Truck parts shortage intensifies, extending to ‘common parts’

Fleet maintenance teams are struggling to source many of the truck parts they need as suppliers face shortages of commodities from microchips to rubber.

“It’s really starting to dribble down into common parts,” said Darry Stuart of DWS Fleet Management, during an online Fleet Talk presentation for the spring meeting of the American Trucking Association’s Technology and Maintenance Council (TMC).

trailer tires
Rubber supplies are under pressure because of factors such as stockpiling in China, and flooding and disease affecting rubber trees. (Photo: istock)

The emerging rubber shortage alone could affect the availability and pricing of everything from tires to O-rings, added TMC executive director Robert Braswell.

Several reports have identified challenges including China’s recent stockpiling of natural rubber, as well as flooding and disease that are affecting rubber trees themselves.

But the shortages are not limited to parts alone. While South Shore Transportation maintenance director Kevin Tomlinson admits it’s difficult to source wood for trailer floors, he is facing lengthy waits for new trailers themselves.

“It’s a perfect storm of build and parts,” Tomlinson said, referring to the surging market demand that has aligned with the material shortages.

Industry analysts at FTR recently reported that U.S. trailer manufacturers are almost booked solid for the remainder of 2021 and have yet to open 2022 order boards because they’re uncertain about material and component costs.

Parts inventories

The situations are requiring some “creative” sourcing strategies when it comes to maintenance supplies, the TMC speakers note.

Stuart, facing a shortage of DEF heads for a bus fleet in the eastern U.S., sourced the components on the west coast and paid to have them shipped eastward. (“There was none east of the Mississippi,” he said.) Tomlinson has also been cannibalizing a couple of wrecks for parts.

The shortages may see more truck maintenance changes in the future, Stuart adds. Filter intervals might need to become “more aggressive”, while tires might need to be run longer distances before being pulled.

Some parts inventories may also need to be addressed.

“I’ve seen where the inventories have been cut way, way back,” Stuart said. “Those things that kill us for downtime, we should probably be stepping up the stocking level on certain items.”

In the early months of the pandemic, refuse fleets in the northeastern U.S. were ordering a two-month supply of tires, he observed.

Covid-19 delays

It isn’t the only way that Covid-19 has influenced the availability of parts. Some shipments are being quarantined for 30 days before distribution, even though there is a small chance of catching the virus from a surface, Braswell says. “That needs to be addressed.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is a low risk of catching Covid-19 through contact with contaminated objects (formites). The odds of infection, while not impossible, is generally less than 1 in 10,000, it says.

To compound matters, delays at some ports are seeing container ships redirected to secondary destinations such as Seattle or the East Coast.

While the speakers said they’re confident that parts shortages will ease, they wondered whether a related issue will linger.

“When we get back to some sort of normalcy there won’t be normalcy on pricing,” Stuart said.

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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  • My 2020 International LT is sitting dead in Fort Worth, TX waiting for a DEF QLS sensor/sender (Navistar P/N 4140918C91) for a week now and I’m told it may be up to a month. Mine is one of several trucks in this dealership waiting for this part. According to Navistar Customer Support, there are thousands of International trucks nationwide waiting for the same part. All Navistar could tell me was that senior leadership was aware of the problem and has made it a priority. There is a lot of money not being made nationwide and a lot of freight sitting in warehouses because of this issue. Would it be possible for you to look into it and maybe even write an article? I have found that nothing makes problems get solved like bad press. Thank you!

  • My 2019 International LT is also sitting dead in Albuquerque, NM also waiting for a QLS sensor (Navistar part number 4140918C91). This sensor measures the fluid level in the DEF tank. My $150,000 truck is dead in the water because the computer doesn’t know the fluid level in my DEF tank. Everything else is operational – engine, trans, all major mechanical working just fine. But the computer has derated the engine to five miles per hour because of the faulty sensor and I have been down since 6/18/21, the part was ordered on 6/19 and has not shipped. No one can give me an update and I am losing money by the day. The incredible number of trucks down across the county with this same issue is astonishing. This points to a faulty product which should have been subject to a recall, if not a hefty product liability claim. Things have only been exacerbated by the current supply chain issues. Navistar was aware of this issue long before the pandemic. A simple google search or a screening of YouTube videos will show any reasonable person that this specific sensor has been a problem for several years. I believe this was negligence on the part of Navistar and I welcome a class action lawsuit if there are any attorneys out there willing to take on Navistar.

    • 2018 international has been down for five weeks now! With 8000 units behind they’re closing the factory again in Mexico for two weeks. But yet they are allowed to keep selling their products knowing damn well when it breaks we cannot repair. With understanding the pandemic this problem was way before the pandemic! They have turned their backs on the working man!! Now shifting gears for the fix. We have figured out the coolant line coming into the QLS sensor is the keep the DEF from freezing in the northern states. This line is heating up and failing the QLS pre-maturely. We have put a ball valve on that line to shut the coolant off. It seems to have fixed the problem. Since we have done this we have not had any problems with the QLS Hope this helps my fellow truckers.