Double Yellow's Company Driver to Independent Thread

Discussion in 'Ask An Owner Operator' started by double yellow, Nov 5, 2014.

  1. FatDaddy

    FatDaddy Road Train Member

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    Thanks for this. Not ready to go on my own authority yet but when I am this is a good guide. Thanks!!
     
    double yellow Thanks this.
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  3. paul_4lp

    paul_4lp Road Train Member

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    You Go Booooy!!

    But do you know how to get free Taco's at Jack in the box !!

    Good Read Bud!
     
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  4. double yellow

    double yellow Road Train Member

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    As Kevin Rutherford said in his audio book "Stop Holding the Steering Wheel and Start Driving Your Business," buying a truck without planning the type of business is like putting the trailer before the tractor. So let's step back and examine what my plans were and then go to what equipment would work best for my needs...


    "If you can't spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker." -- Poker proverb

    Like poker, business is a competitive endeavor. What is your edge? What will you do better than others? You need to be ruthlessly honest with yourself. I played poker professionally from 2007 until Black Friday (4/15/11) and can't tell you how many good poker players I knew who kept playing in games they had no business being in.

    What am I good at? Numbers & analytic ability. Getting good fuel mileage. Conscientiously remembering & abiding by obscure regulations. Punctuality. An above-average breadth of knowledge. A willingness to work long hours.

    What am I OK at? Doing it myself (from taxes to rebuilding car engines)

    What am I bad at? Dealing with people. Diplomacy. Negotiating. Selling. Kissing ###...

    What would be best for me? Well, frankly, the best job would be as a company driver. Maybe even an o/o leased to a company. Let those skilled with the people side of the business do their thing, and I'll do mine. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a company that I felt adequately rewarded my skills: I averaged 7.4 mpg at Con-Way compared to a company average of 6.5 -- and I was based out of CA (meaning I was going through mountains much more often). At 130,000 miles/year & $3.70/gal -- I cost Con-Way $9000 less than the average driver in fuel alone. And that was with no fuel mileage reward program (they later introduced fuel oops, which was a slap in the face). I had a 100% on time rating. I have hazmat, TWIC, FAST, tanker, etc. And aside from a freak "accident" that broke a headlight ( www.youtube.com/watch?v=03kmNNvPNTI ), I never bumped anything but docks. And yet the mentality of companies is that every driver with X years' experience is worth the same. Pay rate is based on seniority, with mileage pay being the only nod to production. And aside from managing your time, there is little a company driver can do to significantly affect the number of miles they get (and therefore the pay they receive).

    So why not lease to Landstar, Mercer, Schneider Choice, or under someone else's authority -- let them handle the people stuff & I can concentrate on being an efficient driver? Well, the numbers just didn't make sense to me. Even though I'm bad at working with people, I don't think I'm *that* bad -- and I will get better; why forfeit that 10-35% ($25,000 - 87,500)?

    OK, so I've decided to go Independent. But what should I haul? If I had it all to do over again, I probably would have gone flatbedding with Prime instead of dry van teaming with Covenant. But dry vans are what I know and I didn't want to start a new business concurrently learning about flatbed load securement and tarping. I hate hate hate grocery warehouses so reefer didn't look appealing. I have a little tanker experience, but I have no idea where a tanker o/o could go find loads. So dry van it is...

    Dry van is the simplest form of trucking which means just about anyone can do it. To succeed, I'd need to be able to operate at a lower cost than most eveyone else. That, I was sure, I could do.


    How to cut costs in a trucking operation

    Well first what are the typical costs? http://www.thetruckersreport.com/infographics/cost-of-trucking/

    54cpm fuel
    36cpm driver
    24cpm equipment purchase
    12cpm repairs & maintenance
    5cpm insurance
    3cpm tires
    2cpm permits & tolls
    2cpm other
    -------------------
    $1.38
    (note: I don't agree with all of those)

    What are my projected costs?

    50cpm fuel
    45cpm driver
    4cpm equipment purchase
    20cpm repairs & maintenance
    6cpm insurance (about as good as a new authority can do)
    0cpm tires (included in repairs & maintenance)
    3cpm permits, fees, and tolls (thanks California)
    2cpm other
    ---------
    $1.30

    So the main savings is coming from buying an old truck once instead of buying a new truck every 5 years... That is partially offset by much higher maintenance costs to keep old iron on the road indefinitely. I also have some savings in fuel costs (not as big as I might like due to large carriers' buying power).


    How to lower fuel costs

    The driver is the single biggest factor in getting good fuel mileage. The main key is to look far ahead, plan in advance, and drive as smoothly as possible.

    I think it helps if you've ever been a cyclist and have ridden 10 or 20 miles farther than you were conditioned for. When you're the one expending from a very limited pool of energy, you instinctively adapt to conserve every shred of it. You coast the moment you reach the top of a hill, you start pedaling just before you start going up the next roller. When you're coming to a stop sign, you coast far in advance. You accelerate at a glacial pace. You ride in as straight a line as possible looking far ahead instead of adding distance by weaving all over your lane. You slow down (though you might go 1-2mph faster than you otherwise would when presented with the opportunity to draft off another rider). And you certainly would never go for a long ride without having your tires aired all the way up.

    All of those transfer to trucking (though keep it safe with the drafting -- you can still get a noticeable effect on the scangauge 200' behind another truck).

    Equipment is the next biggest factor. An aerodynamic truck with full fairings will get ~13% better fuel economy at 65mph than a boxy classic (source: Cummins). For a dry van, you want a full-height roof fairing, side extenders, lower side fairings, a sloped & rounded hood, air cleaner under the hood, exhaust behind and under the cab, no external grab handles, a minimal gap between the trailer and the fairing, etc.

    Low rolling resistance tires can increase fuel economy by as much as 13% (source: cummins). Ribbed tires are better than lugged. Worn tires are better than new. Wider tires are better than narrower. Shorter sidewalls are better than tall. Taller overall diameter is better than smaller overall diameter (but shorter sidewall is more important). KR incorrectly asserts that LP22.5's have better rolling resistance than LP24.5's. Bridgestone has proved that wrong. However, LP22.5's weigh less & their shorter height allows the trailer to sit lower -- improving aerodynamics (to a greater extent than they give up in rolling resistance). Direct drive increases fuel economy by ~3% while in direct. Synthetic gear oils reduce transmission and rear end friction at lower temperatures.

    Weight has a proportional relationship to rolling resistance. Doubling the weight ~= increasing the rolling resistance by 50% which is ~= to decreasing fuel economy by 25%. Think about this when you're bidding on freight. If an 80,000lb (gross) load requires 50cpm in fuel, a 40,000lb (gross) load should cost 37.5cpm in fuel. Yet shippers and brokers don't usually discount 12+cpm for light loads. While light loads do go off the boards faster, they seem to go for about the same rates as heavy loads -- inefficient market...

    I also choose to trade tire life for fuel economy. The difference in rolling resistance between 90psi and 120psi is 3%. 3% of 50cpm is 1.5cpm. Tires cost 3cpm. Are you going to go through tires twice as fast if you inflate to 120psi instead of 90? I don't think so... (I run 130psi cold -- exceeding the recommended pressure by ~10%. I've done it for years on bicycles as well)

    Are there any modifications I recommend? Sure. The scanguage is probably #1 for a new driver. You don't need the KR version (though it has some features which would be very useful for those leased under a carrier). Try to drive at a steady horsepower instead of steady speed. For example, on flat ground I stick around 80-110hp depending on weight/wind. On a long grade I try to maintain 150hp when empty, 175hp when lightly loaded, 200hp when moderately loaded, and 230hp when grossed out. There is no need to ever use 400hp hauling general freight in a dry van. Sure, I'm one of the slowest to the top of the hill, but I'm getting 8mpg in my $15K truck with crappy tires...

    Likewise I believe trailer skirts and tails are worthwhile modifications. Converting to a tag axle, on the other hand, might take years to pay for itself. Low RR tires are definitely worth the investment (wide singles are coming very soon for me -- I've just been chasing used sets on craigslist). Less restrictive air filters and mufflers work. Wheel covers.


    What doesn't work?

    Turbo3000D
    Fuel additives
    hydrogen systems
    propane systems (insofar as lowering total operating costs)
    ...
    most anything else you don't see here:
    https://cumminsengines.com/uploads/docs/cummins_secrets_of_better_fuel_economy.pdf or here: https://www.tc.gc.ca/media/documents/programs/AERODYNAMICS_REPORT-MAY_2012.pdf
     
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2014
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  5. ironpony

    ironpony Road Train Member

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    Think about getting a FASS put on your truck. Mine has been worth a minimum of 0.5 mpg, with a pretty reasonable ROI.
     
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  6. bergy

    bergy Road Train Member

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    Double yellow - tremendous post/ thread! Thanks for taking so much time on it.
     
    double yellow Thanks this.
  7. HalpinUout

    HalpinUout Road Train Member

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    Great thread!!!
     
    double yellow Thanks this.
  8. double yellow

    double yellow Road Train Member

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    Buying a Trailer

    When searching for my truck, I started in the Fontana area (where I turned in Con-Way's truck). Having no luck, I came home to Sacramento. I looked at trucks in Stockton, Tracy, Dixon, Roseville, & Reno. Then I took a road trip to Seattle, stopping to look at an ex-GTI truck in Medford (was ready to fall apart), Portland (the truck that sold before I could even test drive it), Seattle, and then Boise. I returned home deflated... Next week I went to Phoenix (the truck that I dynoed). So when I finally bought my truck in San Antonio, I thought the hard part was through. Trailers should be simple, right?

    Well it turns out that early summer is not a good time to be buying a dry van in California. Produce was picking up, some going on van, most on reefer, but that meant the refeers were not pulling dry freight just to stay busy which, in turn, allowed van rates to climb. So who was selling dry vans in that market? Mega companies cycling equipment out of their fleet.

    But I'm getting ahead of myself. Specs are important. 48 or 53'? composite or wood walls? translucent or aluminum roof? wood floor, aluminum, or combination? Roll up door or swing doors? Crossmember spacing?

    48 vs 53: 99% of dry van freight will fit on a 48' trailer. A 48' trailer is lighter, costs less, is easier to maneuver, is less likely to get your hood ripped off in a truck stop (can park deeper in spots), and can legally travel on more roads. Yet 50% of the available loads ask for 53' trailers. Unless you have a dedicated customer, or want to tilt at windmills, get the 53'.

    Air ride vs Spring Suspension: Spring suspension costs less, weighs less, requires less maintenance, and is ever so slightly better on fuel (air compressor doesn't have to run as much). Air Ride has better ride quality for lighter loads and maintains a steady trailer height regardless of load. Like the 48 vs 53 debate, if it were purely up to me I'd get a spring ride. But some shippers are impressed by "air ride" and require it. I can forgive those with 10,000lb loads, but those with 45,000lb loads are just victims of marketing (air ride runs lower air pressure on lighter loads which provides a softer ride, but with spring ride you have the same stiff spring rate you need for a full load)... Regardless, if they require it, it's probably best to have it (though I've NEVER had anyone check for air bags).

    Composite vs wood walls: Composite walls are lighter, look newer, are less likely to snag certain freight, and are easier to clean. Wood walls are easier to brace a load lock against. They're easier to repair yourself. I don't know, their may be more advantages for wood, but I've always driven composite-walled vans and I think they're less likely to draw scrutiny at anal food-grade shippers.

    Translucent vs aluminum roof: Translucent roofs are lighter, and, as the name implies, allow light in which makes it nice when working inside. They also create a greenhouse effect which means certain shippers will not load them with temperature-sensitive freight. For me, aluminum gets the nod.

    Wood Flood vs aluminum vs combination: Wood floor is the standard. It is heavier, degrades over time, and requires more upkeep. The upside is certain shippers can nail bracing to the floor to secure their freight. My vote would be for combination -- aluminum floor with wood strips -- like that used by Werner and US XPress. Unfortunately the Werner trailers did not use logistics posts (don't know about US Xpress) so I wound up with wood.

    Roll-up vs Swing doors: Roll-up doors allow you to just back straight into a dock and then open up from the dock. Less likely to get things wet, less work for a driver, can't rip the doors off, etc. Unfortunately swing doors are heavier and require additional bracing, which creates a narrower opening. The roll-up door also cuts into the available height at the back of the trailer. Many shippers require swing doors, so unless you're on a dedicated account you should probably lean that way.

    E-tracks vs logistics posts: E-tracks are horizontal rails with those slots that allow you to attach straps (or those bracing load locks). Logistics posts are vertical posts with the same slots. Most E-tracks I've come across encroach into the interior space of the trailer and are a little easier to snag stuff on (although some are recessed just like logistic posts). But they give you more options for strapping freight snuggly towards the nose. Logistics posts give you more flexibility in choosing the height at which you attach your straps, but sometimes your strap may be a few inches (or even feet) away from the end of the freight. I've never seen a load with E-tracks as a requirement, but I have seen places that won't load an E-track trailer so my vote is for logistics posts just to give you the most options.

    Crossmember Spacing: Closer spacing is stronger, but heavier. If you're buying a used trailer with a wood floor, all else equal, the floor with the tighter crossmember spacing will have floors in better condition (just because the wood can't flex as far). Close spacing is often advertised as "paper spec."

    Air slide vs pull handle vs lift lever: The standard is the lever that you move over and lift up and move over again. These are a ##### when the pins are sticking -- often releasing abruptly and letting your arm fly into the bottom corner of the trailer. A better system is the handle you pull out until it rests in a notch, similar to most 5th wheel releases. Sometimes the notch won't catch and you have to keep it in place with vice grips, but that's still better than donating skin to your trailer. And then there are the air slide systems where you push a button and air actuation locks/unlocks the pins. These are a bit more complicated and are one more thing to go wrong -- but also less likely to hurt you or your driver. My preference is for the pull-style, but I have a lever on my trailer now...



    So back to the trailer hunt

    Werner, Knight, & Schneider were all selling significant quantities of ~2003 composite-walled dry vans. Knight & Schneider's were spring ride, wood floor, with logistics posts. Werner trailers were air ride with combination aluminum/wood floors and had little recesses every so often for some type of strap.

    Werner was actually selling their trailers direct out of the LA area, but a small trailer dealer was reselling them near Sacramento. Reseller wanted $12,000 and wouldn't budge much and that just seemed ridiculous compared to a brand new trailer with skirts for $27,000. Probably could have bought direct from Werner in the $10K range, but the ones I saw online looked pretty beat up.

    Schneider had decided to sell 50 trailers this summer and by the time I came around they had about 15 left. Imagine the 50 oldest trailers on a mega carrier's lot. Then imagine the 15 worst of that bunch. Yeah, that is what was left. Taillights dangling by strands of rust. Wood floors I was not thrilled to be walking on. Looking at the crossmembers from below, you could see over 1" of bow.

    I originally thought the $6,100 price tag was because of the ugly orange paint ( http://www.thetruckersreport.com/tr...-an-owner-operator/255243-because-orange.html ), but no -- it was because these trailers weren't fit for parts... Maybe the first 10 of that 50 could have been usable, but really I don't see very many ex-schneider trailers on the road (at least not compared to how many should be out there). I do see a lot being used for storage though...

    Knight had a yard and I made an appointment to take a look. When I got there, 200 miles from home, no one was in their trailer sales office. It was like 2pm on a Friday, the hours on the window said open until 5, but no one was there. I waited for 45 minutes before leaving. The trailers were behind a locked gate so I couldn't even give them a once over. Like Werner, there were some small trailer dealers reselling Knight trailers, but again for an extra mark-up.

    At this time, I'm also looking at craigslist and had looked at a rotten Stoughton (think it was a 94?), a beat-up utility, and a decent great dane but it had been converted to a roll-up door.

    By now I'm resigning myself to buying a new trailer. I don't have a problem with a new trailer per se, but it would mean I would have to get financing ($2,500 in interest over 3 years). That would mean I'd have to add physical damage coverage to my insurance ($2850 over the 3 years financed -- and I may not feel comfortable discontinuing after 3 years). And on top of the ~$15,000 price difference, I would need to pay CA sales tax ($2200) and FET ($3250). So while it seems like a new trailer is only an additional $15,000, it also requires spending nearly $11,000 extra over the next 3 years. I'm trying to be an ultra low-cost operator, remember? (To be fair, it also would mean an extra $9,000 in depreciation over 3 years)

    Anyway, at this point I'm waiting to hear back from Con-Way manufacturing on the price of a "signature" trailer when I see a 1998 HPA-Monon pop up on Craigslist. 'That looks like a CFI trailer' I think to myself as I give the guy a call and go check it out. Sure enough, it's ex-Con-Way/CFI 21311. Its older than I was really looking for, but its actually in better condition that any of the 2003's I was considering. The floor has some daylight cracks but feels solid. The body is straight. The paper-spec crossmembers are straight (except for 1 with maybe 1/4" of bow). There is little rust. The landing gear cranks smoothly up & down. But one of the doors feels a little rotten and doesn't close well. The tires are from the scrap pile, the wheels are cheap steal, and the plastic air lines are beginning to show some secondary colors. It also has a spare tire carrier and vertical exterior ribs -- both of which detract significantly from aerodynamics.

    Seller has been running this for a couple of years, but has just switched to reefer. The trailer has been sitting for a couple months and I get the feeling that cash is tight. Guy wants $7500 for it and I tell him that I can get a 2003 Wabash from Schneider for $6100 (leaving out the part where the schneider trailer is a total POS). I tell him at least 1 door needs to be replaced, and the floor probably won't last a year. He protests that the floor is just fine, but I point out the daylight cracks. He waves his hand as if to say "what do you expect?" I tell him I would be happy to buy it, but the price has to be $5500. He scoffs and says $7300. No, $5500 I say -- that floor will cost at least $4,000. He waves his hand again. I shrug my shoulders and climb into my pickup. He says $7200, but I shake my head. I grimace and say $5700. He waves both hands and starts walking towards his pickup.

    I thank him for his time, start my truck, and drive off. A couple hours later his wife calls me and says "lets make a deal -- $6900." I acknowledge that now we're making progress, but that we're still pretty far apart. I tell her about the door and the floor, and tell her to look at Schneider's website -- that 2003 trailers are worth only $6100. She comes down to $6700. I go up to $5850. We reach an impasse, and eventually hang up.

    I'm starting to get interested in this trailer now, and if it weren't for the exposed ribs on the outer skin, I might have bought it at $6700. But I figure 2 doors will be at least $1000 and the floor will be at least $4000 -- plus the tires on it were crap. Anyway, about 8pm that night the wife calls again and says $6500 final offer. I tell her that I forgot to mention how bad the tires were last time and how it'll cost me thousands to replace them with decent rubber. She huffs and I can tell she's ready to hang up, so I say "fine, I can do $6000." That seemed to be a psychological threshold for her because she re-engages. We go on for another couple minutes before meeting in the middle -- $6250 cash.


    The combo:
    combo.png


    Bulkhead is straight & solid:
    bulkhead.png

    5th wheel platform was straight and solid:
    platform.jpg


    Paper-Spec crossmember spacing probably helped keep the crossmembers straight after 16 years of use. The crossmembers on Schneider's 2003 Wabashes had over 1" of bow
    crossmembers.png


    There were still 2 or 3 slightly bowed crossmembers, but the bow was maybe 1/4":
    crossmember bow.jpg


    At a glance, the inside looks like any other composite-walled trailer (most of which are ~10 years old or newer):
    inside.jpg
    Roof patch is ugly, but sealed. I just got a ladder and some reflective tape to make it a little less ugly. I'll also fix that dangling wire visible in the 1st picture...



    A little rust around the tandems, but the metal is still very solid:
    light rust.png

    Back bumper was very solid. I did replace the lower DOT tape (that #### is expensive):
    back.png


    Not perfect by any means, there were its share of scrapes:

    damage.jpg
     
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2014
  9. mattbnr

    mattbnr Road Train Member

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    I'd never own a spring ride. I pull tankers and after a couple days of pulling a spring trailer I'm sure I'm gonna need a kidney transplant. Air ride is the only way to go. It might be different for dry freight but on a tank air is the only way to ride.
     
  10. double yellow

    double yellow Road Train Member

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    Exposed ribs = bad for aerodynamics:

    ribs.png
    These aren't terrible, but they're not good. A corrugated shipping container has ~10% more aerodynamic drag than a smooth dry van. This wall is probably costing 1-1.5%


    Rotting door that takes a lot of effort to close:
    rotting door.png


    Daylight cracks come from expanding and contracting seams in the composite (laminate?) wood floor:
    underside wood.png
    (this picture is from the outside looking up at the wood floor)


    Worst of the gaps are between the planks near the doors (probably because the doors don't seal well unless you conscientiously place the weatherstripping just so as you close the door the last few inches):
    wood floor gap.png
    (this picture is from the inside looking down, just after the metal plate at the door opening)


    Disaster Strikes! CARB amends the rules for my exemption...

    I bought my truck on June 26th, 2014 under the assumption that because I had been denied a loan for a new truck, I would be allowed to use the CARB economic hardship exemption. This was what the CARB board decided at their April 2014 meeting. But on June 27th, 2014, while I was still in San Antonio, CARB released a new draft of the rules for the economic hardship exemption. When I found out later, I was aghast. First, they now limited the exemption to people who had owned their truck since 2012. Worse, they increased the criteria for demonstrating a hardship from being denied for a new truck loan to being denied a new truck lease. Anyone who can fog a mirror can sign up for a fleece purchase! That isn't owning you're own business! They completely gutted the exemption and while, to date, they still haven't finalized the rules, it has become clear that I won't be compliant under the economic hardship exemption.

    The only avenue open to my truck is the "low use" exemption -- limiting me to 1,000 miles inside the California border. I5 alone is 800 miles long...

    When I began the process of starting a business, I was hoping to prove to the lunch counter crowd that California was not as business unfriendly as its reputation would lead people to believe. As I ran into one California bureaucracy after another, I gradually came to the conclusion that California's reputation was not as bad as it actually deserves!

    In most states you can walk into a DMV with your paperwork and walk out with your apportioned plate. The California DMV has such an office, only it is not open to the public. There is a drop-box on the outside where you can stick your application, or you can rely on the postal service. Only they don't "process" your application right away, they run about 1 week behind. Then they mail you their findings -- something that can take 3 days to go from Sacramento to Sacramento. And if they ask for something else -- you're stuck waiting another 2 weeks. You can't get your IFTA until you have the plate. You can't do your Motor Carrier Permit until you have the IFTA and plate. Basically you have to pay to park your truck somewhere for 6 weeks while maintaining insurance (to keep your already active authority active), but you can't use the truck to make up for the money that is flowing out of your accounts.

    CA tax rates are among the highest. CA regulations are among the most strict. Entire industries thrive on acting as a go-between for business and government -- how can anyone think such an arrangement is an efficient "allocation of scare resources which have alternative uses?"

    And now, on top of all this, CARB has basically ruined my plans. I've got a $15,000 truck, $5,000 in delayed maintenance, and $4,000 in plates & title fees, so I'm supposed to just resell my truck (in a state where it isn't legal to operate), eat that other $9,000 & then try to buy a truck I couldn't afford in the first place? #### you CARB. Just because I can finance a 2008 Columbia doesn't mean I can afford to operate it.

    I pleaded my case to numerous CARB bureaucrats -- people who have never been in business and have NO comprehension of the repercussions of their actions. Some mid-level manager finally said "Well you should have just bought a 1995 truck like you planned" -- a truck that gets worse fuel mileage and emits more NOX than the one I already own.
    "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'" -- Ronald Reagan

    I'm not anti-EPA. I think the improvements in diesel emissions have been a good thing for society. I am willing to buy a new truck in 2017 as was stipulated in the April economic hardship exemption. But as a business start-up I simply cannot take the chance on a used CARB-compliant truck -- the risk is just too great. And this is coming from a former professional gambler!

    So what now? Well CARB basically told me they weren't interested in going after single owner operators at this time and that I probably could "get away" with operating in California for "a while." If I ran into enforcement, I *could* (might) face $3,000/month fines for as long as I continued to operate a non-compliant truck in California. So they're basically telling people who can't comply with their rules to ignore them for now. I'm just not comfortable with that.

    So my plan is to go home once every 2-3 months. I'll drive just as many miles in state as it takes to come home and then to go back out again. It won't be 1,000, but it'll probably be under 5,000. And after that, I dunno. I'm a 6th generation Californian, but I'm leaning towards moving out of state. My great great great grandfather came to California because of the opportunities it offered. If I leave, it'll be because of the opportunities it doesn't offer.
     
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2014
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  11. Skate-Board

    Skate-Board Road Train Member

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    Trailer looks very good for the price!
     
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