The first truck I leased. 2007 Freightliner Columbia.

I leased my first truck in January of 2011. I had a choice. I could have had a brand new Freightliner. I was 3rd in line to choose. The two in front of me chose new trucks. I had my eye on a different truck. I saw that a 2007 model Freightliner was available. It was the only one with a condo sleeper. It was also the only one that was pre-emission. This means that it only had an EGR valve. No regen system, no aftertreatment. At that time, it had been a year since the EPA 2010 trucks had been introduced. They were riddled with issues. Deciding to lease a truck was a huge risk. My wife and I didn't know what was going to happen, but knew we had to try. I decided that I didn't want to make the risk any greater by taking a truck with a shaky reputation.

I leased that truck for two years. It served me well. Many times I thought about buying it at the end of my lease. I really wish I would have. I put over 230,000 miles on it. I knew every squeak, rattle, and noise it made. About 3 months before my lease was up, I started thinking about switching over to the flatbed/specialized division and with that would come the need for a different truck spec'd for flatbed. I also knew it would mean I would be getting in a truck with EPA 2010 requirements on it. I decided that I would go for it. I turned in my old truck in January of 2013 and moved into my 'new' truck.

This isn't good.

Six days. SIX! That's all I made it before the first breakdown. I picked up a load in Brooklyn Park, MI and took it to New York. Next I deadheaded to Pennsylvania to pick up my 2nd load going to Portage, Indiana on Thursday of that week. I accepted a load to pick up on Thursday as soon as I was unloaded to deliver on Friday. I never made it to the pickup.

The night before, a warning light came on. I didn't know what it meant. It looked like a wrench, Usually this means that a sensor somewhere noted a voltage drop somewhere and it would have be checked but then the light would be reset and turned off. That had been my experience for 15 years. Lights are no big deal. They're just an indicator that something needs to be addressed. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that a warning light on these trucks is an indicator of impending doom. A service manager at a Peterbilt dealer once told me, "We used to fix yellow motors (Caterpillar), now we fix yellow lights." See, when a warning light is illuminated on these trucks, it means that it is about to shut down. Stop. Quit. It is about to become completely inoperable. You cant even drive it to a shop. My '07 truck was on a wrecker once. That was my fault. I was careless in a parking lot and ruptured the bottom of my radiator. This truck was towed 3 times...in SIX MONTHS.

The catalyst waiting to be installed.

I was attempting to drive the truck to the shop when it shut down. We called the wrecker to come get me. The dealer was only about 6 miles away. I arrived on Thursday. We didn't have any answers until late Friday. The issue was identified as a bad catalyst. This the part of the aftertreatment system that burns at a high temperature to trap particulates. The total cost of this repair was $5,500.00. Fortunately for me, the truck had a 30 day warranty and the cost was covered. It did nothing for the $1,500 load I lost, the likely $2,500 load I would've gotten for the weekend, and an estimated $1,500 in freight I could've run Monday through Wednesday of the following week. So even though the warranty covered the repair, I was still out more than $5,000.

February through June was fairly uneventful. I was learning a new craft in the flatbed division. New procedures and new routes. May was my best month of the year financially. I had finally grasped the concepts of flatbedding and was confident in my ability to pick loads and make the most of my opportunities. I went home in June for a week off on my summer break and to celebrate both our kids' birthdays. And then June 20th happened.

I was on a load to San Antonio, Texas and was already pre-planned on a great load to Canada from Laredo, Texas. I had started running Canada in 2010 because the rates are higher and much more lucrative. I was excited to have the opportunity to run a load that paid more than $5,000 on a load I could run over the weekend.

The load needed to be tarped. It was hot so I left the truck running with the air conditioner on. I stopped for a drink of water. I sat down in the driver's seat and turned the A/C vents to my face. That's when I saw the lights. All the energy drained out of me. It was Friday, and I had an idea what getting into a Peterbilt dealer on the weekend was going to be like. I called the shop and headed that way. I was fortunate that the truck didn't shut down on the 20 mile trip. I checked in and found that I would be there over the weekend. I pleaded to dispatch to let me keep my load. We made arrangements with the customer and I went to a motel.

On Monday morning, I went over to the dealer and they literally plugged the laptop into the truck for five minutes and sent me on my way. They said it was a "calibration error." I ran back to the yard, hooked to my trailer and headed north. I made it to Sikeston, Missouri. Lights. Engine de-rated. Again.

It took me 12 days to deliver a load that should have taken four. On top of that, I delivered it on July 2, two days before the July 4th holiday in the States. I took a load in Canada going to Montana that didn't pay all that well, but it was better than the nothing I would've gotten back in the States on July 4. Total revenue loss = more than $6,000.

The lights came on and went off again over the next two weeks. We had it checked twice and installed a factory retrofit of the DEF lines. Nothing worked. The lights stayed on but it didn't shut down. I met my wife and kids in Ohio for a trip to Kings Island amusement park and decided to leave it with the dealer in Columbus while we were at the park. I got a call from the shop that the truck was ready. They replaced the doser tube (I have no idea what it does). I said, "Hey man you're my new hero." He laughed and said, "Yeah, til it quits again." 

In the shop in Des Moines, IA.

It turns out that "again" was the next day, 650 miles later, in Des Moines, Iowa. Again I was on another high-dollar load going to Canada. This time I didn't make it to the shop. It was completely dead. Again I found myself on the end of a wrecker. I spent a weekend and two days in the shop. At the end of the last day, after another driver had come to get my load and take it on to its destination, I asked, "So, why did it shut down?" I received a blank stare in return. He replied, "Well, we changed a fitting and cleaned a sensor." That was the last load I ever pulled with that truck.

 

 

 

I had a friend who had recently just bought a truck from Lone Mountain Truck Leasing. He told me of his wonderful experience there, gave me the number and told me to talk to Samantha. I realized that the dealership was only 160 miles from where I was. I decided it was time to go over and have a look. I met Samantha and she showed me the truck I had called about - a 2007 Freightliner Century Class that had been a fleet truck for Crete Carrier. She showed me the terms and I made a down payment.

 My "new" Freightliner.

My "new" Freightliner.

I was more than 1,000 miles from home. I had some logistical issues. I needed to return my Pete to my carrier and then get back to the Omaha area to get the new truck. I emptied my truck into a storage unit and headed for St. Cloud, Minnesota to turn in the Peterbilt. I boarded a bus back to Omaha and stayed in a motel while I was waiting for all the paperwork to clear.

 

I made the choice to lease my truck onto the carrier that I had leased the Peterbilt from. I've been with ATS nearly three years and I can't think of a single complaint I could level against them. They were there for me every step of the way, but there's only so much they could do, and when I approached them about bringing in my own truck, they welcomed me in with open arms. I laughed when I got back to St. Cloud because I had literally been gone less than two weeks but I was greeted as though I'd been gone for years and they were happy to see me again. I got hooked up with my old Van Division fleet manager and we've been making money ever since.

 

It's been just over three months since I bought my truck. I have had to make some repairs, but that is to be expected on a truck that had over 600,000 miles on it when I bought it, but there hasn't been a single time that it has quit for no reason and left me on the side of the road. I am VERY pleased with my decision to buy this truck and with the choice of buying it at Lone Mountain. It is the best business decision I have EVER made.

 

Beginning in January 2014, I will not be permitted to enter California with this truck unless I make $15-20,000 in upgrades to the exhaust. I will not ever do it. Ever. I will drive this truck until the frame breaks. I'm likely to weld it back together and keep going. I am done with these regulations. It nearly ruined my life, cost us our home, and nearly cost us our marriage.

 

This is only one story of the dangers and destruction of these rules. There are many, many more out there. Sadly, the ones being victimized by the government are the "little guys" that the government keeps telling me that they are so focused on helping. The large mega-carriers have enough capacity to spread the extra cost across their fleet. Owner/operators do not. The EPA is out of control and needs to be reigned in. There's no one that thinks we shouldn't be vigilant to care for the environment, but this is ridiculous.

 

Here's a special note for those of you that like to tie this stuff to whomever is occupying the White House:

To the Republicans that will blindly blame the Obama Administration: These rules were written and implemented by the Bush Administration. Please save your "liberals are ruining America" line. Your idiot is as much to blame as theirs is.

To the Democrats that will label me a "Republican," "Teabagger," or "Environment-hating NeoCon" because I so staunchly oppose these regulations: I probably hate the Republicans more than I do the Democrats, and that is saying something because I LOATHE the Democrats. Here's what you need to know - I will not be a victim of your government-worshipping lunacy. I will not comply with your rules. Ever. I won't do it. I understand that you and the rest of the sheep that call themselves "Republicans" will believe anything the media or government tells you, but you will not be given the ability to aggressively coerce me to comply with your silly rules. You're barking up the wrong diesel-burning, meat-eating tree.

 

Stop trying to rule others through the edicts of a gang of thugs in Washington. Mind your own business and live your own lives. It's time to leave your neighbor alone.

 

7/21/2015 UPDATE

 

I am now leased to Landstar. I left ATS in April of 2014. Leasing to Landstar was the best decision I ever made. I am now home 2-3 days per week and I am sending almost $1/mile ($0.97) to the house in net profit. It's been amazing. I owe ten more payments on my truck and it will be paid off in May of 2016. I have lived a nightmare. It's something I don't ever want anyone else to have to go through. I've learned a lot from it and I am more than happy to share my experience with others and help in any way I can. If you're reading this and you're interested in becoming an owner/operator, send me an email at anamericantruckdriver@gmail.com. I'd love to hear from you.