TD185: Scoot over and fix it now!
This little story all started on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, 2022. I had just come back to work after an unexpectedly long holiday weekend.
The holiday had started off great for a change of pace. You see, as a linehaul driver for an LTL company, I typically run overnight. That often means I get home on Thanksgiving day with barely enough time to grab a nap before I proceed to eat too much turkey, which of course, begs for a popped-open pants button and a long winter’s nap. Unfortunately, that can be perceived as rude, so I generally wind up fighting through tiredness so that everyone can be blessed with my witty banter and charming personality.
But this time was different. I got home early enough to get about six hours of sleep, which is enough for anyone claiming to be a trucker. Also, for once I had a free day between our two thanksgivings. My side of the family was happening on Thanksgiving day, and The Evil Overlord’s was on Saturday. So we had a whole day of rest on Friday, well, if you count cooking for the whole family as rest anyway.
But I’m getting off track.
The skinny of it is that I got home Thursday morning, so basically I didn’t have to work all day Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I was raring to go back to work on Monday, but was told to stay at home due to lack of freight. Bummer. But hey, if you’re going to be forced to stay home and not get paid, at least it’s on a day that will make it a five-day weekend!
But therein lies the problem.
You see, I typically only get about 40 hours off on the weekend. And lately when I come back to work on Monday night, my truck is showing a low voltage warning. The truck does always start after a couple of cranks, but five days was more than she could handle. When I got to work Tuesday night, I turned the key and got absolutely nothing. I mean NOTHING! No dash lights, no interior dome light, no dinging noises… no nothing.
Our dispatcher had a city driver come out with the yard truck for a jumpstart, but the poor old gal was having none of that either. She was deader than a deer crossing I-95.
If you noticed, I just referred to my truck as a “poor old gal,“ when in reality, she’s a 2021 model. Despite that, we’ve had all sorts of issues with batteries since the very beginning. First, many of our trucks have needed all the batteries replaced within the first year. That’s not normal at all, but it is what it is. And secondly, and the worse problem, there is a defect in the way they installed those batteries.
What Peterbilt did, was cheap-out on battery cables.
Not all of them, just one in particular. This one cable runs down to some sort of relay fuse box that mounts to the inside of the battery box. Sorry, but that’s about the best description you’re going to get from a non-mechanical dude like me. Basically, it’s a known flaw that the cable is just too short and with the truck jiggling down the road, it will often break. More on that in a minute. It had already happened to five of our eight Peterbilts and I felt fortunate to not be one of its victims yet.
Seizing the opportunity, I wrote up the bad batteries and sent our mechanic a follow-up text asking him to replace that one short cable since he was already installing new batteries. I know he is aware of this flaw because he’s had to fix so many of them, yet the only response I got was “I have new batteries on the way.” I should’ve known to follow up, but I gave the guy the benefit of the doubt. Dumb move. When will I ever learn to quit having faith in my fellow man?
So I take a different truck that week and I get my truck back the following Monday night. She fires right up. Woo-hoo! With blind faith in my mechanic and my newly powered-up chicky-baby, I hit the road with confidence. Everything went great for the first two days. On Wednesday night I head out of St. Louis on my way to Columbus, Ohio.
That’s when it happened.
I was about 45 miles west of Indianapolis when the truck engine suddenly died and every light on the truck shut off. No headlights, no tail lights, no dash lights, no power steering, no nothing. I would say déjà vu of the previous Tuesday night jump-start session, only this time I’m cruising down the highway at full speed. I try to coast to an exit ramp, but no dice. I got as far off the highway as I could considering the wet ground. The last thing I needed was a rollover.
I called my Breakdown department as I put out my hazard triangles. There is nothing fun about sitting on the side of a busy highway like I-70 at 2:30 AM just over the crest of a hill. This brings me to the first part of the title of this post.
What in the name of Billy B. Heck is wrong with all these stupid truck drivers out here?
I understand that sometimes a driver cannot scoot over for a disabled vehicle if the left lane traffic won’t cooperate in helping them switch lanes. And there’s a really good chance that’s going to happen a lot if you’re in a metropolitan area. But there is absolutely no such excuse on a rural interstate at 2:30 AM.
Yet here I am, setting up my triangles and wiggling my flashlight at oncoming traffic to warn them of the hazard. And how many of them scoot over into the left lane? I’d say approximately 50%. Even when I’m opening my battery box, (which, of course is on the driver’s side right next to traffic), and continuing to shine my flashlight at oncoming vehicles, I’ve got trucks whizzing past my butt at full speed… again, with nothing in the left lane, and no reason not to scoot over. Even sadder was that almost all the cars, scooted over, but the truckers who should know better, did not.
Now I would like to think that anyone who cares enough about trucking to listen to the Trucker Dump Podcast, is also smart enough and courteous enough to not be one of these careless boneheads. But if you are one of these knuckleheads, let me ask you a question… why?
Why would you not change lanes if it is at all possible?
Why would you risk hitting and almost certainly killing a human being? Even if no humans are present, why would you risk getting too close to a sidelined vehicle and smashing your side mirror, or worse, a full sideswipe, like a trucker did to a co-driver of mine recently?
He was sitting in the driver’s seat on the shoulder with a service truck in front of him when a big rig came in and swiped down his whole driver’s side, ripping off the mirror, and likely causing my coworker to crap himself a little bit. Thankfully, everyone was okay but that’s only because the service guy had seen the truck coming and dove into the ditch before it happened. If he hadn’t seen it coming, he likely would have never made it home to his family. To add insult to injury, this was a team operation who hit him, and neither driver claimed to be able to speak any English. Gee, isn’t that a requirement of having a CDL in the United States? 🤔 But I digress.
Do you know who I really feel sorry for?
The tow truck drivers and the mechanics who are called out to help all us truckers. We truckers always complain about how much a road service cost, but take into consideration that this likely includes some hazard pay to cover for idiot truck drivers who have no sense of safety or courtesy. And if it doesn’t include hazard pay, it should. So thank you to all you heavy recovery specialists and mechanics out there.
So to end this part of the story, “scoot the heck over” when you see a disabled vehicle on the side of the road. And if you’re sitting on the shoulder of the road and you’re not broke down, then you’re an idiot too. I kind of hope that team of Mexicans comes by and takes the driver’s side of your truck off. It might teach you a lesson. Comprender?
So anyway… back to my battery issues.
A heavy recovery vehicle had been called out, but I managed to verify that this was the same problem so many of our other Peterbilts had had. The battery cable had not in fact, been replaced, or lengthened in anyway as I had requested. The terminal with the bolt hole at the end of the cable had simply snapped off. I tried to figure out a way to cram it down in there and get it to stay, but every time I started the truck, the slightest vibration of the engine cranking would lose the connection and sparks would go flying.
So now I knew what the problem was for sure. I called the tow company and explained the problem, stating I only needed a service truck, not a tow truck. The lady said she did not have any technicians available, and that a tow was my only option. Well, at least I can say I tried to save the company some money.
Of course, when the tow truck got there and I showed him what the problem was, he asked, “Why the heck didn’t they send out the service truck?“ After telling him what the lady had said, he got pretty grumpy, insisting that there was a service mechanic on call that night. Obviously, he wasn’t happy that the service guy was still in his bed while he was freezing his tookus off with a dark truck on the side of the highway with idiots flying by within feet where he works. Did I mention not one single truck ever slowed down either? But don’t get me started again.
By the time my truck and trailer gets dropped at our Indianapolis yard, I have been down for 2.5 hours. Thanks to my union contract, I’m at least getting paid my full hourly wage for this.
The two worthless mechanics.
So now I walk into our company shop and see one lonely truck sitting there. No hood open, no tools lying around, no mechanics to be seen. I go into the break room and find one mechanic eating lunch. I tell him I had just been towed in and all I needed was a battery cable. He said he didn’t know how long it would take to fit me in. I looked in the shop, and turned back to him. “Really? It’s just a battery cable. I really hate to lose my truck over something so simple.”
He said, “I don’t know if we have the part,” to which I replied, “It’s a battery cable. Are you telling me a company the size of blank (I never reveal my employer) doesn’t have a battery cable in stock?” he shrugged. I continued, “I really only need the terminal on the end of the battery cable. The cable is long enough if you reroute it.“ At this point, I can tell he was getting angry and he said, “Listen. You’re just going to have to take another truck and we will get to it when we can.“ I couldn’t help myself by saying again, “It’s only a battery cable.”
At this point, I knew I was talking to a peanut butter sandwich eating brick wall who had the brains and heart of said peanut butter and bricks. I walked out pretty pissed. Granted, my version of pissed is not your standard “pissed.” My “pissed” is where I stay calm, I don’t start calling people names, I don’t get red in the face, and I never raise my voice. But my voice does have a tone of “snottiness” to it. I’m guessing the mechanic had picked up on this.
Upon leaving peanut butter face, I immediately run into another mechanic walking into the garage. I explained the problem to him, and he also said he wasn’t sure when they would be able to get to it. Here we go again. Pretty much the exact same conversation took place, only this time he agreed to pull it into the shop, simply because the tow truck needed someplace to drop it.
One hour and 45 minutes later I was finally back in my truck and rolling towards Columbus. Now if you’re like me you’re thinking, why the heck did it take one hour 45 minutes to replace a battery cable? Well, to be fair they did also have to hook up the driveline again after the tow. But still, I think even a guy with ten thumbs like me could’ve done the job in half the time. The honest answer is, don’t piss off the mechanics. Well, it’s either that or they were completely incompetent. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they just didn’t like me challenging them on their laziness.
For the record, I also did text my home mechanic and told him what had happened because of his laziness, to which I got no response. No surprise there. One of our drivers has been waiting on windshield wipers for weeks. And before you say it, I know what you’re thinking. Yes, I could’ve replaced that battery cable myself, and my coworker could’ve changed his windshield wipers himself, but technically, we are not allowed because that is a union mechanic’s job. So there’s that. Besides, I refuse to spend my own money on a company truck. It’s their truck, not mine.
So now onto the second part of the title, “fix it now.”
Let’s do some math. You can see where I’m going with this.
I looked up shorter 1 gauge battery cables on Amazon and it looks like I could get one for less than 30 bucks. That cost is considerably lower if you buy it in bulk, which my company should, considering how many trucks we have and how prevalent this problem is. That’s pretty cheap, but there are a couple of other fixes that would only cost about 15 minutes of a mechanic’s time. The easiest fix is just to drill a new hole in the side of the battery box about 1-2 inches higher and locate the relay fuse box, effectively making that shorter cable longer. The other fix is unbolting one end of that short cable and rerouting it under another cable, which would give it plenty of length. Both are virtually free for the company.
Now let’s figure out what it actually cost my employer.
The heavy recovery driver said towing the truck and trailer 45 miles would likely cost at least $1000. Then there’s the cost of the company mechanic, which is probably about $50 for two hours, considering how cheap my company can be sometimes. But hang on. Don’t forget I got paid for all that time too. 4.25 hours down cost them another $125, give or take. I know my math skills suck, but my calculator is pretty good at it. $1175 versus $30.
So do I really have to say it? If you are aware of anything wrong with your truck that could in ANY WAY cause it to break down or be put out of service, for the love of Pete (cheesy Peterbilt pun intended), fix it now!
So like any good 80s sitcom, I’ll leave you with a couple of morals of the story:
Scoot over and fix it now! Oh, and don’t piss off your mechanics.
P.S. The Indianapolis mechanic was not lying. They did not have the correct part. He told me just before I left that they had to use 1.5-gauge cable instead of 1-gauge because that’s all they had. I followed his advice by texting my mechanic that the cable needs to be replaced with 1-gauge immediately, so as not to cause any further issues. As of now, it’s been three weeks that I have written up the 1-gauge cable, and it still hasn’t been fixed. I’ll give you one guess how much faith in that actually happening before the truck burns to the ground. I’ve started practicing saying, “I told you so” and I’m getting pretty good at it.
Podcast Show Notes
TD185: Scoot Over And Fix It Now!
Well, you asked and I listened. In today’s show, we go back to a time when there was nothing on the show but this dorky trucker telling a story and a reading a couple of emails from listeners. This time around we’ve got a rant called “Scoot Over And Fix It Now!” We’ll also hear a bathroom story from Driver Dave and Wunuvakind sent in an audio clip about harassement and urban parking.
TD100: What Makes The Evil Overlord… Evil? from AboutTruckDriving.com
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