Stow On the Go

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By Jimmy Nevarez

We all see it out there, from time to time flatbedders poking fun at reefer and van drivers about “slapping it in and swinging the doors shut!” All kidding aside, the job of cargo securement is serious business and should not be taken lightly. Whether it is chains and binders or bars and straps, we all have tools of the trade we use to secure our freight while it is in transit. What we do with those tools when they’re not in use is important too, so that they don’t become a hazard going down the road.

Flatbed drivers have the most securement tools I usually see out there, being that they haul some of the more odd-shaped loads. A flatbed driver can go from hauling a truckload of ladders to hauling a sensitive load in need of tarping in a moment’s notice if prepared with the right securement items. This is why they typically have large tool boxes on the trailers and some back of cab storage at times that enable them to carry these numerous items for their varying load types. Being a van guy myself, I will say it is much simpler for van and reefer guys!

Though I do not have to carry corner braces, chains and binders for my van freight, I do have quite an assortment of blocks, nails, straps and most recently bars. Never one to like carrying bars, I have inherited them from a shipper that likes to put them with their loads instead of straps and I get to keep them at the receiver end. Though a large toolbox might lend itself to helping organize this stuff, it is not typically something you see a lot of van and reefer trailers equipped with. Likewise you may see bar racks on the back of cabs, but not having spec’d one from the factory because I usually didn’t prefer to carry them.

I am not one to favor drilling anything aftermarket into the body of my cab unless absolutely necessary to put one in. Due to this, I have had great success with my own method of keeping the regularly required amount of cargo securement items right inside the trailer, closet to where I need them most.

I guess you could say I “Jimmy Rigged” my own rack of sorts inside the tail of the trailer that eliminates the need of having to go outside for my necessary bars, or a couple straps, or any combo of either. Sure I have to keep an eye that none of them “grow legs” and walk away at my shippers and receivers, but using this method I have had great success and even a couple shipper comments that they liked having them organized in the back like this because they were just able to grab a bar and slap it across the back for me without even having to ask. It was an idea I had when I was frequenting a shipper that would make me leave two straps or two bars in the back before loading, which I guess started to accumulate into the 4 bars and 3 straps I keep back there today, along with 7 other straps I have rolled up in the underseat compartment in my Freightliner Cascadia.

Though I may not hold the award for most cargo securing tools onboard my truck, I know the importance of keeping things secure when not in use, while still making sure they are easily accessible. This solution works well for me because I do not haul any wall-to-wall cubed-out loads and have the room to keep these back there and out of the way, so this may not be the best solution for everyone. I like it so much, I may soon even look at a more permanent in-trailer solution that works with my E-track.

Next time you have to grab an iced over, dirty load lock off the back of your cab though, remember this little trick and you may just find yourself having a new way to avoid some of those pains of storing these devices out in the elements. Keep an eye out for those “wall riders” though, as occasionally you may find they’ve rubbed a ratchet right off one of your straps or bent a bar, like my picture below! Just like a flatbedder storing their expensive items in a toolbox to protect them, use your own “dry box” to store them safely as well!

Safety Outside the Cab

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By Jimmy Nevarez

In my daily routine of being a driver myself and also watching out for my other drivers while wearing my fleet owner hat, there are a lot of things I see to watch out for when outside of the truck. Whether it is a pothole to twist an ankle or a patch of ice to slip on, there are enough daily hazards to make it an inevitable fact that you are going to encounter something dangerous. Of course, the warehouses and loading yards we often encounter add even more dangerous scenarios to the equation. I wonder if these factors are taken into consideration each year when people rank truck driver as one of the deadliest jobs there is for anyone to have.


When in a warehouse, you should always be under the assumption that forklift drivers do not see you. With other things to manage like label scanning, looking out for other lift trucks and making sure the proper PO’s are loaded, sometimes their duty of watching out for foot traffic can fall by the wayside. I take certain precautions to maximize my “standing out” against the other distractions that warehouse personnel have to deal with, including wearing my yellow safety vest in the warehouses and yards, while trying to maintain eye contact with any lift operator around to make sure they register I am noticed as a pedestrian hazard.


Safety at a shipper or receiver should not be limited to just increasing visibility either. Safety glasses, or even regular glasses, can be useful in many warehouses where particles are floating around or other eye damage hazards may exist. If there are painted walkways for pedestrians, be sure to use them to navigate your way around. If not, try and stay out of the middle of isles and listen for moving equipment. Read safety and warning signs posted around as well, since they are there to help keep you safe. Remember that lifts are not the only objects that can hit you that are wheels in a warehouse or out in a loading yard! Even getting hit by a golf cart or three-wheeled bicycle while walking around can injure you badly.


When loading in a production area with loud equipment you may want to consider the use of earplugs. I even wear them while standing by the door to monitor loading/unloading a lot of times because most ramps slam down very noisily as forklifts drive over them, which can damage your hearing if loud enough. Should the need arise for any driver-assisted loading or unloading, be sure to carry a back brace for just such an occasion, which I wear in addition to a knee brace.

Safety in and around the loading docks or loading yards begins and ends with you! No matter how fast or slow you are loaded, the main priority should to be always remain being on the lookout and remaining safe while out of the cab. Safety outside the truck is just as important as when you are behind the wheel! After all, we all want to make it home in one piece and healthy after every trip out on the road!

Measuring Tire Tread Depth

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By Bob Caffee

In this video, we will show how to check the tread depth of a tire. Why would you want to know how to do this? For the everyday commuter, maybe you wouldn’t. Being a commercial truck driver, it is important to keep up on the wear of your tires. We, as commercial drivers, are required to replace steer tires at or before they are worn down to 4/32 of an inch, and drive and trailer tires at or before 2/32 of an inch, see FMCSR 393.75 (c) for this regulation.

That is not the only reason we should keep track of tire wear. We can also measure for an indication of any odd wear patterns that you may not be able to see. Even if your tires are wearing smooth and even, the right steer tire is probably wearing faster than the left. This is normal due to the crown in the road, or so I’ve been told. In order to keep the tires wearing evenly, you should rotate the steer tires when there is about 4/32 of an inch difference. The only way to tell if there is 4/32” difference is to measure the tread depth on both steer tires.

Some like to rotate tires at specific mileages and that’s fine, but I like to measure and rotate as needed. Some tires are directional, which means they are designed to turn only one direction. That also means they cannot be rotated without flipping them on the wheel, dismount and remount can get expensive.

As you can tell finding tire problems, wear patterns or just worn beyond legal limits can only be done by measuring the tread depth. You can find tread depth gauges at truck stops, tire shops, auto and truck parts stores and online. From as little as $3 on up, extremely simple ones or precision digital gauges, whatever you want to spend. Just get one, measure often, at least once a week, and measure in multiple places, 2-3, around each tire.

Until next time, be safe out there.

What I Didn’t Know

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By Henry Albert

Back in 1996 I had started my career as an independent owner-operator after many years as a company driver for two private carriers. With my experience in the transportation industry being derived from driving for private carriers, it left me ill-prepared for some of the challenges to becoming an independent owner-operator. Upon looking back, I am glad that my career in this industry had its birth in the private sector.

I am glad that I spent two years planning the start of this venture, as I took this time to study the regulations, monetary issues, and basic business practices.  However, there were two areas where I was miserably ill-prepared to deal with.

  1. The large percentage of freight is being controlled by brokers and large carriers. My business plan had been based upon having my own customers just as the private carriers had. I had zero experience dealing with brokers. The fortunate part of this scenario is that I already had one direct customer in my portfolio before I purchased a truck. My business plan was to concentrate on two cities that were spaced within one day’s driving time between each other. The objective was to develop relationships and bounce back and forth between these two locations. I had no idea how hard it would be to secure my own direct customers to fill out one half of my route. This is when I got introduced to brokers, and what an eye opener that was. I found some good ones, I found some I wish I had never heard of, but in the end, I wanted to deal with the customer directly. Persevering, I steadily acquired direct customers, and for the most part only used brokerages on rare occasions when I needed to fill in a gap.
  2. The second area that required a major learning curve is that freight rates were based on market conditions more than actual operating cost. This is a particular hard area to get your arms wrapped around for many in the industry. Some areas, due to supply and demand, may support a rate which puts rates to levels high enough to make profitability extremely high. In this case, you could have a rate that was four dollars a mile and still be on the low side based upon market conditions. The more difficult thing to get your mind wrapped around is when market conditions are not in your favor and you would scoff at $1.20-mile freight until you find out the market only supported $1.00 a mile on average due to market conditions. This area of understanding market conditions was a major learning curve to make sure that I was profitable at the end of the day, week, month, quarter, and year. I worked hard at understanding how to put all of these pieces of the puzzle together and have managed to have every year of my operation of Albert Transport to be a profitable endeavor.

Fortunately, along the way I had many good mentors in which I gleaned great advice from in order to make all of this a success. I will leave you with two of the greatest pieces of advice that I received early on.

  1. The first question I had asked was “How do you determine your freight rates?” the person I asked this question to had over eighty trucks at this time. The first thing you have to understand is that freight rates are not based upon operating costs. There I stood looking at him holding a handful of papers with all of my projected operating costs figured out in great detail. I am thinking to myself I put a lot of work into this. This is when he said it is very important for you to know your bottom line. That is when he said to me it is just as important to know the market conditions of your area of operation followed by knowing the needs of your customers to be able to achieve a profitable rate of compensation.
  2. The second piece of advice was not derived from me asking a question but from someone who was not in the trucking industry who said to me upon discussion of my endeavor, “Why in the world is anyone going to use you to haul their freight versus a carrier that is already serving them?” I looked at him and hesitated for a second, then uttered that I was going to be professional and reliable and at that time he said, “Who cares?” I looked back at him and said “what do you mean who cares?” which is when he said to me “that is necessary, but what is going to set you apart from your competition?”. As I stood there thinking about this he said “I do not want to know your answer now, as it needs to be on the tip of your tongue and your own.”  This turned out to be one of the most important weeks of my life from a business perspective as I pondered the question. I came up with my own ideas which were uniquely designed to set myself apart from my competitors. Upon sharing this with him he said, “very good now you have something to work with!”

In the end these two areas helped me tremendously in being a profitable carrier, which was able to support my lifestyle every year of its existence since 1996.

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.