How To Check Your Oil

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By Bob Caffee

I was thinking the other day about the basics of truck prepping. Very basic things we all take for granted. Checking the oil in the engine is one of the basics we all should know how to do. It’s the same for every vehicle that has a dipstick. Sometimes just finding the dipstick can be a challenge especially on autos. Truck engine oil dipsticks are usually very “in your face”, most have a yellow handle on the left side of the truck but I have seen them on the right side.

The object is to visually see how much oil is in the engine crankcase. The vehicle should be on as level ground as you can find. The engine must be stopped, not running, for a few minutes. This will allow the oil that is dispersed throughout the engine to drain back into the oil pan (or oil sump). Once the oil is back in the pan we can proceed with checking the oil level.

Gloves and a clean rag will be needed. After opening the hood, find the dipstick handle. Make sure there is no dirt or other debris that can get into the dipstick tube by wiping around the base of the handle where it fits into the tube. Once you are satisfied that no dirt will enter the tube, grab the dipstick handle and gently pull the dipstick out of the tube. It could be three feet long or longer. I use my right hand to grab the handle and, with the rag in my left hand, I guide the dipstick out of the tube, cleaning it on the way out. I fully wipe the oil off the stick because the oil has been splashing around in the engine and it will show way up on the stick.

Using both hands, one to guide the other to push, fully reinsert the dipstick into the dipstick tube. Be careful not to bend the stick on the way in. Once fully inserted, pull it back out – this time you will be watching for the end of the stick. Do not wipe the stick fully this time. Towards the end of the stick are markings that indicate full and add. Look at the stick closely; the oil will probably be black or very dark. You should be able to see the level.

I prefer to not add any oil until the oil is down to or just below the add line. Typical add line shows one gallon is needed. If the oil shows way over the full line, you may have a problem and you should seek professional advice.

Should you do your check and all looks good, wipe off the stick and reinsert into the tube, make sure it is seated fully. Close and latch the hood and you are ready to roll.


Tips on Driving Around Oversized Loads

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By Joey Slaughter

Each state has its own regulations regarding oversized loads so there’s no one set of regulations to follow in order to be compliant in another state. The next time you pass an oversized load, here are some of the things going through the driver’s mind:

  • The particular state’s regulations for placement of flags on truck, trailer, and load.
  • Staying on the very specific route that he is permitted to drive on per the DOT.
  • Is it permissible to drive at night? Many states prohibit driving a half hour before/after sunset.
  • How about on the weekends? Some states have limited weekend travel.
  • What about holidays?  Some states prohibit holiday travel because of increased traffic.
  • Some states have 55 mph speed limits for oversized loads no matter the posted limit.
  • Some states require headlights on all the time.

With all of the above weighing in on the driver’s mind, they also have to operate the oversized load safely and they often do this without any help or consideration from fellow truck drivers or motorists.  It has been my experience that all those signs and flags whipping in the wind mean nothing to most truck drivers and motorists. On a recent load to Florida, all motorists buzzed right past me in a construction zone with decreased width, oblivious to the electrical transformer that rested 12″ off of both sides of the trailer. I even had to close the gap and save the life of a guy pulling a camper with his pickup before he tried to pass me in a construction zone with decreased width.

Without further delay, here are 7 tips for driving around oversized loads:

  1. Never pass an oversized load in a construction zone.
  2. When an oversized load signals to get over, there’s a good reason. Let them in.
  3. Don’t follow too closely; the increased width makes it hard to see what’s behind.
  4. Communicate on CB if possible to communicate intent.
  5. Look for the red flags on the freight; this marks the widest point on the load.
  6. Don’t try to squeeze beside them in a truck stop parking space. They may need 2 spots and many states prohibit them the use of rest areas.
  7. When it’s safe to pass, do so quickly in order to minimize the time you’re in a high-risk zone with minimal horizontal clearance.

Fall Trucking Safety

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By Henry Albert

Fall is upon us and it is the time of year when leaves change and show their beauty in full grandeur. It is a wonderful time of the year as the seasons change. The leaves transform into a bountiful array of beautiful colors followed by the leaves falling from the trees and painting the ground in autumn colors. It is one of the most breathtaking seasons of the year to travel and take in natures beauty.

But hold on! This season has its own unique hazards that accompany all of this beauty. The first thing to remember is that leaves upon the highway are slippery. Wet leaves on the highway are extremely slippery and can be like driving on ice.

Another area to watch out for is Halloween when there are lots of young children running around in small towns and cities. The costumes often obscure the children’s peripheral vision and the child’s focus is on getting candy not vehicles. Lots of crazy things can happen on “mischief night”.

The next area is something I dealt with on a regular basis as my normal route took me through the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. You may wonder what this hazard is? It is the leaf watcher! Yes, leaf watching season is soon upon us and it is time to keep an eye out for vehicles who are focused on taking in our planet’s beauty than staying in their lane. The leaf watcher is even more of a problem today than they were years ago because today their phone has a camera and video which I too often see being used while they are driving.

Be careful as we progress through the fall season. Remember to keep an eye out for wet leaves, trick-or-treaters, and the highly distracted leaf watcher.

As we enter into the fall season don’t slip and fall in the Fall.


Complacency Is Dangerous

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By Henry Albert

When your business becomes complacent, you leave the door wide open to become nothing more than a commodity. The definition of commoditization is the act of making a “process, good or service easy to obtain by making it as uniform, plentiful and affordable as possible. Something becomes commoditized when one offering is nearly indistinguishable from another. As a result of technological innovation, broad-based education and frequent iteration, goods and services become commoditized and, therefore, widely accessible.” This definition came from Investopedia.

We need to be aware that becoming just a commodity places us in the position of competing on price alone. In business, being powerless to negotiate on any angle except price is a bad position to find yourself in. Be a visionary and do everything you can to make sure it doesn’t happen in your business. What differentiates you in the marketplace? We need to think this through in-depth to make sure it’s not just one thing. Sometimes it’s easy to become complacent and rest on our laurels. This is when other competitors have a chance to steal your business as they recognize changes that are happening in the marketplace.

I like to look at other business examples and how they have creatively mastered the art of being proactive in the marketplace. For example, when growing up I remember going to the gas station with my parents and grandparents to fill up the car. We would pull into the full-service station as the attendant would greet us with a warm welcome. Often, we were asked, “would you like a fill-up today?” The attendant would then proceed to check the oil, clean the windshield, look for low tires and take our money. There were also many other services that the gas station would provide. These included: oil changes, brake jobs, and tire replacements. The stations also typically had one restroom and vending machines which dispensed cigarettes, newspapers, snacks, and soda pop. This was the typical gas station of years ago. One could find directions and/or maps if needed. In those days, gas stations would market themselves by advertising different slogans and grades of fuel. I remember this clearly when my grandfather would take me along to fuel up the car. On the fuel pump, there was an endless array of octane levels from which to choose. For some reason, my grandfather would always choose the highest and most expensive grade of fuel.

Whatever happened to the full-service gas station? The first change came during the oil embargo of the 1970s. A person was lucky to even get fuel as the prices skyrocketed and rationing took place. Motorists could only get gas on certain days and amounts were limited to each vehicle. The oil crisis was the beginning of the end for the full-service station. Oil companies figured that customers would be willing to pump their own gasoline in exchange for saving a few pennies. This was the beginning of commoditization. The attendants were no longer needed which diminished any differentiation of service as the customer was serving himself. Commoditization began if full force as people would drive across the street in order to save pennies per gallon from the competitor.

Over time, the stations who survived switched from being service stations to becoming convenience stores. This allowed their businesses to get a leg up on their competition by adding various food items such as coffee, donuts, or a larger variety of snacks and drinks. Eventually, this grew into the services which are offered today in many large gas/convenient stores across the country. Today, you can find just about anything a traveler needs for the road as well as his or her stomach. You’ll even find an aisle carrying over-the-counter medications. Many folks stop at these locations and won’t even purchase gasoline but will go inside for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Oddly enough, these automobile refueling centers are the last place you’ll find a tire or fan belt for your car.

I realize this business is different from transportation. However, there are many forces at work which are trying to commoditize our business as well. Be sure of these things: customers are going to be customers. Meaning they will always demand more, want it faster and easier, and this is just our reality.


Expediters Are Drawn To a Challenge

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By Bob & Linda Caffee

When there are natural disasters, trucks line up to run loads into the affected area. Some even run loads on their own dime to help people or animals survive.

While the money is often good, the challenge is even greater. Drivers work to navigate in an area where the water is trying to crest a bridge or go over the top of the road, all to deliver a load safe and sound. The way into the affected area is not always the way out as the water might have now gone across the bridge or roadway. It is just as tricky to get out as it was to get in.

The news on TV is not a good source for knowledge of the affected area as over and over again we see one small scene of utter devastation. TV news that does not show the worst of the worst is boring to watch and so the non-devastated areas are not shown: the roads that are fine, the neighborhoods that are fine, and the areas with no wind or water damage.

Do your own research: look at the path of the storm, talk to the shipper or receiver, look at state maps that show open and closed roads, then make your own educated decision. The best way to stay safe is to look out your windshield – if something does not look right to you, look it over closely and watch the oncoming traffic to decide. Backing out of a bad situation or turning around is not the coward’s way out. It is the sign of a professional making a decision based on their own comfort level.

Expediting is often a challenge when we see where we have to pick up or deliver, or the building we have to enter to get our freight. The challenge of not knowing what we are picking up, where or when we are going, and how far the load will go is part of the excitement of being an expediter.

When we are with other expediters, we compare some of the funny or frightening places we have picked up or delivered and it keeps all of us laughing. Expediters usually use a different language when talking amongst themselves as our talk usually is around places, not the heavy weight of a load. Having to use a lift gate to pick up or deliver a load takes us to a lot of places where we look at each other and say, “I don’t think a truck belongs back here.”

Another saying is often heard said as well: “I am sure glad we are a team.” Being a team makes some places easier to get into or to get the freight loaded, and using two sets of eyes to make sure we do not clip anything with the truck or to assist with loading.

After being an expediter for the past fourteen years, the excitement is still inside of us to see what will happen with the next load.

One place we do not like unexpected excitement or a challenge is with our Freightliner Cascadia which is the core of our business. Our truck has to start each time the key is turned over and deliver us safely to our destination with the freight riding safe and sound. During all four seasons, we depend on our truck to keep us safe and make us money.

We have not been disappointed.


Thank You, Driver

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By Bob & Linda Caffee

As I pulled off the interstate, a truck followed me going to the same truck stop. When I stopped at the fuel island, this truck pulled beside me and rolled down the passenger window. “Ma’am, your brake light on the passenger side is bright and it is not going off.” I thanked him and off he went. His short message saved us a big headache. While we were in the shade of the fuel canopy, Bob was able to look at the light and figure out what was wrong and fix it.

I remember while in our personal vehicle, we passed an older pickup pulling an even older trailer with a blown tire. This had happened a while back and he just lost the tire and was now rolling on the hub.  I pulled up beside him and kept telling him to pull over and pointing. He gave a look of “What?” I again motioned and stayed beside him till he pulled over. I had to go back to town later and saw him and another vehicle working on changing the tire. I hoped that I had got his attention before he ruined the hub.

When talking to friends on the phone I have had them tell me to hang on a minute as they get on the CB and try to get a driver’s attention that something is wrong with the trailer or the load. If the CB doesn’t work, I have them do what I did: pull up beside them and try to get their attention. From what I hear from the drivers I have tried to call on the CB, most of them are like me and leave the CB off unless needed. Each driver reacts differently to another truck pulling up beside them and pointing; some immediately get it and pull over to see what the problem is and others do their best to try and ditch the driver trying to help.

It seems to be force of habit when going down the road to pre-trip the truck and trailer we are passing. I do not even pretend to be as good as this as Bob is but I still notice when something is blaringly wrong with the vehicle beside us.

Take the time to let another driver know if you see something that is going wrong with their vehicle as it just might save a life or a lot of hardship on the other driver’s part. Pay it forward.


Pulling Wiggle Wagons

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By Joey Slaughter

If you ever get tired of OTR and seek work for an LTL carrier that will get you home more often, chances are you’ll be required to operate double trailers. Double trailers (or pups as some call them) are usually 28′ long which totals to 56′ of space; a little longer than a 53′ van and still only needs 5 axles. They are usually pulled by a truck with one drive axle (single screw) and they have a converter gear (dolly) which is the axle and 5th wheel assembly that hooks to the back trailer and of course, both pups have a single axle.

When it’s time to latch ’em and snatch ’em, this is what you do:

  1. Identify the two trailers you’ll be taking and the weights of each.
  2. The heavier trailer goes up front so the dolly needs to be spotted in front of a lighter trailer.
  3. Hook up the dolly to your bobtail tractor; you should have a pintle hook on the back.
  4. Back up to second trailer and spot the dolly in front of it and align with the kingpin.
  5. Make sure trailer height is correct for coupling; adjust landing gear as necessary.
  6. Hook to the first trailer and back up to the dolly, aligning both trailers and dolly.
  7. Lift dolly and hook up to the front trailer and secure with chains and pintle hook.
  8. Back first trailer with dolly under the second trailer to securely couple; give a forward tug to confirm a connection.
  9. Hook up air lines and electrical cord.
  10. After a full pre-trip inspection, you’re ready to roll!

Here are some things to be aware of when operating doubles.

  • Don’t get in a situation where you need to back up. I have backed them up, but it’s nearly impossible.
  • If taking a break at a truck stop, be very careful you don’t go down a dead end row. You must be able to pull through a space or just pull through fuel island and get in and get out!
  • The back trailer is very sensitive to steering wheel movements. This is called the whip effect. When you jerk the steering wheel, the physics of that motion is multiplied to the rear trailer and that trailer will respond with more movement than you’d think, hence the term wiggle wagons.
  • A set of doubles tracks better than a 53′ trailer, meaning you don’t have to take your turns as wide. The overall combination is around 8′ longer with the 56′ of the trailer and the space between the first and second trailer, but it will still track better than a 53′ van.

There is more to know when operating this type of unit, but these are the main points. I recommend that you get your doubles endorsement in order to make yourself more versatile and attractive to prospective employers.


How Becoming a Trucker Buddy Could Change Your Life

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By Bob & Linda Caffee

Several years ago, fellow Freightliner Team Run Smart Pro Henry Albert joined Trucker Buddy and I thought he had lost his mind. With his busy schedule why in the world would he take on a class of young students to be a pen pal with? Time went by with him telling us stories of his class, his involvement, and how good the letters from the students made him feel. In time I started suggesting things he might send his class that I thought they would find interesting. He finally said, “Why don’t you get a class?” Well, we finally applied.

There is more to becoming a Trucker Buddy then filling out an application as we first have to go through a background check and then find a teacher that will work with our operation.  We had a couple of teachers before we were matched with Stephanie.  The director of Trucker Buddy asked if we would like to work with a teacher overseas that would be mostly done through email.  That sounded perfect as we do not get home often enough to send a lot of handwritten letters.

We found out that our teacher lives in France and teaches English to three grades so we would have approximately 125-150 students each year. The first thing we learned about Stephanie is that she is very excited about teaching English and working with us. We hit it off immediately and the fun began.  Her feedback was instrumental in keeping me motivated to come up with new ideas to send to her classes. We have sent hundreds of postcards, pictures, maps, and videos to the students talking about our lives. In return, the students have taken us on many tours of their school, given us reports, cooked their favorite meals, and thanked us all in English.

In 2016 we finally took a trip to France to meet our teacher, her family, and our students.  What an amazing trip and Stephanie made sure it was not something we would ever forget. She invited us to stay at their house and go to school with her each day. On the weekend before school started we went with the family and toured the area where they live. Bright and early Monday morning off we went to school to meet one grade of her students and to go on a field trip with them. Each day we went with another grade on a field trip with the students explaining what we were seeing and asking us questions. Not all of their English was great and we spent a lot of time figuring out what each other was trying to say. That trip was fantastic and as we were leaving Stephanie said: “We are going to plan a trip to the States in two years to tour and to see where you live.”

Well, the two years are here and our teacher and her family are in the United States and heading towards our house. The family has been touring the western states and will fly from Denver to Saint Louis. While at our house no moss will grow under their feet! We will start their visit by going downtown and touring the Arch as well at the Lewis and Clark museum at the bottom of the Arch.  Next, we will tour Budweiser and I know one of the things they will like best is getting to see one of the Clydesdales that is always in residence at the brewery. After that, it will be off to the Saint Louis City Museum, and I know it will be a highlight because there are not many like it. Kids learn by doing and it is I believe four floors of fun as there are not many steps as you use tunnels, ropes, and all kinds of crazy stuff to go from floor to floor and room to room.

After a fun day of touring downtown, we will be on our way back home where I will have had a pot of roast beef, potatoes, and carrots cooking for dinner. Our goal is to have traditional food and to show what we would typically eat. This has been difficult to plan as Mexican food is usually my staple.  We will have omelets, pancakes, as well as a choice of biscuits and gravy for breakfasts. Fred, Stephanie’s husband likes BBQ and we have a local BBQ restaurant that is one of the best in the country so we will go to Big Stickies, in Troy, MO for lunch one day.

On Saturday we are planning in the morning going to Big Joel’s Safari and Petting Zoo that is run by a family and it a great place for kids and older kids.  We have been there several times and enjoy seeing how well kept the animals are. After our morning adventures, we will be back home to plan the evening’s cookout. We have invited several friends to the event and everyone is excited to meet the family from France. We are having a traditional cookout, hamburgers, potato salad, baked beans, chips, apple pie and I hope homemade ice cream. Hopefully, we get some rain and it is cool enough to make S’Mores as I think everyone will enjoy this.

On their last full day at the house, we are going to Hannibal, MO to see where Mark Twain lived and to tour around the town and to see the cave where Becky and Tom were trapped. Stephanie is a fan of all American literature and the stories of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are a favorite of hers. I also introduced her to The Unsinkable Molly Brown and have sent her pictures of Molly’s house in Denver and now she will be able to see where she was born. We will spend most of the day touring Hannibal and then it will be back home for a fiesta. Yep, they are not leaving without and Americanized Mexican dinner at our house.

Who would have guessed from joining Trucker Buddy International many years ago would lead to an overseas trip for us and then us hosting a family from France? During the year I enjoy my interaction with Stephanie and the students and watching as their English improves. This program has greatly enriched our lives. Click here to learn more about Trucker Buddy.


How to Reduce Truck Stop Fender Benders

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By Joey Slaughter

It seems as if almost every night, I see a picture of two trucks swapping paint in a truck stop on social media. As every driver knows, parking is a serious problem. Thanks to the lack of flexibility ELDs have caused, a lot of truckers are piling in truck stops and parking in ways they shouldn’t because they may not have enough time to make it to a safer place to park.

The easiest option to reduce truck stop mishaps is to park at truck stops that have large lots and angled parking. NASTC (National Association of Small Trucking Companies) cited an insurance study when picking their fuel stops for their fuel program. They were able to identify the truck stop chains that did not have angled parking and therefore had more on-site accidents.

Below is a picture of a large truck stop with angled parking. It was probably late morning when this picture was taken due to the lack of trucks. As you can see, it has a large lot with plenty of room.  I prefer the spots on the perimeter where no one can park behind me. I also prefer corner spots on the perimeter where no one can park on one side of me. This further reduces the likelihood of an accident. However, end spots on the middle row are extremely dangerous as the traffic flow will keep trucks going by you all night long and thus increase the chance of a mishap.

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The picture below is of a truck stop that NASTC prefers their members to avoid. I have learned to never sleep in a truck stop like this if possible. As you can see, due to the straight line parking, almost every truck has to get into a “jack-knife” position to get parked. This increases blind spots and the chances of an accident.

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Why Not You?

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By Henry Albert

This past week two opportunities were presented to me that I could solve.

When traveling one over from the slow lane I encountered a spare tire and wheel in the middle of my lane. With traffic on both sides, I was forced to come to a stop. I put on my emergency flashers and when traffic was clear I stepped out and picked up the errant tire assembly. While some motorists honked, others, when they saw what I had done, gave me a thumb up. This situation could have become deadly if a small car had hit this obstacle.

A few days later I came across a rental vehicle that was trying to park. Seeing them struggle and having difficulty. I decided to walk over and lend them some assistance. We then went over some good trailering tips, ways to adjust their mirrors for maximum visibility and other thoughts to make their trip safe. They told me where they were moving to and I gave them suggestions on where to fuel up so they would not end up in a tight convenience store parking lot. They thanked me for my tips and advice and we parted ways.

All it took was a little time to move the tire and wheel out of the road as I was already at a stop as was traffic behind me. Once I moved the tire all lanes were able to move as the road was clear of the situation.

In the end, I looked at both of these items as nice trucking outreach events. Where the public got the chance to see a trucker in a better light.