I was doing my pre-trip walk around inspection when I rounded the back corner of my trailer and saw a sight no driver wants to see. The seal was broken on my trailer. I knew immediately that someone had broken into the trailer while I slept. The thoughtful thief had attempted to fool me by putting the broken seal back in place. Quite honestly, I’m surprised I noticed it. So now what?[box]Listen to the audio version above and subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.
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Well, I don’t know about you, but I kinda like this whole living and breathing thing, therefore, the first thing I did was look around to make sure I wasn’t about to be cold-cocked by a criminal who was none too happy with being interrupted. After making sure that the coast was clear, I held my breath, wished for the best, opened the trailer door, and peeked inside. Wait. Perhaps I should back up to the night before.
I had picked up a load from a major retailer’s warehouse that was located just south of Chicago. This company’s shipping process goes something like this. When I hook to my loaded trailer, the doors are already closed and there is a plastic seal in place. I then drive to the outbound gate where the security guard confirms that the seal is intact and that the numbers match their paperwork. Next the guard has the driver break the seal and open the trailer doors. The guard then verifies the store number printed on a label to ensure that the cargo matches the destination on the paperwork. If everything matches they put a different seal on the trailer and verify that the new number matches. In other words, I’ve got no chance of stealing anything off that trailer. Not every shipper is so strict. Some toss a seal at you and walk off. Others don’t even offer one. In that case, I use one that my company has supplied. So what exactly is this seal thing I speak of?
A seal’s primary purpose is to show if the load has been tampered with. It’s just like in the movies when you see the King seal a letter with a wax stamp to ensure that no one has read the contents, only a wax seal is waaaay cooler looking than a trucking seal. When you reach the receiver, they can see that if the seal is intact and the number on it matches the paperwork, all is well in Truckville. Now, if there is a shortage of product they can’t blame the truck driver. That is if you take the right precautions. More on that in a minute.
There are four main kinds of seals; plastic, tin, cable, and bolt. Check out the pictures below to see what each seal looks like. Even though the pictures show padlocks, most drivers don’t use one. The pictures only have locks because I took all these pictures at a company terminal, and they padlock every loaded trailer as it comes in. Now let’s hope no “breaking and entering specialists” read this next part. No seal is completely theft-proof. A plastic seal can be broken with a quick tug of the bare hand. A tin seal will cut you if you try that, but if you’re wearing a pair of gloves, this technique also works. Cable and bolt seals are more of a deterrent, but like any padlock, either can be removed with a standard set of bolt cutters anyone can buy at their local Thieves R Us store.
So back to the story. After leaving the shipper I drove to the TA on I-90 just west of Chicago. When I parked for the night the wind was blowing so hard that my truck was rocking back and forth, making me feel like a drunken pirate trying to sleep off a liter of rum. Arrrr! This is relevant because a driver can sometimes feel it if someone starts walking around inside the trailer, but I wouldn’t have felt a thing with the truck rocking all night. And no, I was solo at the time, so The Evil Overlord was at home… you perv.
Now back to why the shipper’s outbound process is relevant. In opening that trailer door the night before, I had seen what was on the rear of the trailer. I recall seeing power tools, such as drills, circulars saws, shop vacs, house vacuums, and the like. It was stacked within two feet of the ceiling nearly all the way to the trailer doors. There was lots of stuff that I wouldn’t mind owning, and most of it was easily portable. So when I opened the trailer door the next morning I was surprised to see that nothing appeared to be missing. Hmm. That’s weird. I called the company to inform them. After a brief discussion, they told me to reseal the trailer with one of our company’s seals, note it on the paperwork, and move on down the road. They would call ahead and let the customer know what had happened.
When the receiver unloaded me, they only found two items missing. One 42″ LCD TV and oddly enough, one gadget that was designed to roll up a garden hose. I’m guessing the latter was a shipping error, but there was no doubt about the TV. I told them I hadn’t seen a TV on the rear of the trailer the night before. They explained that there was a large empty space where it had sat approximately 15 feet from the rear of the trailer. Some of the top boxes had been squashed a bit. So whoever stole that TV would have had to crawl up and over stacks of freight within two feet of the ceiling to get what they were after. It was clear to everyone present that whoever broke into the trailer knew exactly what they were looking for and exactly where it was. Clearly an inside job. Because of this, and perhaps the fact that I offered to let the receiving clerk look inside my truck for the missing TV, my company never said another word about it. Had it not been so apparent, who knows?
As I hinted at earlier, there are other ways for a driver to protect himself from suspicious glances from receiving clerks. At the shipper, smart drivers (that would be me) sign their name to the Bill of Lading and then write “SLC” in big letters, which stands for Shipper Load & Count. If you’ve signed SLC and let the shipper seal the trailer, when the receiver is shorted product, you can’t be held responsible. They will know that the loader just can’t count as well as a 5th grader. Hey, I bet there’s a game show in there somewhere. Anywho, some shippers forbid SLC, but most don’t care.
Other shippers require you to sign for the number of pieces loaded on the trailer. In this instance, you can either count the product as it is put onto the trailer, or you can trust the loader not to hose you. Despite knowing better, I only count freight if the shipper requires me to do it. One of these days I’m sure this will come back to take a big bite out of my rump roast, but so far it hasn’t. So until then, let laziness rule! Either way you lean, you would sign this paperwork with “SLDC,” which stands for Shipper Load, Driver Count. Now they know that you’re the moron who can’t count. Either that or they’ve guessed you’re just a lazy skuzzbucket.
Another way to cover your… ahem, gluteus maximus, is to have the receiver sign the bills with the phrase “Seal intact.” That way if they discover an overage or shortage after you’ve already left the premises, your glutes are covered.
While I’ve only had one theft in my 12+ years, I’ve had many loads with overage or shortages. No matter which trucking company I was working for at the time, the first question is always the same, “Did you sign SLC?” If you did, they just take the details down and you’ll never hear another peep. If you didn’t, you could be held responsible. And FYI, if a trucker tries to sell you something expensive that was “extra” on a load, don’t buy it, literally and figuratively. The only thing I’ve ever been able to keep was an extra case of toilet paper. I’m sure Sony would want those “extra” camcorders back.
As for break-ins and broken seals, let’s just hope you haven’t recently “purchased” a 42″ LCD TV.