Las Vegas, Nevada
The words from my favorite movie, Sound of Music, danced in my brain as we departed California before the first stroke of 2014.
“There’s a sad sort of clanging from the clock in the hall, and the bells in the
steeple too…. Regretfully they tell us, but firmly they compel us, to say goodbye to you.”
Oh, we loved you California, even though the freight out often sucked, stranding us for more than a week.
While millions of people devour and depend on the goods and services and jobs that we bring, there is a serious lack of big truck parking. The constant road construction is never enough, the highways are dilapidated making it impossible to sleep on some routes.
The bad was tempered by the great. The velvety, Leprechaun-green hillsides of spring that seemed to infuse oxygen into a winter-weary body. The succulent, red Spring strawberries, hours from the fields to the fruit stands. Great salads in almost every restaurant — Lodi, CA at the Fox and Hounds has the best Sunday brunch omelette bar I have ever seen, they have roasted garlic — and the deliciously, languorous bike path along the water’s edge in Long Beach.
Our every visit confirms why so many people want to live in the crazy land of Southern California, dominated by cars and commuting, the weather is fantastic almost all the time.
But, alas, while our Black Beauty is still a head turner in her late middle-age, she has a 2006 engine in a 2007 body, and in California the engine birth date counts. We have no Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) on our truck engine or on our Auxillary Power Unit (APU). That means the two engines do not meet the new emissions requirements of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and 2006 engines are now illegal.
While I support California’s right to do what it takes to protect the air quality of the state, and their battle against pollution has shown great results in the past 30 years, I hate the implementation. We made a calculated decision when we bought this truck, our first truck ever, a completely new venture for two people who knew nothing about big machines, that CARB would change or delay implementation of the rules. That’s what happened with the new rules for temperature-controlled trailers. The delay hurt Owner Operators that took on debt in anticipation of higher freights to match better equipment. Small operators went out of business.
In 2009, the new diesel engines were too new, fraught with horror stories of costly breakdowns. We weren’t convinced that sinking our entire savings into a new truck as inexperienced Owner Operators was wise.
There is never a good time to bring in costly new rules, someone always gets hurts, but this one hurts small business truckers, like us, the most. It is not felt across the trucking industry in the same way.
Big fleets, which specialize in churning, cheap, inexperienced drivers through their ranks, turnover trucks every three-to-five years. They get huge discounts from truck makers. If Schneider buys 1,000 trucks and 100 are bad, Volvo will make them right, and while Volvo works on it, they have 900 trucks operating, earning. When my truck is down I am out of business and homeless. Why doesn’t CARB have the engine makers on the hot seat, watching them to ensure they are creating viable, usable products. I cannot afford to be a beta tester.
An owner operator to be profitable, buys ONE truck, and maintains it meticulously to keep it 1 million miles.
Although many truckers do lease or buy a new truck every three or so years, it means they must work continually to meet hefty monthly payments, typically $2,500 a month and then make enough for a profit. Over the long term, a fuel-efficient, well-maintained truck is more economical than a new one every three-to-five years.
A fairer implementation would see one-truck Owner Operators allowed to run in California until the truck needs an engine inframe, which is a rebuild of the engine, or until it is sold. When either event occurs, the engine must be brought to current standards to continue operation.
Instead of buying a new California-legal truck, we invested in our drop-deck trailer and rolling tarp system to increase our specialization and to keep MacGyver from freezing to death on what has been our most lucrative runs, the deep south, typically Louisiana and Texas, to the frozen north Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.
We don’t want to monkey around with putting a new engine into the truck. No engine maker has any plans to retrofit current engines. There are people offering after-market retrofits, but already, some have gone out of business due to warranty claims on their work. These solutions can cost anywhere from $15,00 to $20,000 and severely reduce the engine’s fuel efficiency boosting fuel costs.
In our 10-years-at-a-glance we see one more truck. A 2016 Volvo 780, purchased in 2015, that will carry us through to retirement, another eight years. It could cost about $175,000 once we have it equipped to our specifications, including a garage for what I expect will be a BMW motorcycle, the Vespa soon-to-be retired.
Until then, CARB allows each carrier 1,000 free miles into California a year, and they are still tinkering with those rules. Since we only take two or three loads into the state each year Owner Operator, this should work out well for us.