Only specific shops can update Ontario trucks to SPIF rules

John G Smith

Ontario truck shops that want to tap into the surging demand for SPIF-compliant equipment may have a tougher time than they think.

Mechanics can’t simply attach the required steerable lift axles and equalization systems based on existing rigid lift axle locations, says Jeremy Harrower, technical programs manager with the Canadian Transportation Equipment Association (CTEA).

And some shops equipped to do the work are already booked throughout 2021, he adds.

Jeremy Harrower of the Canadian Transportation Equipment Association stresses that the Ontario Ministry of Transportation has been sharing plans to update SPIF configurations for years — even if some groups were hoping for a Hail Mary. (Screenshot: CTEA)

The latest updates to the province’s Safe, Productive, Infrastructure-Friendly (SPIF) configurations took hold Jan. 1, effectively sounding the death knell for rigid lift axles on dump trucks.

But those who update used equipment that was built to meet the older standards are essentially manufacturers, and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation requires them to hold a National Safety Mark, Harrower explained during an association webinar.

By definition, the work involves “any process of assembling or altering the vehicle prior to its sale to the first retail purchaser.”

“These manufacturers are responsible to go through all the steps to build compliant vehicles as though they were new,” he said.

Each step in the process also needs to be recorded through incomplete vehicle documents, which Harrower described as a truck’s birth certificate. And shops will need added equipment like scales if they want to make the required adjustments.

Shops also have to be aware of the way changes affect things like brake timing, he added, noting that forensic engineers involved in future lawsuits will “crucify” those who take shortcuts.

There is clearly a lot of interest in completing such work.

More than 100 participants logged in for the CTEA technical briefing that focused on the related steps.

Years in the making

The underlying changes to weights and dimensions have been in the works for years.

Ontario Ministry of Transportation consultations began with industry experts and other interested parties in the mid-1990s, when the focus turned to the damage that lift axles did to roads and bridges.

“We were very close to losing auxiliary axles as a whole,” Harrower said. “The decision was made to eliminate the use of rigid lift axles and driver controls.”

But a compromise was found in steerable lift axles that had been studied by New Brunswick highway engineers as early as the 1980s.

The buckled pavement around stop signs and traffic lights illustrate the damage caused when rigid axles are lifted on loaded equipment, effectively overloading the surrounding axles. Harrower saw signs of added stress on suspensions and other components when he was responsible for such equipment, too.

In 2004, the province’s highways were estimated to be worth $39 billion. Every $2 million invested into construction would also require another $200,000 to maintain the same stretch of highway over its lifespan, he said. Ministry calculations determined that SPIF-compliant trucks would see the maintenance costs drop to $167,000, and add two years to the typical 10-year lifespans.

“We are by far the heaviest weight jurisdiction in North America,” he stressed, noting that Quebec is a close second.

The equipment that doesn’t comply with SPIF rules is relegated to what’s known as Table 32, which includes related weight penalties. If pulled over and without a permit, weights can immediately be restricted and drivers can be forced to operate the lift axle in the up position at all times.

“It can become an expensive endeavor,” he added.

“We’ve been waiting 10 years to get to this date,” Harrower said, referring to published industry notices that were available in 2011, and discussed in 2008 and 2009. The latest grandfathering provisions ended on Dec. 31.

“There seemed to be a lot of companies waiting for Hail Marys happening.”

Members of the Ontario Dump Truck Association have been involved in several high-profile rallies against the new rules, and are calling for the province to grandfather their vehicles for their full lifespan without any further weight restrictions.

They recently found support from the City of Brampton, but the Ontario Ministry of Transportation has said repeatedly that there are no plans to further extend any grandfathering provisions.

In the meantime, there is still one key SPIF-related change to come.

“One major change that came in July 1 [of 2019] was the ability to control the lift axle from the cab by means of a single switch,” Harrower said. But the switch has to activate hazard lights at the same time, and automatically redeploy the axle when above 60 km/h or after three minutes.

It has presented some wiring challenges for those working on modern dashes.

The rules applying to such in-cab controls have been delayed until Nov. 1, giving OEMs time to introduce systems that meet the requirements.

“The Ontario market is quite unique,” he said.

  • An original version of this article was corrected to show that the Ontario Ministry of Transportation is the regulator that requires those updating equipment to hold a National Safety Mark. Today’s Trucking regrets the error.
John G Smith

John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, Inside Logistics, Solid Waste & Recycling, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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  • Thanks John Smith
    that was well explained for those guys already fitting steer axles them selves then take it the government
    certified shops and getting the Spif certification these shops already braking the law

  • Ok the spif law is here. We are willing to comply but covid has shut many manufacturers down hence leading to long delays in availability of these spif axles. Why should we have to suffer a shutdown in our business to wait for this world wide pandemic to ease. We’re just trying to make a living like everyone else!