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Pondering truck replacement cycles


This past month has been, shall we say, interesting. To start with, it’s the time when a lot of our customers have their annual shutdowns, so freight is a little slower than usual and things have been quiet lately as it is.

My driver also took a two-week vacation so I had a truck parked, further reducing revenue. Although it was coincidental, it was actually a good time to park a truck; a two-week vacation at a really busy time would have a much greater impact on my income.

I could have put a casual driver on the truck, but I’m not a big fan of that.

Unless it’s somebody I know and trust, I don’t want them in my trucks. The potential for damage and destruction is far too great. Now, I’m sure there are guys out there that only want to go to work here and there, but it’s not as simple as finding one of those guys.

They have to be certified to drive at my carrier. If not, they need to do a week’s orientation.

Sure, I could put somebody through that and pay them for their time, but then that pay would have to be set against the revenue they earn and with only two trucks there wouldn’t be enough of a benefit to go through the process. It’s far easier to park the truck and not worry about it for two weeks.

Having a truck sitting for two weeks also gives me the opportunity to give it a good going over. Things like an alignment and tire rotation can be done.

In this case, I also swapped out the steer tires for two new ones. They were getting close to needing changing and although there were a couple of months left on them, it made sense to do them while the truck was gathering dust in the yard.

I now wish I had left it a few more weeks, as on my driver’s return to the yard after his first trip back from vacation he ran over a bolt seal that somebody had thrown onto the floor after sweeping out a trailer in the yard.

The previous set of tires had done 250,000 kms – the new one managed 2,500 kms.

I could’ve repaired it, but I won’t do that on a steer tire, so I sold it to the tire company for just over half of what I paid for it the week before.

I would love to find out who left the bolt seal lying on the ground. I never drop anything and always pick up anything that could possibly puncture a tire if I see it. I don’t want the karma of getting a flat myself.

The rest of the month went pretty well.

I didn’t pull any turnpikes, which meant my revenue dropped, but I had a fantastic month in terms of miles so the money in the bank will be the same. I just had to work harder to achieve it. I consider myself very fortunate in that respect.

As I said, things are slow all over. Reading the tales on social media of sitting for days waiting for a dispatch was a world away from my experience.

The only time I didn’t have a load offer before I had completed my previous run only lasted four hours before I got the welcome beep-beep from the satellite and I was short on hours that day anyway, so I lost no time at all.

Speaking to my friends, the situation with them is all over the board. Some have never been so busy, some have not noticed any difference and some are experiencing slow times. Two of them have ordered new trucks as they have worn out their old ones. Well, not quite worn them out, but they’ve gotten to the point where another year will see some big expenses – new drive tires, emissions system clean-outs and parts replacements and a whole bunch of other stuff – that will take a good five-figure sum from their back pockets to satisfy.

The decision makes a lot of sense to them and it got my cogs spinning, too. Now is a good time to be selling a three-year-old truck with around 600,000 kms on it.

The disparity between the dollars has a big influence on that, however the flip side is that a new truck is considerably more expensive than it was when the first trucks were new.

In reality, that means that although the prices themselves are higher, the price difference between a three-year-old truck and a new one remains the same, so it won’t make any real difference now.

I’m not ready to make any decisions right now. My trucks are only just over two years old and that’s a good thing. For one, I have absolutely no idea what I’m going to do next.

I like the idea of a three-year replacement cycle in some respects, but I also like the idea of running a truck that, although older and a bit baggy, is bought and paid for.

I’ve done both in the past and not regretted either decision, but the trucks today are so complicated that there’s the worry that a catastrophic failure of the emissions control system could mean a massive repair bill.

One thing’s for sure, my two friends have given me much food for thought and many sleepless nights are sure to come as I decide which direction I want to take my business.

***

A fourth generation trucker and trucking journalist, Mark Lee uses his 25 years of transcontinental trucking in Europe, Asia, North Africa and now North America to provide an alternative view of life on the road.

 


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