Commercial fleets have been forced to keep trailers longer than usual because of the impact of the pandemic on the availability of new trailers. For example, fleets typically only keep refrigerated trailers between 8 – 12 years.
When a fleet suddenly keeps trailers longer than usual there are maintenance and repair implications. For example, an increased wear rate on the kingpins will have an impact on the entire fleet. Keeping trailers 2-years longer than usual may not seem like a big deal but in the world of commercial trailers, things can change dramatically in that time.
What is the Impact of the Pandemic on Commercial Trailers?
“Truck and trailer manufacturers are desperately trying to increase production rates but are struggling to overcome a myriad of obstacles,” according to ACT Research.
The reality is that the full impact of the pandemic has caused shortages in several key areas required to manufacture anything, namely raw materials, and labor shortages, and the end result is that the demand for trailers continues to outpace supply.
“Material and component supplies, as well as staffing issues, continue to generate headwinds for U.S. trailer OEMs,” said Frank Maly, director of CV Transportation Analysis and Research at ACT Research.
It all started with the first lockdown in the spring of 2020 when millions of people were unable to do their jobs. Everything slowed or completely stopped including the mining of raw materials used to manufacture everything including commercial trailers.
With so many people at home, demand for retail goods skyrocketed putting strain on the global supply chain. As demand outpaced supply, inflation began to increase. The first place it was acutely felt was in shipping costs where containers that formerly cost $3000.00 USD to ship from Asia to North America hit all-time record highs. We have unconfirmed reports of the prices topping $25,000.00 USD.
Concurrently, governments around the world started pumping billions of dollars into the economy to try and provide their citizens with what they needed to survive and stabilize the economy. People spent the money. This only increased the supply chain issues and caused the hyperinflation we see today.
Meanwhile, the raw materials needed to build commercial trailers continued to be produced but at a rate far below demand. Remember that all of these retail goods are typically shipped on commercial trailers once they arrive in North America and that only caused more demand as fleets needed to expand the number of trailers in their fleet to keep up with the strong demand.
To summarize, there was a gap in the production of raw materials because of the pandemic lockdowns, followed by record demand for retail goods, simultaneously there were ongoing labor shortages, which caused the demand for more trailers than could be produced. In other words, a perfect storm.
Implications for Fleets with Commercial Trailers
While this perfect storm rages on, commercial fleets are doing what they can to continue to operate. They can’t get new trailers fast enough because of the impact of the pandemic, so they are forced to keep the trailers they have much longer than they normally would.
The responsibility of keeping these trailers on the road falls on the maintenance department. Which also was hit by reduced staff, and decreased budgets. The immediate new problem arising, is the limited availability of quality parts, just as demand for trailers is much higher than the supply, the demand for parts to repair commercial trailers has skyrocketed far beyond the ability of parts manufacturers and distributors to supply them.
Basically, all of the same factors that have prevented manufacturers of commercial trailers from keeping up with the demand has impacted the companies that manufacture replacement parts, and the problem gets worse for fleets with commercial trailers.
The fleet of trailers has never been this old, and older equipment needs more maintenance and repair, which requires more replacement parts, and now you have more than a perfect storm, you have the conditions for disaster. Not to mention, the same labor shortages felt by manufacturers are also being experienced by commercial fleets.
To summarize, fleets are not able to buy enough new trailers to keep up with shipping demand, they aren’t able to get enough replacement parts to repair all of their equipment, and they don’t have enough people to do all the jobs that need to be done.
To say that things are bad right now because of the impact of the pandemic is an understatement.
Fixing the Fifth Wheel and Ignoring the Kingpin
In the best of times, most fleets do a good job of maintaining and repairing the fifth wheel on the truck. The kingpin on the other hand is often ignored. One of the big concerns from our perspective is fleets that usually don’t have trailers this old and for this length of time will not have a connection maintenance program in place to address kingpin wear and damage.
This opens them up to some major compliance and safety issues. The kingpin is the only thing connecting a trailer to a truck. Think about that for a minute. It is a critical part of the trailer that needs to be maintained and repaired just like any other component on the trailer.
At Kingpin Specialists, we have developed an engineered kingpin repair solution that can be performed onsite with minimal disruption to the day-to-day operation of the fleet and limited downtime for the trailer. Here is the best part, our solution requires no additional parts so the repair can be performed despite the shortage of replacement parts.
Cheap is Very Expensive
There is an understandable urge to try and save money wherever possible when operating in difficult times like we are experiencing in 2022 because of the impact of the pandemic. But the connection between the truck and the trailer is not the place to go cheap. We are seeing the results of fleets trying to save money by going with the cheapest bid for kingpin repairs.
This is the result of a scab plate installed without properly tying in the support structure. Poor welds, with the undercut and no structural reinforcement, combined with short-staffed maintenance departments, are creating a great deal of liability on the roadways. This was found when a new maintenance manager took over the fleet of 40 trailers.
In another instance, the old kingpin was removed from above, and a new one was installed and welded in place. This unit was identified during our inspection in March of this year, after returning from a delivery.
Compounding the issue, we are seeing a large influx of kingpins introduced from the South East Market that are made from low-quality raw materials. These materials are 40-45% weaker than commercial kingpins should be and so even if the welding is done properly the kingpin will experience significant wear which affects compliance with OEM specifications and safety. Please be sure to use a reputable company for major structural repairs.
Time to Call the Kingpin Specialists
If you operate commercial trailers, you have had a difficult couple of years because of the impact of the pandemic. We don’t want to see things get worse for you because a kingpin that is damaged or has excessive wear leads to a compliance or safety issue.
Kingpin Specialists provides an engineered kingpin repair solution performed by certified welders who have been specifically trained with Kingpin Specialists’ industry-leading process. When Kingpin Specialists is done with your trailers, you will be done with excessive wear and damage to your kingpins and fifth wheels.
Without understanding the scope of the connection management issues affecting a fleet, it is impossible to quantify the real long-term costs. It is also difficult to make any meaningful progress in fixing the ongoing connection management issues.
Most in-house technicians do not have an engineered solution at their disposal, lack the experience and training required to repair kingpins effectively, and even misunderstand the relationship between the fifth wheel and kingpin.
If you are responsible for fleet maintenance on commercial vehicles, why not take the first step and have Kingpin Specialists perform an inspection and report on the condition of your fleet?
Call us at 1-888-221-7774 or email us at email@example.com.