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Money Down the Drain

Trailer_3TiresIt's 9:00AM and I'm sitting in the parking lot of a service plaza on I-80 in Northern Indiana waiting to see if a certain tractor-trailer leaves without the driver getting out and doing a walk-around inspection.  

This particular rig has a trailer with two flats on one axle and a mud flap bracket rubbing a groove in the right rear outside tire.  I notice the problem right away as I walk by the trailer on the way back to my vehicle. Being an old maintenance guy these things just sort of catch your eye after years of looking at equipment.  I like to think that all maintenance guys are like this, at least the ones still responsible for controlling cost on a fleet.

I decide to wait and see how long the truck stays parked at this location before something starts to happen.  I notice the engine is running, not unusual for a long haul truck, but the head lights and trailer light are still on.  This makes me think the driver must have been very tired to stop and go to bed without, at the very least, turning off the headlights. 

This is a tractor-trailer that belongs to a fairly large fleet, I won't mention the name. I call the company and ask to speak to someone in the maintenance department.  I get through right away, but I am immediately put on hold.  Not a problem, I know how it can be early in the day at a busy truck shop.  I wait patiently for about four or five minutes and finally speak to someone in the shop.  I tell him my name and let him know that I am looking at one of his trailers with two flat tires on the right front trailer axle and a mud flap bracket with the flap missing rubbing the right rear outside tire.Flat_Tires  I tell him the trailer number and he ask for the truck number, but since I am setting behind the trailer I can not see the truck number.  He ask if I see the driver, I say, no, he is probably asleep and I am not going to attempt to wake him.  I say to the shop guy, "I notice you have satellite communication on the truck; maybe you can get a message to him".  He says he will definitely try to do that.

I decide to stay a little longer to see what happens next.  I want to see if the communication between the shop and the truck is at all effective, and how long it will take for some action to take place. At 10:15AM I notice the driver getting out of his truck and walking toward the back of the trailer.  He appears to have just been awakened from his sleep since he is rubbing his eyes and yawning.

 Driver_Looks_UpHe walks around the back of the trailer and to the right side looking up at the top of the trailer.  He then walks over to the tire position that has the mud flap bracket rubbing against the tire and proceeds to kick the bracket, and the tire.  He then moves to the trailer front axle with the two flat tires and kicks those tires as well.  I think to myself, well, the communication link works, now let's see what happens.  Does he wait for service to arrive or does he try and make it to a service facility at the next exit which, by the way, is five miles up the toll road.  He walks back to the truck and get in the cab.  A few minutes later he appears again but this time with his four-legged buddy.  He did not go back to the rear of the trailer this time; instead he walks over to a grassy spot and waits while his four-legged buddy does its business in the grass.  First things first, we can't have a buddy uncomfortable while waiting for service to arrive. The driver and his buddy get back into the truck again.

The situation requires attention and service has to be performed either here or at the closest location.  The best decision is to have a tire service come onsite.

At 10:30AM the truck starts to move.  I think, surely he is not going to ignore the problem and drive on with the possibility of losing three tires.  Maybe he is being instructed to try and make it to a service facility.  After all, he is only five miles away from the next exit, in Elkhart, Indiana.    

What happens next was a little strange, but strange has always been a big part of dealing with trucks and drivers.  He pulls around to the front of the rest stop and parks on the front row heading out.  It is closer to the plaza facilities where he is now parked, that makes sense, or maybe he needs to be visible so a service truck can find him.  Well, anyway, enough speculating, I will just continue to wait and see what happens. 

While I'm waiting I have to tell you that this trailer is equipped with air equalizers on the dual wheels and that is why both tires on the front trailer axle appear to be flat.  They are low profile tires and they are not completely flat, just flat enough to create a lot of heat with a loaded trailer.  But thet are definitely flat enough to need immediate attention. The tire with the mud flap bracket rubbing will continue to cut into the tire until it blows out if it is not pulled away from the tire.  The prior attempts at kicking the bracket did not solve the problem. 

Also while I am waiting, I roughly estimate the potential cost involved in this scenario.  Not knowing the time frame of the delivery, that factor will have to be ignored.  If he stays and waits for a service truck it could be hours before one arrives.  The cost to repair the flat, I say flat because chances are only one tire is leaking.  The dual wheels  have equalized and it appears the equalizer has shut one side off.   The cost to repair the flat and pull the bracket away from the rear tire and install a new mud flap might run in the range of  $250.00 to $400.00.  If the driver continues on or is instructed to go on the cost will most likely be much higher since the potential is there for the need to replace three tires.   The cost associated with replacing three tires can easily be closer to $1500.00.  I don't know what this load produces in revenue, but I can easily bet there is not an extra $1500 .00 built into the rate to cover the cost of replacing three tires on the road.  With all this said, I will go ahead and tell you I am very surprised at the outcome.

The driver is out of his truck and heading towards the service plaza building.  He returns a little later and gets back into his truck.  A couple of minutes later he gets out of his truck and walks back to the rear of the trailer and around to the right side and looks at the tires again.  He kicks the bracket, moves to the trailer's front axle and kicks those tires again, and walks back to the truck.  I'm not even going to try and guess what's going through his mind, I will just stay put and see how this plays out since I have waited this long.  Besides, it's a rare moment for an old maintenance guy.

It's now 12:05PM and from my vantage point I can only see the curbside of the rig.  Other trucks are coming in, parking and leaving, so I am not always able to see clearly.  I think for a moment that a service truck has arrived because I can see someone walking to the driver's door.  It appears to be another truck driver.  He is probably asking our driver if he is aware of the tire problem on the right side of his trailer.  

From the amount of time that has passed, I can only assume that the driver has been instructed to wait for service to arrive.  Tick tock, tick tock.

It's now 12:46PM and the cavalry has arrived,First_Tiretruck at least I think so, at first.  A tire truck arrives and the service guy gets out and goes to the driver's door.  He then goes back to the trailer and looks at the tire in the position with the bent mud flap bracket. I think for sure he is going to kick it, but he just turns around, gets back in his truck and drives away.   I won't speculate this time, again I'll just wait and see what takes place. 

Like I said earlier, I do not know the circumstances around the load, but this driver has already lost four hours out of his day and stands to lose more before the day is over.  I do not know what time he stopped here at this service plaza, he may still be on his ten hour break.  I'm speculating again, I intend to speak to the driver before he leaves.

When all this is over it will be very interesting to know what the actual cost is to this particular company.  I have to wonder if I had not noticed the tires, would the driver have noticed them.  I want to think so, but  when I first looked at the mud flap bracket I knew that the damage did not just happen traveling down the road.  The damage most likely happened when the trailer was backed up against a curb and the tire caught the flap.  If this is the case, it probably pulled the bracket down before it pulled the flap off of the bracket.  The groove in the tire is deep enough to suggest it has been run for a while.  The condition of the mud flap bracket and the tire it is rubbing may also suggest that during the 14 hours prior to stopping here the driver did not walk around the trailer and inspect the tires.  

Sec_TireTruckAt 2:00PM the real cavalry arrives.  The tire man takes the two tires off the front trailer axle first and replaces both of them with two new ones.  The inside rim is bent; this caused the tire to lose all the air.  A few well-placed hits with a tire hammer and the rim is back to where it will hold air again.  Being the curious type when it come to tires, I asked him if I could look at them.  It does not appear to me that either tire is damaged.  There is no indication of heat damage on the inside.TireMan2  One tire has a nick on the side wall which I am sure is caused by whatever bent the rim.   Even the tire that is cut by the mud flap bracket is not deep enough to justify replacement, but he is now in the process of replacing the tire

I said earlier on that I will be surprised with the outcome, now you can see why.

I ask the tire man if the fleet requested the old tires, he says as far as he knows, no.  I ask him about the first tire truck and he said someone gave them the wrong tire size and the first guy radioed back but got dispatched to another location. The tire man says he was instructed to pick up the right size tires and complete the service call.  I talked to the tire company later on and they said the same thing. 

When it is all over the tire man spent one hour and ten minutes on site.  That is pretty good time for replacing three trailer tires.  It's too bad, in my opinion, since none of the tires needed to be replaced. 

Three new tires and six hours later the driver is ready to get back on the road.

I hesitate to add that the tires on the left side on the front axle are noticeably low of air, but neither the driver nor the tire man notice.  In fact, the driver never gets out of his truck the entire time the tire man is here working.  It's not until the tire man knocks on his door that the driver appears.  Even then, all he does is walk around the front of the truck, look in the direction of the trailer axles, and signs the paperwork. I catch him before he gets back in his truck and ask him about his downtime. I do not tell him who I am or that I have called his maintenance department.  I let him think I am just another driver asking dumb questions.  He says he is still on his ten-hour break, logged as sleeper time and he will not loose any extra time because of the tire problems.   I ask him where he picked up the trailer.  He tells me he got it at their company's main terminal.  He continues telling me the mud flap bracket was bent against the tire and the mud flap was still there.  He says he pulled it away from the tire before he left, it must have gotten pushed back against the tire when he backed up somewhere.  He also says he didn't hit anything on the road, so that might suggest the tire with the bent rim was already damaged when he picked it up at the terminal.  However, since the two tires on the front axle of the trailer are not heat damaged after running for 10 hours, it is more probable he hit something and did not know it happened.  Either case, it is doubtful the driver performed an inspection after leaving the terminal.

He leaves saying he has to deliver in New Jersey the next morning.  According to him, this means driving all night in order to be there on time.

 Truck_Rolling

Did I actually save this company money by noticing this problem?  It appears to me that all I did is keep the driver from scattering rubber somewhere along the toll road.

Is better maintenance practices and driver training enough to avoid a similar scenario for this fleet?

A better question might be; Is the total cost of down time, repairs, lost revenue, and customer satisfaction enough to justify chip technology in tires?

You can comment on this article by reaching me at m2rdick@trucksavvy.com.

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