Keep on Trucking: Why We Need The Mighty Truck
By Mark Weisseg
Hopefully most of you that follow my stories know I have over 40 years in the car and truck industry. I am a collector, hot rodder, diesel guy, bus guy, and many more things. I spent fifteen years of my life working for a large Diesel engine company.
This picture is from back in the day of the 60’s and 70’s where diesel engines were good for about 250,000 miles and then needed to be overhauled. Today, the expectation is one million miles plus. Imagine, your daily car a million miles on the odometer. These trucks are not cheap to buy or cheap to maintain. The industry is also in dire need of drivers, mechanics, dispatch people and so on.
I remember if you had 300 horsepower under your hood you were just one of the guys. Prep time took hours to get a rig ready to go 110 miles. On a large hill a driver could get out and walk along side of the tractor as it crawled up the hill. The thick black smoke poured like coal out of the stack and you never wanted to be behind one on a two lane road. Let me get you up to speed on today’s trucks. The average horsepower is 475 today with some opting for 500 or 550. We sold a 600 hp engine but the market was very thin. That really was an owners- operators engine. Meaning, the truck was owned privately.
Fleets would rarely ever do that. The attention to detail from the fleets is unimaginable. Let me give you an example. There are big fleets out there with over ten thousand class eight trucks on the road every day. Fuel economy is second only to safety. Imagine you are the fleet manager with responsibilities of ten thousand trucks. If you are averaging six miles to the gallon and the current cost of diesel fuel is $3.00 a gallon you can see the need for savings. Now, take those same ten thousand trucks at three dollars a gallon and say you figure out how to get 6.3 miles per gallon. The savings in your pocket are huge. It can be tens of thousands of dollars a year in savings. Idling a class eight truck uses about a gallon a hour so you can see how that adds up. Also, today’s trucks use DEF fluid along with diesel fuel to clean up the emissions. Rarely do you see a newer truck blowing black smoke anymore. If you see one it’s either old, or it has a major engine issue and will not last much longer.
Did you know that a truck driver has a separate license called a CDL? Commercial Drivers License. This requires regular physicals and random drug tests. Also, if a truck driver gets a ticket in his personal car it affects his “points” against his CDL license. Did you know the trucks are constantly pulled over on the road and inspections are done? A marker light out is a ticket. Faulty steering or brakes and the truck gets towed. The average truck rolling down the highway can weigh from 80,000 pounds to over 100,000 pounds. Try stopping that quickly when you cut them off. Larger tractors or what is known as the front of the trucks have a small area for a bunk bed, maybe a TV or small frig. A larger unit has what is called a Condo unit which is a very small apartment on wheels. No showers or toilets on these trucks so drivers go into truck centers for fuel, a meal and a shower. Maybe get a haircut or just unwind as they by law cannot drive more than so many hours in a day to avoid fatigue. Imagine, you pick up a load in New York at the harbor and drive all the way to Los Angeles, drop off your load, get reloaded with say fruit and drive back to New York. Every week, holidays, nights, weekends. Not exactly a job to look forward too. Imagine driving a rig like this and having 18 forward gears to shift through to get up to speed. All the while concerning yourself with safety, fuel economy, and directions. Tolls, holy smokes the tolls are very high. Naysayers like that because they claim the big rigs beat up the road so they should pay for it. Never mind the freeze, thaw cycle or lousy workmanship or lack thereof.
If you have it, a truck probably shipped it to you. Without these road warriors your shelves at your favorite stores will be empty. Ok, we will use a train. Ok, how does it get from the train then to the store?
Imagine if you were driving from Charlotte, North Carolina to Chicago in your car. You cannot drive for more than 11 hours. If you have a marker light out anywhere on your car you get a ticket. Then, you have unannounced road side inspections. Brakes thin- park the car until you fix it. Not getting the best fuel economy in your car? Be prepared to explain why in detail. After you get to your location someone uploads your computer in your car to see how fast you were going, did you have any panic stops, did you idle too long and so on. And, imagine if your car was being followed by satellite. Some trucks are being watched by satellite so the owners know exactly where the truck is all the time. No sneaking off for reasons you cannot explain.
Maintenance, maybe ignored in the car world but not with trucks. You pay 30 bucks for an oil change. Try 150 and up. You pay 12 bucks for a car wash, try 75 and up. Friends, truck drivers are under constant scrutiny and they really are our hereoes. They are another set of eyes and ears on the roads. They use CB radios as well as cell phones but like you cannot drive and text. You would not believe the pressure they are under daily to get your product to you on time.
I have heard people say terrible things about truckers and I take that to heart. There will always be a bad apple in every crowd. A bad cop, bad Doctor, bad lawn care, bad Dentist and so on. Don’t throw an entire industry under the bus for one bad apple. Oh, just for the record, your personal car might cost you 25 to 40k depending on your budget. Did you know just the tractor or front of the truck can be over 100 thousand dollars? Then, you need to have a trailer. A flat bed trailer could cost 35k and the enclosed one much more. Then you need hold down straps, chains, fire extinguishers, road flares, orange triangles and much more to operate. It’s a very complicated job that has been in the throes of a deepening and worsening market. Drivers and such are at a premium. So much so the OEM’s are building more automatic transmission trucks for ease of use. Radar braking and dash cams are the norm now for safety reasons. These big rigs get cut off all the time and the driver is to blame. Any infraction at all, no matter how small the driver will be drug tested right away. It can be one of the loneliest jobs on the planet driving endless boring miles.
There is so much more I could tell you but I think I got my point across. So, please just look at the entire industry a bit different from here on out. If we keep losing drivers at this rate at some point the shelves will not be filled as fast as you wish.
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