valve cover, replace the valve cover gasket and then install the valve cover.

Most shops charge $500.00 for this service, but a good shop will include a blow-by test and a dyno of the engine, plus checking the charge air cooler for leaks.  Sometimes you can catch the shop when they are having a sale, but if you don't have time, and you have a spare valve cover gasket laying around, you can do it yourself.  It really isn't that difficult.