Trucks at Work

Small details, big impact

"Be faithful in small things, because it is in them that your strength lies." -- Mother Teresa

Had an interesting chat with Allan Berger, vice president of Arriba Equipment Service down in Houston TX, by way of email not too long ago. We were talking about tires -- specifically about the life cycle of trailer tires -- when he shared a telling experience gained back when he worked as VPof equipment at Browning-Ferris Industries (BFI), which used to be one of the largest refuse fleets in the country until it got bought out by rival Allied Waste several years ago.

Allan told me that his shop found that, in certain operations, the front tires on the forward tandem axle on short wheelbase low COE front loaders like the Mack MR wore twice as fast as those on the rear tandem. In addition, in some operations, the tires on the right side of both tandem axles wore almost twice as fast as on the left side. That perplexed him and, as it cost his fleet money, he set out to find out what was going on.

It turned out that in city operations, BFI's trucks were routed to drive down one side of a street and to keep making right turns into and out of stops, thus always pivoting on the right rear tires and rolling on the left rear tires. The trucks were then routed to pick up the same way when driving back on the other side of the street. The short wheel base helped maneuverability but prevented rolling into turns, i.e. the tires were being scrubbed. While this provided a more efficient collection operation, it came with a price.

Yet in country operations where the pick ups were more widely located, these trucks made as many right hand as left hand turns going down the same roads -- it made sense on these routes not to double back -- so tire life was greatly improved. However, the lower collection density meant more miles had to be driven and more fuel burned to collect the same amount of trash as a city collection route.

Talking with Allan about these particular findings from his refuse fleet days reminded me just how important the small details are in the trucking business in general -- from vocational operations up to the OTR guys. Gain a tenth of a mile per gallon in fuel efficiency for tractor trailers and suddenly an OTR fleet is saving potnetially thousands of dollars a week. Manage the wear rate on your trash truck tires and again lots of money can get returned to your bottom line.

That's why I think the fleet manager's job is even more vital today than in the past, despite many who might feel that job description may be heading for extinction. "Bean counters" living in the carpeted finance office are never going to be able to look at uneven tire wear on a truck and figure out what's causing it -- and solving that kind of puzzle can mean the difference between saving or losing money in the trucking business. Because as so many fleet managers past and present have told me and keep telling me, this is an industry where pennies matter -- save a few here and there, and suddenly the whole balance sheet can shift from red to black.