The COVID-19 pandemic will surely go down in history as one of the most chaotic times the world has ever experienced. Essential workers sacrificed their health and stretched themselves thin for the American people, spending many hours away from their homes to meet the increasing pressure brought on by restrictions and regulations.
As people begin recovering from the effects of the pandemic and vaccines are distributed throughout communities, many industries are forced to relook at how they handle business. So, what does this mean for the trucking industry in this post-pandemic era?
Why Fleets are Experiencing 2021 Prosperity
Since the beginning of the pandemic, consumers have continuously relied on online platforms for their wants and needs. And as businesses open back up, many flock to the sight of normalcy, leaving companies in need of constant supply. This consistent demand has fallen on the backs of truckers nationwide and has many freight companies stretched thin.
In May alone, total spending on freight surged to a record 50% year over year, while shipping volumes swelled to a whopping 35%, making this year the second-highest index level ever recorded. “It’s safe to say the pandemic recovery is progressing much faster than the recovery from the Great Recession,” according to the Cass Freight Index.
However, this overwhelming need has ultimately led to an intense growth in domestic shipping rates, and in turn, a shortage in freight vehicles and drivers. With consumerism at an all-time high, the demand for technological advances, logistical adaptations, and competitive packages are needed within the trucking industry now more than ever.
During COVID-19, the logistics were constantly changing, leaving fleet operators looking for the most efficient way to deliver goods. Fleet carriers, suppliers and drivers were forced to adopt new technologies in order to communicate and operate.
Support teams scrambled to set up shop from their new home offices, onboarding and training employees in tandem on complex software applications to optimize routes, and learn contactless payment systems to reduce exposure.
All the headaches and changes have to lead to a safer, happier, and more productive supply chain and delivery system. The dream of being able to bump the docks and roll onto the next load and enjoy the high tide of “The Era of Post COVID Trucking” is alive as well.
The Future Looks Bright
“We’re just in the beginning stages of this very robust recovery,” said Bob Costello, chief economist at American Trucking Associations. “Some younger people have never seen an economy grow like this before,” he said. “People in their 20s and early 30s have never seen anything like this over a sustained period of time.”
The trucking industry will continue to experience growth in the coming months as long as fleets continue to hire more drivers and balance out the supply and demand issue. Enticing workers to become professional drivers will be (and has been) the primary obstacle for the freight market.
“I’m hopeful that we’ll start seeing people come back into the job market … and we get a closer balance between supply and demand, and that holds up in ’22 so that we don’t see rates come down too substantially and put the market into another freight recession like we saw in 2019,” said Hugh Ekberg, CEO of diversified carrier CRST.
With the need to meet the ever-increasing “just-in-time” demand for delivery timelines, changing logistics, and sweating the assets in longer life cycles of duty, it’s easy to slack on the preventive maintenance schedule.
As an operator, having the best tools in your toolbox to solve common problems and knowing when to make needed repairs is the key to meeting your target’s deadlines and keeping your rig rolling on schedule. That means that you’ve got to know all about the requirements of truck repair. Let’s explore some of the more common repairs that fleet operators see with today’s trucks.
1. ENGINE OVERHEATING
An overheated engine can cause many residual effects on a truck. For example, the issue might be a blown gasket, or something related to the fuel tank. Regardless, over time, this can lead to engine failure if the problem is left too long. Therefore, working with a maintenance professional is crucial to review and address signs of overheating on your vehicle. In the long term, this can prevent failure at a critical time and save you big bucks.
On average, here is what you will pay for “check engine” related repairs per state:
Starter mechanisms should be reviewed more often as the colder weather approaches. Starter failure can become a common problem in the winter months. Clear signs of issues with a starter will likely be noticed by the operator first, and the ignition will only get worse as the temperature outside gets colder. During the motor start phase, nonessential components (such as radios) should be turned off in order to diagnose the problem.
U-joints are necessary for power to transfer to the differentiator from the transmission. The U-joints must be lubricated to minimize wear and tear, and if the U-joint is about to fail, a driver may notice a clicking sound. Another sign of imminent U-joint failure can be vibrations at higher speeds. If a driver experiences either of these signs, at the earliest convenience, the U-joint has to be replaced.
4. BRAKE ISSUES
A comprehensive strategy for brake maintenance is critical. On a regular basis, likely due to the pressure from today’s larger payloads, modern trucks frequently experience issues with brake pedals or the braking system. Brake fluid leaks and even total brake failure can occur if trucks have not been maintained effectively. Fortunately, if one brake fails, the independent brake system still allows the driver to stop using the other brakes.
5. WHEEL BEARINGS & TIRES
In order for your wheel to move along the road with as little friction as possible, important components called wheel bearings are necessary. While they’re moving, if the driver notices an unusual amount of noise generated from the wheel wells, the bearings could be degraded. Another sign could be unstable road movements or a jerking feeling of the truck. Even if your tires are properly inflated, these types of problems are extremely common. Make sure to always replace worn out tires and keep plenty of spares on deck.
Federal safety regulations require all semi-trucks to have a full inspection by a qualified inspector annually. The inspection must meet the federal guidelines, performed by someone with the proper training, certifications, and experience.
Having a five-plus year plan of what you will need to replace could aid in planning and avoiding a show-stopping price tag. In addition, with the current post-COVID-19 climate, finding OEM assets required can be challenging in an emergency. Being prepared and aware of your options can be very critical in a crisis.
Semi-truck maintenance can be expensive and unpredictable, but it’s a necessary evil that comes with ownership. It’s tempting to put off repairs until damage occurs, but regular maintenance is crucial to preventing more severe problems down the road.
Want more information? Check out our blog, Everything You Need to Know About Annual Semi-Truck Maintenance.
Amazon Prime Day has become one of the most popular shopping days of the year, growing since its inception in 2015 to rival Black Friday when it comes to money spent and overall excitement among consumers looking for deals.
The annual Amazon shopping extravaganza provides an opportunity for small and medium-sized businesses to increase sales and promote their goods in front of a larger audience. While Amazon Prime Day helps create excitement and generate revenue, it also challenges the global supply chain, which has been under increasing stress for the past two years.
From a lack of certain raw materials to a shortage of truck drivers, along with lingering issues from the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chains struggle to keep pace. These problems become exacerbated during busier times, causing further delays and item shortages.
While the supply chain struggles can – in many ways – be traced directly to the pandemic and the ensuing fallout, there are lessons that parts of the supply chain, retailers, and even consumers can learn from this time to improve performance in the future and to better plan for surges.
Lessons for Retailers
Prime Day is estimated to have brought in $10.4 billion globally in 2020 alone, according to Digital Commerce 360.
Retailers will want to ensure they have as much inventory as possible, although that can be difficult for smaller companies. These businesses may not have the available cash flow to purchase additional inventory months in advance or have the resources to store excess products.
Part of this issue can be mitigated through predictive analytics. Retailers can try to use past sales records, predicted sales, estimated marketing impact, and other important metrics to better gauge the number of supplies that will be needed. While this is an imperfect science, it can provide retailers with a way to better plan for these surges in activity to ensure customers are happy.
For retailers that find themselves falling short on deliveries, it is critical to remain in communication with customers. Let those that made a purchase know of possible delays before a sale is made and make every effort to keep them informed as to potential delays in their delivery. Customers will be more understanding if they know beforehand that delays are likely and will feel more at ease if they feel informed throughout the process.
Additional Supply Chain Issues
To stay in step, shippers, carriers and other members of the supply chain should closely align themselves with the operations of business and vendors. They can do so using business intelligence software as part of an enterprise resource planning solution to better forecast potential hiccups. These systems can help track available resources, following the movement of products and purchasing trends, along with allowing for time to switch gears if needed. While there is no perfect solution, advanced technologies can help supply chain members stay on top of the latest needs to anticipate problems in the future.
Supply chain firms should also understand the changing global economic environment. Even as shoppers begin to return to stores, e-commerce delivery will remain a priority. Businesses should better anticipate large online shopping holidays such as Target Deal Days. These events help drive increases in business volume and have grown in importance as more consumers become comfortable shopping online.
Consumers still expect their e-commerce shipments to arrive in a timely manner. While delays could be expected during the pandemic, consumers have also grown accustomed to same-day service from some retailers. The speed at which merchants can get goods to consumers will be one of the most critical factors of their success.
The Ongoing Driver Shortage
For trucking companies, the ongoing challenge remains staffing. The trucking industry has struggled to employ enough drivers to meet demand, causing additional stress on the supply chain and delivery. Trucking organizations continue to make recruiting pitches to drivers – in particular highlighting the safety and security of truck driving – but still, find themselves in need of qualified applicants.
Both retailers and delivery providers need to plan for these spikes in demand. The logistics ecosystem features many pieces that right now face several obstacles. Businesses cannot just assume the system will work without a hitch. There must be planning and organization to ensure that retailers have the raw goods needed to make their goods and that those goods can be delivered to customers once complete. Customers will have some patience, but businesses – and the logistics companies that support them – should not get too comfortable.
Want more content like this? Check out our other articles!
In mid-May, a cyber attack on the Colonial Pipeline shut down fuel delivery to a large part of the Eastern United States. Gas stations across that particular part of the country reported greatly reduced supplies and, in some cases, complete outages of fuel. This shortage resulted in long lines at those gas stations that still had fuel, along with limitations on how much gas consumers could purchase at one time. While the cyberattack was an isolated incident and resolved in about a week, the outage had an undeniable effect on consumers.
In particular, it raised and re-raised ongoing concerns about how the trucking industry’s struggle to transport fuel—due to a lack of drivers and a rise in insurance premiums—has impaired the industry’s capabilities.
The Colonial Pipeline shutdown received national attention, but many areas already suffer from gas shortages that can raise prices for all consumers. This shortage has nothing to do with consumers but more about the lack of available truck drivers who can haul fuel combined with irrational consumer behavior. Let’s look at this challenge to try to figure out some possible solutions.
Understanding Fuel Challenges
The nation relies on truckers to keep gas stations regularly filled, but the ability for truckers to do so has decreased due to several reasons. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated several of these trends.
With more people no longer commuting to work and a drop in vehicle use for things like vacations, the demand for gasoline was cut in half in April 2020. This lack of demand forced some drivers in the fuel-hauling sector to either change to more stable routes or leave the industry altogether.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that the trucking industry lost 88,300 jobs during this time, adding to the tens of thousands of driver vacancies already in place. The driver shortage created a difficult dynamic. While trucking companies surely utilized fewer drivers during the pandemic, they now find themselves struggling to refill those voids as fuel needs again increase. After all, it is not like there are drivers simply sitting at home waiting for an assignment. The fuel-hauling fleet finds itself desperately in need of drivers without enough interested applicants.
Additionally, a Truckload Carriers Association poll found that insurance premiums skyrocketed an average of 15% for members last year. For some smaller carriers, this increase forced them to shut down, further lowering the available driver pool.
Potential Help on the Way?
The DRIVE-Safe Act, a piece of proposed legislation that if passed would incorporate more safety technology into driving, has brought hope to some in the industry.
The act includes several mandates that would improve the overall safety of truck driving—and experts believe this could entice potential drivers. Some of these mandates include apprentice programs for commercial driver’s license holders under the age of 21, active braking collision mitigation systems, forward-facing cameras, adaptive cruise control, and speed governors.
These technologies not only make driving easier, they exonerate drivers during accidents. Young people are more accustomed to devices tracking their activity and may be intrigued by the “gamified” experience fleets can create.
The act will also help put to bed the notion that truckers work incredibly long hours on the road without rest. Instead, prospective employees will know they can expect to work in a highly regulated and safe environment that puts them and their safety first. This will help alleviate some of the problems truckers face.
Supply & Demand of Gasoline
The price of gas traditionally increases at the beginning of summer as fuel companies provide a different blend that produces less smog. This change, combined with more motorists on the road taking vacations, reduces the overall supply and can cause prices to increase. The price of fuel stayed relatively low and stable last year as drivers largely remained at home during the summer months. Historically, though, this time of year has featured higher prices.
As some states like Colorado complain of shortages now, the reason comes more from consumers than supply. While there are fewer truckers on the road, there is still enough gas for those wanting to fill-up. The problem occurs when drivers anticipate a shortage and fuel up before their tank is empty, leading to a rush at the pumps.
Until more truck drivers return to the road, this will be an ongoing problem. For motorists, the key is to only fill up when necessary and avoid purchasing unnecessary fuel that will not be immediately used.
Are you ready for a hot semi-truck summer? The warm weather is already here in some places, and truckers need to prepare their vehicles for what lies ahead. While most of this information may seem common sense, it serves as a good reminder for even experienced truckers to take proactive steps to prepare for the coming months.
With more than 15 million trucks and 2 million tractor-trailers on the road, owner/operators need to take special care of their equipment at all times. Here are some things truckers should keep in mind this time of year:
1. Do a summer maintenance checkup
Truckers traditionally make preparations for the harsh winter weather, while summer conditions are sometimes overlooked. Hotter temperatures may mean a new set of measurements and calibration to ensure each component is set to work properly.
Colder temperatures compress air within the tires, giving off the impression that the tire pressure is too low. Some drivers will put more air into the tires to account for this change. However, once the weather begins to warm up, the air decompresses and can make tire pressure too high. As temperatures rise, do a tire pressure check to set a new normal.
Battery and Engine
Batteries struggle to work their best in cold weather, so keeping a solid charge during the warmer months is usually not a concern. Truckers should double-check their battery, though, heading into summer to ensure it works properly. Sometimes excessive heat can drain a battery, so monitor its charge regularly. Truckers also need to verify their truck engines stay cool as well. Inspect the truck’s coolant levels and hoses to avoid overheating and replace any suspect parts before they break.
Spending all day in a truck without air conditioning sounds like a nightmare. Check internal cooling systems as summer starts, looking for leaks or cracks in the tubing. Get any parts replaced in order to have a comfortable ride no matter how hot it gets outside.
2. Be ready for emergencies
All experienced owner/operators know to be ready for whatever comes their way. That includes creating an emergency kit that can help when something goes wrong. An emergency kit should include items to help truckers survive and recover whenever an emergency happens.
Some key things to have in an emergency kit:
Several days of food and water
Cellphone and charger
Toolbox with tools of varying sizes
Swiss Army knife
It’s also a good idea to keep a first-aid kit in the truck. Use the beginning of summer as an opportunity to check that everything in the kit is current and replace any items that may have expired.
3. Take care of your health
It is vital that owner/operators take care of their physical and mental health at all times. During the summer months, truckers should wear sunscreen each day, even if they do not plan to spend much time out of the cab. While some truck windows protect from harmful UV light, truckers may often find themselves outside and need that layer of protection.
Truckers should also stay hydrated, drinking water and other healthy drinks while avoiding soda. Staying hydrated will help keep drivers alert while driving and avoid any possible distractions from feeling thirsty or dehydrated.
It’s also important to focus on regulating emotions on the road. The summer typically means more drivers on the road, especially on weekends. This may lead to increased traffic or more inexperienced drivers trying to navigate the increased traffic. Truckers must remember this fact and attempt to stay calm during stressful driving situations.
Preparing for a Busy Year
With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to fade away, more and more people this summer are expected to travel. Even with increasing gas prices, there is expected to be a significant amount of traffic on the road as people want to leave their homes after spending much of the past year stuck inside.
Both owner/operators and other truckers must be prepared for this surge and ensure both their trucks and themselves are prepared for what comes ahead. For many truck drivers, the summer season may be seen as a respite from the snowy and icy conditions of winter. Summer brings its own challenges, but by taking the steps mentioned above, they can feel prepared and ready to take on the coming months.