Emissions controls killed my career as an O/O

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As the EPA releases yet another round of emissions standards, I’m reminded that these emissions controls killed my career as an owner-operator.

More accurately, the imposition of unreasonable targets set by special interest groups and the politicians getting their spineless pockets lined, killed my career.

truck emissions
(Photo: iStock)

I was your ideal owner-operator, but let me go back in time first.

In the fall of 1994, I was wrapping up another season as a custom sprayer and floater driver for Terraflex Ag Services based out of Niverville, Man. Typically, I would drive longhaul or dispatch for the winter. Sitting around for the winter to collect employment insurance was never in my DNA.

That fall my boss came to me with a proposal. He felt I could start up a trucking division to haul our own fertilizer for the winter. Then I would use that power unit to pull my sprayer in the summer, instead of one our normal grain tandems. He wanted to make sure I had a reason to be back in the spring.

It worked well. We parted ways in 1998 when I broke my elbow and couldn’t drive. I’m forever grateful to Allan Kroeker for giving me trust and guidance.

I continued to work my way up until in 2003 I had my own fleet of three trucks doing specialized agricultural and off-road trucking. I was also dealing with ongoing issues from head injuries that impacted my mental health.

A few years later I recognized that due to these issues, I was best as an owner-operator of one truck. I downsized and continued my career as such.

Throughout these years I paid my bills by buying two- or three-year-old trucks from a fleet. I had success getting more mileage out of them and then replacing them.

In 2009, I made the worst decision of my trucking career. I bought a used truck, an ’06 with about 500,000 kms on it. This truck had exhaust gas recirculation but not diesel exhaust fluid (DEF). I listened to the company salespeople insist about how amazing their products were.

The ’06 belched more soot and got worse fuel mileage than the previous versions I owned. I did some aftermarket enhancements because I simply couldn’t afford the cost of the valves and fuel anymore. Before you get your gaskets all blown out, testing proved that my engine ran cleaner.

This truck would’ve bankrupted me if I wasn’t so set on paying my bills. I paid for that truck for years afterwards.

I got into a 2013 truck with the full DEF package and thankfully I could pay bills again. But I dealt with constant sensor and regen issues. The fuel mileage got back to where I was at with my 2000 C-15, so that helped. You read that right. I only got back to my fuel mileage goals that I achieved with my 2000 600-hp C-15.

This is one thing that makes me see red. Trucks in the latter ’90s and early ’00s were achieving decent fuel economy and soot reductions through electronics, lower viscosity oils, aerodynamics, etc., and it was all thrown away for more than a decade.

We have gotten to the point where the DEF systems run decent in the summer, are still a problem in cold weather. Especially when the suppliers turn the pumps off in cold weather so we need to resort to plastic jugs. We ban plastic straws, but not DEF jugs?

In 2016, I’d had enough. I sold my truck and worked with my son for the summer.

I never bought a semi again. I cannot justify the up-front cost and the downtime losses even with warranty.

I care deeply about our environment and mental health issues. This is why I made the statement that I’m an ideal owner-operator. I don’t want to be rolling black coal or leaking oil. I don’t want to use more fuel than I need and my anxieties and tendencies along with my love of spreadsheets have meant that I have tracked fuel economy since I drove my first truck in 1988.

It’s critical for our company owners, associations and local politicians to stand up against the EPA27 ideas. We are burning cleaner than ever. The engines are the most reliable we’ve ever had.

Tell those unelected bureaucrats and special interest groups that if they think they can do better, they should prove it by cleaning up their own act. Those who dump raw sewage into our rivers, derail hazmat trains and fly private jets to environmental summits can join them.

We have a proven track record in trucking and we keep improving on our own. Logic and facts are on our side.

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David Henry is a longhaul driver, Bell Let's Talk representative and creator/cohost of the Crazy Canuck Truckin podcast. His passion is mental health and presenting a better image for trucking to the public.

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  • This man is only one of the truths in trucking that can be told. I had over $70000.00 in repairs on the def side of my engine in two and a half years.

  • The people that have the authority to. Make. And. Change. Regulations. Should have to had worked the job
    before they even. get. In that position .

  • If the government wants emision they should pay us for downtime and repairs.
    All about the money.
    Fat, greedy politicians in bed with China and corporations stuffing their pockets full of money.

  • This people don’t have clue what’s is like or how trucks ruan ….they create bad laws for oo.

  • A very poignant piece written from a “seat of the pants” , non deniable, perspective.
    Emmissions, the control of emmissions and the control of our regulators is definitely suspect. Unfortunatley, the scientific fact is the planet is warming up, and if not kept in check, in a world of hurry, our problems will be much bigger than we can possibly imagine today.
    The only way, we can make a difference is if we all work collectively.
    Diesel just happens to be an easy target, as the entire North American population understands, and can visualize, thick black smoke coming out of a tailpipe, and we know it is bad!!

    How about a fishing net slowly killing a whale. I don’t think anybody wants to see a whale harmed/suffer, so what do we do? We (society) start to investigate how we can make better fishing nets. Will these new technologies put the smaller fisherman out of business?

    I don’t know the answer to that, but i do know there will be a whole new industry researching safer fishing nets.

    it is all in the long game.
    What are our collective expectations and goals? I know I (and hopefully the majority) don’t want to leave our grandkids a planet that is suffering. Hopefully, they will inherit a planet that is on the mend, and will be able to feed the 10 billion inhabitants that are expected.
    Emmissions and better fishing nets, are just examples of the many steps that “society” will need to take to create a better future for every living creature, and being a part of a solution to any problem will be rewarding in and of itself.

    Let’s face it, what is in it for me, is no longer a viable solution to our problems.

  • David, thank you very much for publishing your story. I pray, it will be heard by those who can impact the trucking industry. The “aftertreatment” hardware production creates way more waste than simple diesel engine like C-15 or Detroit’s 60 series. Many owner-operators and small fleets went and will go bankrupt because of this insanity.

  • EPA needs to understand that the mining and manufacturing of emissions devices especially a big mining hole left in the earth for these precious metals is just as harmful as the ole c15 cat it’s the same amount of damage either way but it’s a financial devistation to the guy working dealing with these problematic systems. EPA also needs to realize that climate change is just part of it we have already had one ice age and it wasn’t because of polluting truck’s mother nature is just like a real mother she changes over time stop costing the guy working more money.

  • These polititions making these ridiculous laws are voted in keep voting them in the problem doesnt get better.and they are in washington till they die off are we that stupid to keep voting them in?i had a 2017 freightliner i lost becouse of the def system every 1200 miles the outlet nox sensor went bad.i delt with it for 5 months spent 20 thousand never got fixed i ealked away from truck.and it just came out a scientist said we been getting duked the oceans are actually cooler imagin that.politictions lie!! Nooooo the politions dont want americans to have money they want us to have just enough to survive. If we dont wake up an vote these dinosaurs out its never gonna get better.

  • Very good commentary Mr. Henry.

    I also left the industry after 36 infraction free years because of these post 2007 engines. DEF and DPF engines were literally making me suicidal so I had to get away. Even though trucking was my biggest love snd the only thing I ever wanted to do.

    And you are correct, my trucks from the year 2000 got better fuel mileage, were 100 times more reliable, pulled stronger and none of them blew black smoke.

    The government and the lobbyists they cater to have completely ruined the industry and they have absolutely destroyed the most efficient engines we had….the diesel.

    Now I’m just going to sit back and watch the complete failure their electric dream is going to be, all the while doing nothing to help the environment.