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.