Avoid A Costly Tow

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By Joey Slaughter

Besides a crash or a catastrophic maintenance failure, being towed is the worst thing financially that can happen to your maintenance budget.  For starters, it’s VERY expensive and after you pay the big money, you still don’t have anything repaired.  If you have to get towed, make sure it’s to the right place the first time.  I had to be towed once and I decided to take it to the shop that sent the wrecker.  They couldn’t fix the problem so they hooked it again and took it to the dealer.  That increased my towing bill and still didn’t begin to look at repairing the problem. I think that particular towing bill was $850.

On another occasion, the regulator that controlled air flow to my trailer air bags failed and I lost all my suspension while going down I-85 in SC.  It was late at night and the trailer chassis came to rest on my trailer tires thus damaging all 8 of my tires, and my frame was practically dragging the ground. It was roadside repairable, but not until the next day and I wanted to get that unit off the interstate.  There’s not many places scarier than on the side of a busy interstate at night.  I was towed to a safe place for repairs and as I look back, that was a good decision. The cost of that tow, which only moved the truck about 100 yards, was $550!

Towing due to a mechanical failure is usually a last ditch effort.  It’s more than likely a major malfunction that cannot be fixed on the side of the road, or the vehicle is situated in such a way that roadside maintenance is not feasible due to safety concerns.  If possible, get the vehicle out of the travel lane to avoid mandatory towing. Mandatory towing will happen if your truck is impeding traffic.  The attending police officer will more than likely call a tow truck to move a disabled vehicle from a traffic lane if it cannot be repaired expeditiously.

Hours of Business for Holidays 2018

Please see below for our hours of operation at each location this holiday season.

Grand Rapids Sales Dept. holiday hours:
8:00 AM to 12:00 PM Christmas Eve; Closed Christmas Day
8:00 AM to 6:00 PM New Year’s Eve; Closed New Year’s Day

Grand Rapids Parts and Service Dept. holiday hours:
6:00 AM to 2:00 PM Christmas Eve; Closed Christmas Day
6:00 AM to 4:00 PM New Year’s Eve; Closed New Year’s Day

Kalamazoo Sales Dept. holiday hours:
8:30 AM to 2:00 PM Christmas Eve; Closed Christmas Day
8:30 AM to 5:00 PM New Year’s Eve; Closed New Year’s Day

Kalamazoo Service and Parts Dept. holiday hours:
7:00 AM to 2:00 PM Christmas Eve; Closed Christmas Day
7:00 AM to 5:00 PM New Year’s Eve; Closed New Year’s Day

Questions? Please click here for our contact page.

Winter Driving Assessment

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By Joey Slaughter

Trucking is already in the top 10 most dangerous jobs in the U.S. on a normal day. However, when you add extreme weather to the task, the likelihood of disaster is increased exponentially. The Army taught me how to analyze risks and I’d like to see more of it in our industry. The job has to be done, but there are ways to reduce the risks to an acceptable level. In non-emergency situations, if the risks cannot be reduced to an acceptable level, the job cannot be done at that time under those conditions.

Consider the following risks before heading out in a blinding snowstorm or freezing rain.

  • Death or injury
  • Towing and recovery costs
  • Legal matter
  • Increased insurance rates
  • Unfavorable safety measurement data (SMS within FMCSA)


No load is worth someone’s life.

I spoke with my friend Kevin Yates, who is a Heavy Vehicle Recovery Specialist and I asked him to ballpark the rates for pulling an 18-wheeler out of the ditch. For a simple winch out, the rates would be $350 to $3,000 depending on the severity. The cost for a roll-over recovery would be between $8,000 and $40,000 depending on severity. This doesn’t even include a hazmat spill. The freight charge for your load won’t begin to pay for these costs. The freight itself may not be worth the cost of the recovery.

There are attorneys out there who specialize in going after trucking companies exclusively. They would love nothing more than to represent a plaintiff against you or your carrier and attempt to gain every dollar that they can. I can’t even begin to put a price tag on that.

Insurance is one of the top 5 expenses that I have to pay in my business. A costly crash would dramatically affect my rates in such a way that it would become unaffordable and thus, I could not stay in business.

A crash would negatively impact a carrier’s FMCSA safety data. This is a blemish on a carrier’s profile and will affect them for years to come. Even crashes where the carrier isn’t at fault have a negative influence on a carrier’s CSA score.

I understand that there are trucking operations in heavy snow regions and that there are companies transporting very critical freight, like food, fuel, and medical supplies. However, for the majority of us, I think the world can wait for that load of INSERT YOUR CHOICE OF NON-CRITICAL FREIGHT HERE until the roads are clear enough for safe travel.

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

Click here for the original article via TeamRunSmart.com

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.