Truck News


California trailer requirements put the squeeze on O/Os

SACRAMENTO, Cal. – A few thousand dollars is a lot or a little, depending on how much money you've got in the bank. Just ask Ryan King, a Saskatoon-based owner/operator who won't be running in and out of California anymore due to the fact...

SACRAMENTO, Cal. – A few thousand dollars is a lot or a little, depending on how much money you’ve got in the bank. Just ask Ryan King, a Saskatoon-based owner/operator who won’t be running in and out of California anymore due to the fact he just can’t afford to retrofit his trailers to meet new fuel-efficiency requirements. Then ask the Canadian Trucking Alliance’s president and CEO David Bradley whether Canadian carriers have raised any hue and cry over the latest edict from California’s Air Resource Board (aka ARB).

“It’s been very quiet on this front,” says Bradley, with regards to the reaction among carriers.

You might say the same for owner/operators, except you’d mean something different. O/Os like Ryan King – proud owner of Lucky 13 Truckin, and not-so-fortunate owner of two reefers and a grain trailer – are keeping quiet because they’ve been pounded into the ground by emissions regulations that have slowly but inevitably drained them of the resources to put up a fight.

The latest volley in California’s ongoing war with diesel emissions is the requirement that pre-2011 53-foot or longer box-type trailers (dry vans and reefer vans) achieve a 5% fuel consumption reduction on the trailers in question, via EPA SmartWay-approved aerodynamic devices, such as skirts, tires and fairings by July 1, 2013 (visit for details).

The deadline can be extended for fleets with 21 or more trailers if they sign up for a five-year compliance plan (register at by Aug. 1 of this year. ARB expects that, from 2010 to 2020, the regulation will reduce 33 million metric tonnes of CO2 emissions nationwide. ARB also estimates the more aerodynamic trucks and trailers will save fleet owners about three billion gallons of diesel fuel from nationwide operations.

Fleet owners can expect to see a return on their investment for skirts, tires and fairings within 2.3 years if they travel 100,000 miles per year, says ARB.

Of course, that doesn’t make much of a difference to King, who says he just can’t afford to put another $5,000 (the estimate he’s been quoted, including parts and labour) into a trailer he’s just paid for.

“I already went through all the hassles back in ’07 when I had to park one of my reefers for 10 months because I couldn’t get a new reefer that met the requirements, cause they just didn’t have them in stock,” says King. “I finally got one that was salvaged for $1,400. Now with the new rules, my other trailer is only good for another two years. It’s just more and more money coming out of my pockets if I retrofit and the rates I’m getting out of California aren’t worth it. So I’m looking for alternate routes.”

Elsewhere, larger Canadian carriers are ready and looking forward to the fuel-savings resulting from the new rules. Bob Halfyard, director of safety and compliance for Challenger Motor Freight, with corporate headquarters in Cambridge, Ont. says the fleet’s trailers are up to California snuff.

“We purchased a big number of trailers late last year and they’re all spec’d with side skirts and low rolling resistance tires,” says Halfyard. “The only challenging part is going to be that we’ll have to retrofit some of our refrigerated trailers because their life-cycle is longer.”

Halfyard says the carrier will be signing on to ARB’s five-year compliance plan to bring its reefers up to speed, but that doesn’t quell his appreciation for the economic benefits of the new fuel-efficient add-ons: “We are definitely making good gains in fuel economy.”

In general Halfyard believes that Canada’s larger carriers “are in good shape” when it comes to compliance, but recognizes that owner/operators may not feel the same way.

“They may not be in a position to go out and get new equipment or retrofit what they have,” he admits. “Whereas we have a set cycle we try to stick to when it comes to new equipment purchases and we can alter spec’s slightly to meet new rules at an only slightly increased cost per unit.”

Still, some doubt whether all carriers are in as good shape as Challenger Motor Freight when it comes to meeting the new requirements.

Just ask Sean Graham, president of Freight Wing, a company that manufactures some of the new EPA-approved aerodynamic trailer add-ons.

“I think the new rules really threw a lot of people in the industry for a loop and I think there is still a lot of misinformation out there, especially among mid-sized, smaller fleets and owner/operators, about what’s going on in California,” says Graham. “A lot of people I talk to still aren’t aware of the new rules. There will be significant fines and penalties if you don’t comply.”

One requirement that seems to be difficult to get across is that trailers are required to achieve a 5% reduction in fuel consumption, says Graham.

“Four per cent isn’t good enough. You have to either retrofit your trailer with one item that achieves the 5% or put together a few items that do that, and all of them have to be EPA-approved,” he says. “Some carriers seem to think they can achieve the requirement with gap fairings on the front face of the trailer but there are no gap fairings that can produce the 5% level of fuel savings on their own.”

Graham admits his company, which manufactures skirts that are EPA-approved for the full 5% requirement, (at a cost of  up to US $2,000, says Graham, not including installation) is among those experiencing an immediate benefit due to the new rules.

“This does represent a significant opportunity for us, but we would have preferred that carriers come to us because of the fuel savings,  not because they’re being forced,” says Graham.

For the new trailer regulations visit

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