Having been a professional truck driver and trainer for more than 30 years, I find that you never, ever know it all. There are always new things to learn. My primary goal with this blog is to help other drivers (especially newer ones) with pertinent information and tips to enable them to work happier and more safely. Guest posts, contributors and feed-back are always welcome and wanted!
Sweetness and Little Mule would talk for hours on the CB. Silly stuff, mostly: homework, family, after-school jobs.
“What did we talk about? Anything and everything, people we knew, everything,” recalls Mike Krumrine (“Little Mule”).
“Back then, things went slower. We really got to know each other,” says Jill Groomes (“Sweetness”).
Though they did not know each other’s real names, they were part of a loose-knit group of high school friends in rural northeast Maryland in the late ‘80s. In the days before cellphones, they used their CBs to spread the word about parties and who was going to the movies and where to meet up afterward.
Sweetness and Little Mule bumped into each other on the airwaves and liked the sound of each other’s voice. Soon, one couldn’t go on the air without checking to see if the other was there. Eventually, they began scheduling their talks, dropping down from Channel 19 to Channel 2 for a little privacy and to avoid conversation-crashing friends, who urged them to just go on a date already. Still no real names, just handles.
Unbeknownst to Jill and Mike, they had met before. She had once yelled at him for letting his puppy run around loose in a busy parking lot. “I really didn’t like him,” Jill recalled.
She was a country girl and a good student and he was a headbanger with long hair, their cliques so separate that they never knew each other at North Carroll High in Hampstead, Md., where they were a year apart. On the CB, though, it was easy to overlook differences and uncover the similarities.
After six months of being nothing but Sweetness and Little Mule to each other, they agreed to go on that date. And when they did, they recognized each other from the encounter in the parking lot, but all the things that might have kept them apart – background, appearance, cliques – didn’t because they already knew each other, knew each other well enough to know that other stuff didn’t matter.
“Once we were together, we were always together,” Jill says.
The Krumrines have been married 25 years now and live in York, Pa. Jill is a retired nurse. Mike is a contractor, who still listens to metal and rides a Harley. They have a daughter and two grandsons.
“I’m the luckiest man in the world,” Mike says. “I couldn’t ask for a better partner or a better friend. The good Lord blessed me with a good woman.”
Mike is on the road a lot, installing sunrooms in Maryland and Pennsylvania, and he still has a CB under his dash. Jill has one, too.
July, 2016 Schneider driver Bob Wyatt has driven for 51 years and logged almost 5 million miles - all without a preventable crash. Does he have sage advice to pass along to other drivers?
Yes and no.
"I could tell them [new drivers] the working habits that I’ve developed over a lifetime, but it wouldn’t mean anything to them. They’re not going to get in their truck and say, 'I want to do it the way that truck driver told me to do it.' Everybody’s going to do their own thing. They’ll take their training and if it’s good training, that’s where they’re going to learn most of it. And the rest of it they’re going to learn by experience."
Still, when pressed, the winner of the 2016 International Driver Excellence Award from the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance offers this advice:
"Most important is to be aware of your surroundings. I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but it's a good thing. Get in the truck, sit down, look around. Don’t be afraid to get out of your truck and look around. There's no shame in getting out of your truck and walking around – as many times as you need to."
He adds: "If you’re pulling away from a dock or you’re backing into a spot at a truck stop, get out and look. A lot of companies emphasize that. They even put a sticker under your mirror that says: It’s a GOAL [Get out and look]."
The long haul driver – he's been married for 49 years and has three children - doesn't let the stress of the job or other road users weigh on him. "There's a lot of pressure out here. Everybody wants you to get out of their way. Don’t let any of that bother you. Just do your own thing and let them do what they want to do." One way to accomplish is not to run with others. "Stay back. Don’t try to run with the pack. Don’t try to be the first one. Let them go. There's less pressure that way."
Wyatt gets frustrated at many truck drivers he sees on the road compared to those he saw several decades ago when truckers were called 'knights of the road' and motorists admired them for their independence, skill and hard work.
"There’s a whole class of drivers out here, and I don’t know where they got their training, but they’re all about aggressiveness, being a bully. 'Get out of my way.' Stay away from those guys. Ignore them. Don’t get caught up in that."
He adds that driving at its core hasn't changed but people have. "You didn’t pass another truck if it was broken down. The first truck that came up would stop and help. It's a busier world now. Everybody thinks they need to be in a hurry and be first." Another thing has changed: traffic congestion. "It adds a lot more stress to the job."
His biggest gripe? Drivers on phones.
"The one thing that aggravates me is everybody with a cell phone in their lap. You get in the car or a truck, and you're ready to start off on your trip, and here’s what you do: Leave your cell phone at home. I’ve seen a lot of wrecks out here [because of people using their phones].
Springfield, IL, resident Wyatt is somewhat of an anomaly, staying with the same company for so long when OTR driver turnover can often be over 90% at some carriers.
"I had offers to buy my own truck several times. But I like the idea of not having to worry about paying the bills for a truck. Schneider has always been a good company to work for. You can jump from one to the other, but there's not that much difference in a lot of them. The years just kept going by and I raised a family, paid the bills, and the money was always there - steady. I guess I found a home."
Auto Leasing Insider Tips, Tricks, Myths and Misconceptions
I’ve never leased a car. I think I can do better owning and it's a far simpler and less worrisome process, versus understanding a complicated lease contract. For some people though, it might work out. If you really want to lease, there’s a lot of good information in the article below about how not to get ripped off, which more than a few dealerships will clean your pockets out if they can! The following thanks to Steve Lynch and truthaboutcars.com. Steve, who spent years in the auto finance business, believes that leasing is a good idea. Links provided:
July, 2016 A record 31 percent of all new vehicles sold this year in the U.S. are leased. I spent a good part of my career studying why some people refuse to lease. Much of their resistance stems from bad buzz. Some say it’s because of the stories they heard about ’80s-era open-end leases where owners were responsible for paying the car’s residual value at lease end. (These are the same customers who will not buy a Hyundai today because they produced crappy cars in the ’80s.) Others oppose leasing because they heard about a guy whose cousin’s neighbor had to pay $5,000 in wear and tear or excess mileage charges at lease end. And there are those of you who will brag comment below about how you always pay cash for your cars and don’t understand why other people won’t follow your lead.
This article is not designed to convert such non-believers to leasing. This advice, drawn from my years in the auto finance business, is for buyers who know the basics and benefits of leasing, want some timely tips on how to get the lowest possible payments, and want to pay less money on lease-end charges.
Knowing your lease money factor is not as important as knowing if the dealer marked it up to make more profit on your deal
We’ll start with the mysterious money factor. Even the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as it continues its misguided mission tostop dealers from marking up interest rates on auto loans, does not seem to know that dealer’s can mark up lease money factors.
The lease money factor is not disclosed on lease contracts, thus making it a breeze for dealers to add a few points to it, limited only by the bank’s markup policies. As an example, the dealer markup could bump the payment on a $30,000 car with a zero down, 36-month lease from roughly $451/month to $474/month. Dealers cannot alter the other part of the lease payment, the vehicle’s residual value, which has a bigger impact on the payment.
Current standard money factors for folks with excellent credit range from around .00180 to .00210, depending upon bank. We found current manufacturer-subsidized rates (read: for cars that are languishing on the lots) as low as .00001 for a 2016 Volkswagen Tiguan S and several other vehiclesaccording to leasehackr.com.
The widely publicized claim that multiplying the money factor times 2400 to determine your “interest rate” is not accurate say some industry experts. A money factor is a mathematical shortcut, not an APR. Since a lease does not amortize down to zero as does a loan, and instead amortizes down to the residual value, I tend to agree that this is a misleading comparison.
Whether your initial payment quote came from the salesperson or the finance manager, rest assured that it’s probably already marked up. Your goal is to get it back down to the bank’s rate. One strategy is to ask the finance manager to show the money factor and to see a copy of the bank’s rate sheet to verify. If you have less than perfect credit, your application may have scored in a lower “tier” and assigned a higher money factor. You can glean this information by asking the finance manager to show you the “call back” sheet from the bank, which tells the dealer exactly how to price your lease contract.
What if you verify you are getting the lowest money factor and still think it’s too high? There is basically no alternative at this point if you’re going it alone. Unlike a traditional auto loan, you can’t shop rate as very few local banks and credit unions offer leasing.
Find out if your dealer has marked up the acquisition or “bank” fee
The lease acquisition fee, or “bank fee,” is set by the leasing source and can range from around $400 to $1,000. Most banks allow dealers to mark it up an extra $100 to $300, money that goes straight into a dealer’s pocket. One way to determine the actual fee is to search carmakers’ websites for special lease deals, which never include any dealer markup on the acquisition or “acq” fee.
BMW’s site states that its fee is $925. If one of its dealers quotes you $1,125, it’s making $200 in profit. Some automakers like Lexus will not disclose an acquisition fee on its website, instead referring you to the dealer for any fee information.
As with the money factor, ask the finance manager to show you a copy of the bank’s policy on acquisition fee markup. If you are the type of shopper who calls or emails multiple dealerships for price quotes, that is the ideal time to ask what they will be charging for the acquisition fee.
Sitting in front of the finance manager and asking for rate sheets might lead to an awkward interaction, but bear in mind that you’re in control at this point. You’re the only calm person involved in the transaction. Your salesperson is worried about finding the next “up.” The sales manager is convinced that the finance manager is about to piss you off bytrying to sell you TruCoatand blow the whole deal. The finance manager is stressed because he or she can only make commission by marking up the money factor or selling you products. This hysteria hits its height on the last day of each month.
Take advantage of all this tension. If the answer to your disclosure requests is a flat refusal or “it is against our policy to show you,” threaten to walk away. You may be beaten down at this point, especially after weeks of research, test drives and hours of negotiating, but hang in there and get the payment you deserve. It is unlikely you will leave without your new vehicle.
Do not let a dealer place your lease through an independent bank instead of its manufacturer’s captive finance arm
You will lose any factory lease loyalty incentives by going with a non-captive bank. Captive banks can include waived payments and disposition fees if you stay with your brand and its bank. If your dealership offers you a lease from an independent bank, insist on using the car company’s captive instead. Independents also have a record of charging you for every minuscule scratch and tear on lease-end charges, as they do not have the processes or resources to dispose of off-lease cars without taking huge losses.
For example, occasionally U.S. Bank would pick a high-end Benz and undercut our lease payments at Mercedes-Benz Financial Services by a few bucks and some dealers would contract some clients with them. The bank’s strategy was to offer ultra-low money factors and low residual values with the hope that the client would purchase the car at lease end, apparently forgetting that customers lease because they want a new car every few years.
Three years later, the angry clients would be yelling at the bank and the dealer over their enormous lease-end bill, U.S. Bank would lose its shirt at auction on the car, and Mercedes-Benz would lose a customer for life.
There are some vehicles that the carmaker’s captive bank choose not to lease. OurKentucky correspondent Bark M. tipped us that Ford Motor Credit does not offer leases on the Shelby GT350R and Focus RS. This is likely due to the fact that many high-end variations of a model historically have lower residual values then a base version. For example, a recent 36-month residual on a 2016 Mercedes-Benz C300 was a respectable 60 percent, while its AMG sibling — the C63 S — has a dismal 47-percent residual. From a payment standpoint, you are being forced to finance such cars or take your chances on an independent lease source.
Leasing companies are car brokers: they are middlemen who will always cost you money and sometimes cost you the entire deal
Most leasing companies are simply brokers who run your deal through a franchised dealer and its captive bank after taking its $300 to $2,000 dealer commission. Many have a history ofripping off automakers and their banks through falsifying customers’ credit applications, identity theft and export scams.
Banks are so tired of being conned by brokers that many require dealers to disclose whether the deal came from a broker or leasing company. If it’s through a broker, the bank will go over your application with a fine-tooth comb plus take a deep dive into your background and the broker’s background. People with less than stellar credit thus have a better chance of being denied a loan or lease than had they applied directly through a dealership.
If your hatred of the dealer experience trumps your need to get the lowest possible price, you may enjoy the convenience that brokers/lease companies can offer. Most can hook you up with any brand of vehicle and may call dozens of dealerships to get you a good deal, which will include a commission fee.
Beware of open-end leases and non-walk-away balloons
I doubt there are many banks still offering open-end leases, where the customer has to pay the residual amount at the end of the term. However, in certain states such as Illinois where tax laws make leasing too costly, banks offer balloon financing in lieu of leasing and most of these are walk-away balloons with no obligation at end of term, other than normal fees.
A few years back, BMW Financial brought back non-walk balloon notes in California, much to our delight at Mercedes-Benz Financial Services. We had faith that certain BMW stores would not disclose that the customers were responsible for paying the balloon amount at the end of the contract and this would result in unhappy clients switching over to Mercedes-Benz products.
If you drive a lot of miles or are accident prone, you should always lease
That is not a typo. Many people think that they “drive too many miles to lease,” when in fact the benefits of leasing are even greater for them.
Suppose you have a lengthy commute and drive 25,000 miles per year and you finance $30,000 at 3.0% APR on a vehicle for 72 months. At the end of three years, the point at which most people trade their cars, you will owe around $16,000 and even a high resale value car like an Accord or Camry would only be worth $9,000 to $10,000 in trade with 75,000 miles on the clock. If your car had a repaired fender, you can deduct a couple grand or more depending upon the number of times the used car manager shakes his head as he inspects your vehicle.
Now suppose you leased for three years and purchased an extra 30,000 miles upfront to cover the amount over the standard lease allowance of 15,000 miles per year. At 20 cents per mile, the additional miles will cost you about $6,000 over three years, so you would be slightly ahead vs. financing. If you had the repaired fender, you would be several thousand dollars ahead as most captive lease companies will not ding you for it unless the repair and paint job was totally botched. At Mercedes-Benz Financial Services, I refereed many disputes over lease-end charges and I know of only one case where we had to charge for poor body work because the quarter panel’s poor patina appeared to be from Testors model-car paint applied at night.
There are ways to reduce paying some excess mileage and excess wear and tear charges
The only way to completely avoid excess mileage charges is to, well, not drive excess miles. The biggest mistake that people make is not to know the amount of miles they drive and enter into lease contract for 12,000 miles per year when they actually drive 15,000 miles per year. At lease end, they will get a bill for the excess miles driven, typically at 25 cents per mile.
If your life or job situation changes mid-lease and you need to add more miles, a simple call to the bank will solve this problem. Most will be glad to add the miles to your contract and increase your payment, which is a better solution than paying a lump sum at the end.
Many banks have copied a policy we pioneered at Benz where unused pre-paid mileage is refunded to the customer at lease end, whether purchased at time of sale or mid-term. Your bank’s mileage policy may vary.
Banks aren’t typically flexible on waiving excess mileage charges, but that’s not the case with excess wear and tear charges. A call to the bank may yield a 20-percent discount off the top, particularly if you’re a repeat customer to the brand. Better yet is to complain to your dealer’s finance department. Dealers hate heat and love to pass it off on the factory. They may be able to make a call and get a large part of the bill waived.
Another plan is to negotiate with the dealer to have it either pay or roll all the excess charges into the new car purchase, particularly if the amount is extremely high.
Banks will continue to offer used car leasing and will continue to fail for one reason
Auto lending giant Ally Financial recently announced that will offer leasing on select pre-owned vehicles, thus continuing the musical chairs of banks jumping into used car leasing, seeing it fail, and jumping out. What Ally does not understand is that dealers won’t sell pre-owned leasing.
A number of captive banks have recently launched pre-owned leasing to help move an influx of year-old loaner vehicles and lease returns. Most dealers reacted by complaining that payments were not lower than those on a new car, thus forgetting one basic tenet of the pre-owned business: new and used car buyers are different. They rarely cross shop between new and pre-owned. If a used car buyer lands on a used Audi A4, that is the car that he or she wants. At that point, there is no reason dealers can’t offer that customer pre-owned leasing as an alternative to financing, but they don’t.
This product does fill a niche: three- to five-year old high-end vehicles. If a store “stole” a baller car on trade, found a bank with a residual value close to what it paid, and had a finance department that understood pre-owned leasing, you might get a very attractive payment.
In other words, it’s probably not going to happen but it doesn’t hurt to ask. I have seen this work, but in each case it was the dealerships’ used car managers who glommed the deals for themselves.
The same conundrum applies to advanced leasing options on new vehicles, such as multiple security deposit leases and one-pay leases, two products that offer highly reduced money factors. The majority of dealers simply do not have the knowledge or patience to sell them.
You may now know more about leasing than some car dealers
We know of a luxury dealership in a very upscale market whose sales manager had no idea how to structure a new-car lease deal. (He also probably spewed the Standard Dealer Excuse about why its leasing penetration was the lowest in their market: “The customers in our area are different. Their Daddies always told them to buy and never rent.”)
Of all the obstacles hindering people from leasing their vehicles, having dealers who cannot present it is the one that drove us factory guys nuts.
The presidential candidates are all ears. They’re criss-crossing the country, giving speeches and raising money, expressing their unwavering support for the working man and woman and promising to do everything they can to improve their lives.
Since the candidates are listening, we asked members of the RoadPro Pro Driver Council what the next president of the United States should know about trucking. They had plenty to say:
“I haven't heard much about our nation’s infrastructure. We have more vehicles on the road than ever before, but our roads have been structurally deficient for decades. Our roads are crumbling; bridges and overpasses are being condemned; and new construction faces so many roadblocks that it takes years to get approved. What plan do either of you have to address these needs? New taxes and toll roads are not the answer. That will drive up the cost of transportation, resulting in a rise in the cost of the products we haul.” – Thomas Miller
“I want both candidates to have a better understanding of the fact that trucks are the mainstream provider for many goods. Without truck drivers and their trucks, life would come to a halt. We keep this country a great place to live. Imports and exports, intermodal transportation — trucks haul and transport just about everything from destination to destination.” – Joanne Fatta
“Do away with the Federal Excise Tax, as it discourages the purchases of new equipment and increase the federal fuel tax to make up the difference. This would emphasize increased fuel economy while creating jobs.” – Henry Albert
“Trucking is the backbone of America. Trucks bring you the things you want. Slow us all down to 62 mph and it will cause gridlock and you won't get it. We don't need the government to tell us how fast we can drive or if we need electronic devices to track us. I don’t care for the forced lunch break. I'm in charge of me. If I'm tired, I'll nap; if I'm hungry, I get something to go. This is not rocket science. I pay more in taxes than an average worker makes in a year. I guess what I'm really trying to say is no more taxes. I'm tired of footing the bill for the people who won't work.” – Maggie Stone
“I would like to tell the president to put someone who has driven for a living in charge of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.” – Jeff Clark
“Trucking and truck drivers are treated as the red-headed stepchild of American industry. Our country faces many issues. Some might argue that trucking issues are not that important; I disagree. Trucking is a microcosm of society. Issues that affect drivers have a long-term impact on America.
“I’m disappointed no candidate attended any of trucking's largest events, such as MATS, GATS or the Walcott Jamboree. That would have been a great opportunity to learn about the industry. Trucking is at a crossroads. A true leader will realize that a strong trucking industry means a stronger economy. The key is to bring everyone together and realize that if we work together for the good of the industry and the economy we can solve many issues. In many cases, it can be done with initiatives and not with government regulation. A working relationship based on best practices for all involved will be the most responsive to everyone’s needs.
“It is my hope the candidates realize trucking is key to America's future. Truckers wish to be part of the solution. We have many ideas on how to transform and improve this industry and road safety. We ask that our next president be a leader and a partner in helping us to achieve these goals.” – Tom Kyrk
June, 2016 When you're driving a Pinnacle Express fuel truck down the road — that's 130,000 lbs. of tanker truck hauling 13,400 gal. of jet fuel — and there's some obstacle or accident suddenly in front of you, you've got two possibilities: stand on those brakes and stop the truck, or hit whatever it is if you can't.
"My drivers, because we haul fuel tankers, are trained not to 'avoid' the accident," says Jim Fox, the fleet's vice president and general manager. "They cannot turn the wheel to avoid, because they will roll over and it will lead to a much bigger problem.
"There's a whole lot of engine and frame rail at the front of the truck to absorb it," he continues. "I pray to God we're not at fault, of course, but I need my people home in one piece at the end of each day."
Any breakdowns are another big problem for this aviation fuel hauler, especially because of all-too-prevalent distracted driving. If one of the fleet's trucks has a problem and loses power, Pinnacle drivers are trained to get the truck out of the roadway if they can, even if it damages the vehicle. "Everybody and their mother is driving down the road doing this now," says Fox, gesturing with his thumb as if texting or using a smartphone. "I just can't have my guys there on the side of the road.
"If you can't get off the road, you can't get off the road. But my drivers are actually trained — this is right out of my training protocol — I would rather have them destroy a tire, a rim, a fender, fuel tank, fuel tank step than sit on the side of the road waiting for repair," Fox explains. "That's how critically we view sitting on the side of the road with a tanker full of aviation gasoline or jet fuel.
"With what we haul, when we get hit, we tend to leave a smoking crater in the middle of the intersection," he adds.
Rock stars and crop dusters
In the early 2000s, Pinnacle was fueling gas stations, railroads and some fleets as well as a small amount of aviation fuel customers. Business was souring with the gas stations — station owners were demanding lower and lower rates, Fox says — so Pinnacle decided to drop that business and focus on aviation fuel transport exclusively.
He says he observed at the time that the aviation industry had a cooperative approach to safety. "I liked the safety culture, and they were willing to share with me the things they did to ensure that their customers get home in one piece," he recalls.
However, when the fleet moved solely to aviation fuel in 2004, half the drivers left. Pinnacle had 10 trucks and 12 trailers then and was suddenly down to five trucks. But the company kept on and now is running 24 tractors and 33 trailers, each of which might haul 2.5 million gal. of aviation fuel every year.
Pinnacle now fulfills "a critical part of the [aviation fuel] supply chain," Fox contends, and the fleet's trucks are filled at loading terminals throughout the Midwest and in Texas. There are quality control checks on the fuel when it's loaded, before the truck leaves the terminal and when the fuel is delivered. "Ultimately, it's uploaded into a refueler and put into the wing of an aircraft," Fox explains.
So who does Pinnacle serve? Rock stars and performers with their own airplanes, actually, and others like the military, private corporate flight programs, mom-and-pop farmers dusting crops and other private pilots.
"You might have Billy Joel and Elton John sharing an aircraft," Fox says. "We supply fuel to their FBOs (fixed-base operators) that handle the [fuel] uploads." Pinnacle found it had to expand operations into Texas because hauling airplane fuel up north "dies" the first quarter each year.
"There aren't any crop dusters flying; there's no air shows. It's too cold for the mom-and-pops to be up there flying and enjoying it," Fox says. The expansion into Texas allows Pinnacle to keep hauling year-round, and the company now has nine trucks and 13 trailers based out of Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and Tyler. From Texas, the trucks are "going all over the place: Colorado, Florida, Mississippi, Arkansas," Fox says.
Equipment lessons learned
As Pinnacle was getting focused on aviation fuel, the fleet also for the first time had purchased new trucks, coming from "a mishmash" prior to that. The tractors were on a replacement cycle of 5-7 years and 450,000-500,000 mi.
"We kept with that new truck model," Fox notes. "I'm changing power out, because my guys can't be on the side of the road with a breakdown because we were too cheap." In one purchasing cycle, Pinnacle went with Freightliners — partly due to the OEM's maintenance diagnostics program, says Fox — wearing Bendix disc brakes, changing over from drums. Pinnacle now has disc brakes on all power units.
"We noticed an immediate difference in our maintenance cycles" with disc brakes, Fox contends. "The drivers noticed an immediate difference in the braking capability of the tractors." Pinnacle trailers, meanwhile, stay in service much longer — and with salty northern roads, the company switched to aluminum frames on tandem interstate trailers and stainless steel frames on six-axle fuel transports to avoid corrosion.
"We started paying more attention to the specifications of the equipment. How were we building these? What are we doing?" recalls Fox. Pinnacle decided to swap its dual-tire setup for super-wide-base singles, also saving weight with aluminum rims. The super singles — the fleet chose a product from Michelin — doubled tread life from just under 10,000 mi. per 1/32-in. of wear to 18,000-20,000 mi. per 1/32-in. of wear, he says, and also boosted fuel economy by 10%.
But there was a problem: with less width overall on the super-wide singles, the loaded trailers were causing axles to deflect in at 1/2-deg. of negative camber "putting excess load on the inside" and wearing the tires unevenly. SAF-Holland had frame-axle combinations available with 1/2-deg. of positive camber at the wheel end, Fox explains, and switching to those axles fixed the problem.
The new axles had disc brakes and SAF's premium INTEGRAL rotors. "We've experienced a lot of benefits from going to this axle and brake combination," Fox says, which his drivers have said has the tractor-trailer combos stopping "like a sports car." Sooner than expected, it came to that stop-or-hit directive Pinnacle drivers face.
"My senior driver was coming to Grand Rapids [MI] and was somewhere between there and Lansing. Somebody got stupid in front of him and suddenly came to a dead stop on I-96," says Fox. "We had just put the first of our six-axle disc brake trailers into revenue service.
"He had traffic on the left, and my drivers are trained not to [cut the wheel and] avoid. So he dynamited the brakes," Fox continues. "He estimates that the truck — 65 tons of truck, trailer, driver and fuel — stopped in about 235 ft.
"It made funny noises and there was stuff flying around the cab from the sleeper, but he shut it down."
Also when the fleet went to disc brakes with trailers, "the other fringe benefit we found is the trailers are almost maintenance-free now," contends Fox. "We're only worried about tire pressure and lights."
There's less maintenance, and the maintenance job itself is also easier and quicker, he emphasizes, which means less downtime in the shop. An ASE-certified mechanic himself, "when I do a brake job on a drum brake trailer, it's about an hour-and-a-half per axle. You've got to press out bushings, you've got to clean up all the rust. It's a pain," Fox says.
"With the disc brakes, it takes us longer to get the tire and wheel off than it does to change the brake pads," he notes. "I'm of the opinion that drum brakes are costing us three times as much to operate because of downtime and maintenance." According to Fox, given the fleet's hazardous cargo and braking performance needs, Pinnacle won't go back to drum brakes and is moving to all discs going forward.
"There's more uptime; it's a lighter axle," Fox notes, pointing to further lightweighting gains from the brakes. "Yeah, it's a little bit more expensive up front, but I look at it this way: These brakes last three times as long as drums. If I'm going to get an axle and brake combination and I'm only going to replace the brake pads three times in 10 years, what's an extra few thousand dollars? My maintenance costs are almost nothing," he says.
Except for 10 older trailers with drum brakes — which Fox says he's looking to replace out with discs — "we've had disc brakes on our trailers for six years now and haven't gotten into replacing rotors," he notes.
The reduced maintenance leads to better Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) scores on maintenance/ shop time. "I'm able to use that cudgel with my customers, because I have them compare my CSA ratings to other carriers' in the same market and I can say, 'Hey, I'm not going to put 8,000 gal. of jet fuel in a frog pond,'" Fox says.
"'And oh, by the way, that's your jet fuel — and what'll happen is for the next 10 years in that pond, every time a frog farts, a little puff of black smoke comes out.'