Let’s talk big trucks

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By Mark Weisseg

I came from an automotive and heavy duty trucking background. You folks would not believe the issues that go into being a truck driver. Forget the headaches of getting your CDL and other permits to drive 80,000 pounds of truck to get the goods down the road. The question I always got was why does the driver do that?

Let me explain what they live with. They have a truck that weighs 80,000 or more pounds with cargo. The truck gets 6 mpg. They drive 100,000 miles per year. Fuel cost could be $3.00 per gallon. If the company limits the road speed governor to 68 miles per hour the company understands its costs. But take the same scenario and if the company can limit the driver to 65 mph the cost savings are huge. Take a company with five thousand trucks. If they save one percent on the fuel economy, again they save huge amounts of money.
I spent so much time working with the fleets trying to squeeze anything we could on fuel economy. Let me give you another example. The company sets up a driver at 65 mph if he uses the throttle pedal. If he uses the cruise control they will allow him say 69 miles per hour. Why? Because studies prove using cruise control save a lot of money. Also, if a big rig idles all night so the driver can stay warm it is about a gallon an hour used. Big money again if you have a fleet of 100 or 10,000.

We used to joke that a truck in the USA never passes anyone because the road governor might be set at 62mph at that is it. But, when you add up Schneider or Wal Mart may have ten thousand trucks out there, if you can save 1 percent and spread that over the fleet it saves tens of thousands. It is a serious business. The big fleets spend countless hours trying to figure out how to keep a good driver in the seat and save money.
Now, an owner operator – that is the guy that has a truck or two, these rules may not apply. They want to go fast, get the next load and go. They usually pass you doing 80 mph in the snow. But, all drivers are your second hand safety valve. They watch the roads, know every inch of them, do a great job with runaways and other bad people.
If you cannot see the drivers side mirrors he cannot see you. Do not cut him off as try stopping a 80,000 pound truck quickly. It’s not going to happen. The drivers are like you.
I met thousands of drivers over the years, fleet owners, managers, mechanics, and so on. It is a very tough business and I don’t mean tough as in they will hurt you. The industry is short probably 50,000 or more drivers nation wide. The pay is pretty good but how would you like to leave Chicago for LA , pick up a load of apples and turn around and drive right back? The days are long, the nights are longer. Like any business there is always a bad dude somewhere.

The big companies do so much charity work and haul so many goods and services for all of us. The phrase, you bought it, we brought it is a bumper sticker on many trucks.
There are great women drivers and industry leaders in this business as well. Did you know that Sir Paul McCartney’s wife is in the trucking business? Oh yes, her Father owns one the country’s biggest Carriers and yes her work background comes from running that big company. The owner of the Cleveland Browns owns a trucking company and a nationwide fuel outlet for truckers. And the list goes on.

A big rig tractor ( front of a truck not the trailer) can easily be $100,000 each. A school bus today can be 75k to 95 K, a flat bed trailer that hauls goods or steel coils can be 30 to 50k. Maintenance on these trucks is number one. The Police and other agencies do spot checks all the time to ensure the log books are up to date whether they are paper or electronic and they crawl all over the truck looking for safety violations. A marker light out or a headlight out and you get a big ticket. Oh, and as for the CDL or commercial drivers license, a physical is done along with a back ground check. And, if you get a speeding ticket while driving your personal car, it counts against your points on your CDL. These are just a few of the items I have space to talk about.

In order to operate you need a physical, a background check and regular training. If not, you lose your license. Imagine driving west bound and you are pulled over in the family car. License, registration, and a complete safety check on the side of the road. Anything not up to date or iffy and you can park it there and fix it, have it towed and have it fixed or worse. But either way you are going to be fined hundreds of dollars for the smallest of the violations. If you are hauling hazard materials you better have the placard signs posted and be right. Better not be over weight on some roads or that is a fine. Go to regular, monthly safety meetings, and so on. When you see a UPS driver for example being recognized because he or she drove a million miles without an incident you should take notice.
Imagine, driving a big rig one million miles without any incident. And the industry has many awarded every year without much fan fair. Imagine also driving a rig that has 13 or 18 forward gears to shift through to get up to speed. Imagine your driving habits scrutinized everyday.

With GPS technology the big companies know exactly where the truck is and how fast it is going. I have been in the war rooms watching a truck on a big screen on 1-10 going 67 miles per hour. The driver knew we were watching but the end user or customer knew he or she was an hour away from the truck rolling in with the products they need. Truckers never want to be empty or dead heading home. They will go nearby and pick up another load to get that product to someone. The fleet manager or dispatch person is like an airport tower. Directing who goes where and when. It is a very busy position that has stress you cannot imagine. Think about a fleet owner that wants to provide the best equipment meaning trucks for the drivers. Flipping the fleet over every 3-5 years. Why? Truckers like you do not want to drive a beat up truck. They average 100,00 miles a year so things wear out. To attract quality drivers you need to offer quality trucks. The cycle goes on and on, and on.

I just wanted to give you a little taste of the truck life. In future articles if anyone wants me too I can explain engine technology, the jake brakes you hear when they slow down, or just about anything else.

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