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News  January 10, 2013 5:19PM

Downtime is getting worse, fleet owners complain

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- If football is a game of inches, trucking is a business of minutes. Every minute a truck spends in unproductive downtime costs dearly. Yet the latest truck technologies, engines in particular, are adding to the problem...



NASHVILLE, Tenn. — If football is a game of inches, trucking is a business of minutes. Every minute a truck spends in unproductive downtime costs dearly. Yet the latest truck technologies, engines in particular, are adding to the problem rather than alleviating it.

That’s the stark message trucking company owners gathered for a press conference at Volvo’s new Nacarato truck dealership in La Vergne, Tenn.,  passed on to dealer and OEM officials. The declining equipment reliability when coupled with less than efficient dealer practices are greatly adding to downtime.

Volvo asked the motor carriers for their frank comments on their challenges during a candid one-hour discussion. It then referred to them in framing its argument that the industry had to place greater focus on uptime and while bringing the media and truck owners up to speed on its latest strategies and tools towards this regard.

“The biggest challenge that we struggle with is the engines that we have. I spend so much of my time dealing with engine maintenance issues,” said Stan Pritchett, owner of Beacon Transport, a 133-truck fleet. 

Referring to engine manufacturers in general, Pritchett said his truck downtime “has become tremendous.”

“No longer can I say that because I buy new equipment, I’m not in the shop a lot. I’m looking to run new engines and I want my equipment to stay running,” he reinforced.

Mike McFarlin from M&W Transportation, a 95-truck fleet out of Nashville, Tenn., certainly sympathizes with Pritchett’s issues. He is bearing the same burden.

“Downtime is horrendous,” he said, adding it is particularly bad  when trying to get service at a dealer different from the one where you purchased your trucks. He emphasized this is an industry wide problem, stressing that the ability, training and staffing of technicians at many dealers needs to be considered in view of the technical problems being caused by ever more complex equipment.

Kirk Rutherford, whose private fleet serves Bridgestone dealers, also complained loudly about independent dealers who don’t work as a network.

“I can bet on 110% performance from the home dealer. But at other dealers, you get the attitude that you didn’t buy it here so get in line. The local dealer is taking care of the people he goes to church with and his kids play soccer with,” he lamented, adding that as result if his trucks are within a few hundred miles from the home dealership he prefers to bring them there rather than deal with the closest dealership.

 “When we roll in to your dealership someone needs to be looking out for my own interests. We need support across the country,”  he stressed.

McFarlin conceded that tools brought in by OEMs to better diagnose equipment are helpful but questioned the value of a quick diagnosis if it then takes several days to get the part necessary to complete the repair.

“In my opinion that part should be in stock,” he said.

Pete Carpenter, president of PAC Trucking, another Nashville-based trucking firm, said there also needs to be improvement in communication. Downtime is particularly important to Carpenter as his entire 21-truck fleet is contracted to serving FedEx. But he said accurate information is more important than continued but vague assurances that his truck will be worked on.

“The information is more important than the truck at times. I want to be told that it’s going to take three days to fix it rather we’ll get to it as soon as we can,” he said, explaining the right information gives him more time to make alternative plans.

Another issue raised was flexibility – or rather the lack of it – when it comes to payment. For example, dealers may decide to not release a truck until payment for the repairs has been made.

“I work for a $13B company, our name is on the trucks, and I’m going to stiff you for a $2,000 charge? Fix it, and I will deal with the bill later,” Rutherford said.

To which Carpenter added that no matter how much he may love his drivers, he doesn’t think it wise to give them a credit card with an unlimited spending limit to handle any emergency.

Volvo executives and the owners of the Nacarato dealership acknowledged these industry concerns and answered with a variety of strategies, programs and tools they hope will address them. For more on that read our continuing coverage on the Volvo press conference on www.trucknews.com.


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4 Comments » for Downtime is getting worse, fleet owners complain
  1. Steve says:

    2 points

    1)

  2. Dale Holman says:

    I am going through the problem with a truck right now. 8 ( Thursday) days ago check engines light come on. Call dealer and told to drop off truck and they would get it in in 3 or 4 days to look at it. I took it next morning to another dealer that got it right in. Found out that EGR sensor was maybe bumped or loose connection. They cleared the light that showed an active fault, but was actually inactive. Fault can only be cleared with software, I was told. Send truck out 6 ( Saturday) days ago only to get call from driver that lights back on. Return truck to dealer 4 days ago ( Monday ), now a pressure sensor failed. Wait for parts and pick up truck 2 days ago ( Wednesday ) and assigned to run. Driver calls while pre-tripping truck at 4 am Thursday to say that light on again. Return truck to dealer and told that original code of EGR pressure sensor failed. I was told that it is a very common failure for the DD15, but because it is a common failure, that no part is available, and that it is based on an allocation system. The truck is now down indefinitely with a possibility of up too 2 weeks or more. I have to wonder that if this is such a common failure, why did Detroit Diesel not order enough updated parts and issue a recall to serve the units on the road. Now my newest truck that is at the dealer for the 9th time is unavailable while the payments continue. My customer FedEx is not impressed with downtime and failures.

    It is a good thing that I am running older trucks, 5 pre EGR engines and 4 EGR engines and one piece of junk. The one truck has counted for more dealer time in 18 months than the rest of my units combined.

  3. Bill says:

    We need some push back on the EPA to stop the insane march toward ever more stringent emission controls. The technology to meet these standards is extremely complex and expensive, 2007 emission levels should have been frozen, how much sense does it make to haul DEF all over North America in tankers just to keep everybody on the road. This will not work itself out as the bar continues to be raised, brace yourself for the effects of downtime, as it is the new normal. In Mexico it is legal to run non EGR Engines, it would be interesting to compare their fleet downtime/warranty to U.S.A.
    Canada

  4. John says:

    My older truck (2006 w/s S60 detriot) does break down and I need to wait but my payments are MUCH lower and far more parts on the shelf. Checking with the drivers of the new company trucks I find my truck (1.4 million km) is in the shop less so why would I buy new truck?

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