Tackling a rather weighty issue

by Mark Lee

There’s still no generator in my life, which hasn’t been a problem as the nights have been cool enough to sleep without the need for any extra cooling than that provided by cranking the windows down a few inches and opening the bunk vents.

The lack of an APU has, however, highlighted another factor in the ongoing, will I say, saga – that of weight.

A friend recently had a world of drama at a pick-up when they loaded him too heavy. They were jumping up and down insisting that he take the full consignment. My friend point blank refused, as he should have. Now my friend has an almost dedicated LTL run down to Florida and his back-haul is usually under 20,000 lbs, so weight is not usually a problem for him. But this trip was different and he was sent to load 45,000 lbs.

He has a big bunk condo and he also has an APU and a moose bumper, which I consider to be essential for his run between Western Canada and Florida.

He can scale empty at 35,000 lbs if he manages his fuel levels before loading and that is a reasonable TARE weight for a highway tractor and a 53-ft. van trailer, especially when you take into account the extra TARE weight of a modern day Canadian truck and trailer that can run to all 48 states.

A new tractor unit will have the added weight of the emission control system, a tank of DEF, larger radiator and intercooler to counteract the higher temperatures caused by EGR.

They will also, for the most part, have aerodynamic side skirts and cab fairings.

Add to this the aerodynamic devices needed to make the trailer compliant in all 48 states and you’re talking about quite a bit of extra weight compared to a new truck and trailer just 10 years ago.

Yet shippers are not taking any of this into account. It should have been dealt with a long time ago by the carriers. Legislative and economical requirements have increased the TARE weight of trucks and shippers have to accept this; if they want to move the maximum amount of freight than they need to pay a premium for tractor-trailers made of lighter and more expensive materials.

Expecting the carriers to lighten their equipment by not installing aerodynamic devices or not running modern high-efficiency tractor units with the associated emissions paraphernalia attached is not possible any more.

Of course this opens up another debate regarding the choice between a new truck or an older pre-emissions truck, but that is not an option for anyone but owner/operators and smaller fleets. They should be the exception to the rule, not the standard by which we are all judged.

This situation did factor into my own choice of tractor unit.

I went for the slightly shorter, slightly narrower version of my friend’s truck.

It would’ve been nice to have the larger cab, but I want to be as versatile as possible, so I decided to make do with a smaller refrigerator and slightly less storage space. It hasn’t been a problem, even on this trip which has kept me out for eight days so far.

I still have five freshly washed and ironed shirts hanging in my wardrobe (thanks to my wife, bless her) although when you consider that I had a flat-top Pete before this truck, anything larger than a sardine can has more room!

So, back to the APU saga. Yes, I would love to have one. Yes, I still think that they make sense economically.

But the disparity between the dollars is giving me a bad case of sticker shock. No matter how much I think it makes sense, paying a four grand premium because of the exchange rate is something I just cannot bring myself to do.

I may have to get technical and improvise my own version of an APU. Many of you have contacted me through the magazine with tips and hints to stay warm or cool and for that I’m extremely grateful.

A couple of APU sales representatives were also in touch. It was reassuring to discover that they read my pearls of wisdom and to see that they are proactive in finding new customers and keeping up to date on what’s happening in our industry.

I’m not as concerned about the potential for upsetting the often all too fragile emissions control systems on my truck as the manufacturer has recently extended both the service intervals and the DPF cleaning schedule for my engine model.

This gives me faith that the engine is burning cleanly as the DPF system has proven to be able to cope with the soot from the exhaust and that little or no soot is escaping past the rings into my crankcase and the oil contained within.

It also saves me a few bucks in maintaining my vehicle and allows me to spend more time on the road, much to the dismay of my wife who now has less opportunities to hand me my honey-do list. That’s what I call a win-win situation.


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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  • Well said, one of the reasons I gave up running Florida was that it became intolerable to scale my load home on $100 of diesel at a time until I got past Virginia.
    As for the APU’s, I’m sad to say that I’ve never been impressed by them chugging 2 Pistons away beside me.
    Bunk heater tax batteries in the depths of winter and I believe are risky in certain regions of the country at this time of year. Would I put my faith in a diesel fired bunk heater during a -45 ‘C evening in Long lac? Absolutely not. The risk of isolation in desolation is too great.
    Eliminating idle in the hottest months of the summer is also difficult to do because companies won’t shell out for the technology.
    These months are the largest of the last places that idle times need to be eliminated – comfortably.
    The solutions are likely right in front of us and probably don’t involve such primitive hardware.
    When I ran Florida, I retrofitted my tractor with some subtle, simple low tech solutions which allowed me to sleep very comfortably on hot days / nights without idling. Unfortunately, there’s no money in it for manufactures so it is one of those tricks of the trade that isn’t even worth a patent because the copy cat rate would be endless.
    I really thought tractors and trailers had gotten much lighter since when I ran south ( 1994 ) .
    Cheers and stay cool & warm.
    Quality sleep is a priceless commodity.