The Cost of an Improperly Loaded Truck

Jul 15, 2021 11:02:49 AM / by Tiffney Lopez

Drive your business to success: What to know before you take your next load.

The trucking industry is continuing to grow and is expected to generate $1.6 trillion of the Gross Domestic Product by 2045,1 according to the Department of Transportation. Truck drivers, fleet managers, owner/operators, and trucking companies need ways to make the day run more efficiently to capitalize on time and profit. 

Trucking is a high competition, a low-margin industry. The average net profit margin is approximately 4 percent2 per year. The cost of doing business has a real number now. 

Understanding the situations and cost around a properly loaded truck can mean the difference between paying out-of-pocket or making a profit at the end of year.


Getting Overloaded by the Shipper

Imagine being at the shipper and they happen to be a little behind. Once you are loaded, a trip to the scale proves you were overloaded, and now you have to drive -- but to where? Back to the shipper? Or take the back roads? 

What choices does a driver have when they have been overloaded? A driver may have to hit the road and drive 30 miles or more before finding a scale to see if they have been loaded properly - only to have to drive all the way back to the shipper once finding out they are over. Regardless of whether the cost of a scale ticket goes to the driver or the company, continuous scale tickets are costly. However, the cost of scale tickets pale in comparison to the miles lost.

Which leads to another cost: back-tracking. The wear and tear on a tractor trailer without back-tracking is already costly. Having to go back to a shipper once being overloaded adds miles, braking, fuel costs, and driver fatigue into the mix and costs the driver and company. 

The back-tracking eats into a drivers Hours of Service.4 Lost drive time equals lost revenue and according to the DOT approximately $1 billion a year is lost.5

While drive times vary, having to go back to a shipper for proper loading continues to cut into the amount of time and money truck drivers can be making for themselves and the carrier. 

Scale Tickets

The current price for a most certified scale tickets is $12.50. That price jumped from $12.00 in the beginning of 2021. That's up from $11.00 in 2018.6 That is a 13.6 percent increase in three years. While scale ticket prices continue to increase, truck drivers typically do not raise their rates in correlation. 

Truck drivers will often get scale tickets for peace of mind, but the cost of peace of mind adds up to $1,300 per year - if two scale tickets a week is all a truck driver gets. 

The time it takes a driver to get to the scale and get back on the road also has to be factored into the cost. 

Fines 

The state a truck driver happens to be driving in will dictate how large the fine will be if they are caught being overloaded. Each year the Federal Highway Administration requires states to impose laws on truck size and weight.7 These laws are to ensure a safe driving environment and prevent damage to roadways. 

Average fines can be as low as a few cents to a few dollars8 per pound (over 80,000) depending on the size of the load and where the driver is located. 

Officers with the Department of Transportation use roadside inspections, portable scales as well as weigh-in-motion scales to find those violating vehicle weight laws. But due to regulations both internationally as well as from state-to-state some containers and shipments are off on their weights. 

An overweight truck is a safety violation and a reason a DOT officer can place a truck out of service (OOS). The cost of being out of service is monumental and has the potential  to put some companies out of business. The driver OOS rate for 2020 was approximately 5 percent with compared to a truck OOS rate of 20 percent. 

Going out of business isn't the only consequence of being overloaded. Living in a society requires properly working infrastructure. Regulations and fines are, in part, due to the building and maintenance of highways and bridges.9 

The entire cost of the situation can add up to hundreds to thousands of dollars as it is equal to the inspection, scale, fine, and fix. 

Maintenance and Vehicle Issues  

The average cost of a commercial truck tire is a few hundred dollars and one of the largest expenses other than fuel a driver has to incur. Approximately 3 percent of overall yearly expenses are dedicated to tires and their upkeep and/or replacement.10

Having some weight behind you makes slowing down costly on more than just the tires. The more you weigh, the harder it is to come to a stop. This adds wear and tear to the brakes.  

If tire and brake ware isn't bad enough of an expense, there's still more to consider. As weight goes up, fuel economy goes down. 

Avoiding Weigh Stations  

Some drivers hit the road knowing they are hauling a too heavy, opting to go off-the-grid to the side roads. How much time is wasted dodging the scales? More than 3.4 million road side inspections were done at the federal and state levels in fiscal year 2019.11 

Aside from the cost of time, one must consider what driving slower and stopping frequently does to the big rig. Braking and fuel economy go down with the use of side roads. 

While arguments have been made on the validity of the calibration and certification requirements of portable scales, it hasn't stopped the DOT from using them. Officials with the DOT expect truck drivers to avoid scales and can use portable scales or weigh-in-motion scales, "to inform weight overload enforcement policies and to directly facilitate enforcement."12

Maximizing Loads 

The average cost to haul agricultural commodities can be measured per bushel or per mile. It has been a long-time industry practice to simply "eyeball" how much product is going into the back of a trailer and hope for the best or deal with the consequences. 

Often, agricultural products are coming off a conveyor or out of a silo. While some larger producers have scales on the farm, many don't. So the ease and comfort of knowing a truck's gross weight is absent.  

Insurance 

Semi-truck drivers can spend anywhere from $500 to $1000 per month on insurance, not including additional insurance required for drivers who use their trucks during personal conveyance. What happens when overloaded trucks wreck? Insurance rates go up. 

Even with extensive training, crashes still happen. Truck drivers, as well as the companies who employ them, can be held responsible. The reason behind that is because anything involving inspection, repair, and maintenance is federally regulated.  

The cost of a wrecker for a semi-truck can be anywhere from $200-$1000 an hour depending on the extent of the situation. 

Reputation

Bills of Lading are legally-binding agreements between shippers and carriers. There have been cases of brokers misrepresenting loads. When weight is off, that can throw drive-time and delivery-time off for the truck driver. 

When brokers misrepresent loads and shippers eat up drive-time they leave tough decision-making up to carriers and drivers. Truck drivers don't want to miss delivery windows and could potentially suffer from driver fatigue or fines because of such.

Every little bit helps when it comes to mitigating the expenses of the trucking industry. Knowing what you're hauling, how much is weighs, and making efficient use of the truck itself can increase productivity and widen profit margins. The largest, and potentially the precious, commodity saved by knowing a tractor-trailer's weight: time.  

Solutions

With all of the complications that come with knowing a loads weight, this is one of the most expensive and time consuming events in a drivers day-to-day. Every mile that a truck drives  overloaded compounds the cost with fixing the problem down the road. Knowing the vehicles gross and axle weights at the point of loading can prevent lost miles, scale tickets, fines, and a damaged reputation. There are cost effective tools that carriers and drivers can use to get a much better idea of how much they are hauling. Scales that attach to the trucks springs or air suspension can get pretty good results and are significantly cheaper than the alternative. Some solutions can be accurate with in 300 pounds which can mean the difference between comfortably knowing you are safe and needing to take a little off.

 


1 - U.S. Department of Transportation. (2015, February 2). The Blue Paper: Beyond Traffic 2045. https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/docs/TheBluePaper.pdf.

2 - New York University. Sterns School of Business. (2021, January). Margins by Sector (US). http://pages.stern.nyu.edu/~adamodar/New_Home_Page/datafile/margin.html

4 - U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. (2020, June 1). Hours of Service of Drivers. https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/06/01/2020-11469/hours-of-service-of-drivers

5 - Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. (2018, January 31). Estimates Show Commercial Driver Detention Increases Crash Risks and Costs, but Current Data Limit Further Analysis. U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL. https://www.oig.dot.gov/sites/default/files/FMCSA%20Driver%20Detention%20Final%20Report.pdf.

6 - Last name unknown, Ashley. (2019, September 18). CAT Scale prices are going up today. CDLLife. https://cdllife.com/2019/cat-scale-prices-are-going-up-today/.

7 - Federal Highway Administration. (2020, November 12). State Information on Citation and Civil Assessments Issued for Overweight Violations. Federal Highway Administration Freight Management Operations. https://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/freight/sw/violation_report.htm.

8 - U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration. (n.d.). Compilation of Existing State Truck Size and Weight Limit Laws. Office of Operations Freight Management and Operations. https://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/freight/policy/rpt_congress/truck_sw_laws/app_a.htm

9 - Transportation Research Board. 2002. Regulation of Weights, Lengths, and Widths of Commercial Motor Vehicles: Special Report 267. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/10382 

10 - Williams, N., & Murray , D. (2020, November). An Analysis of the Operational Costs of Trucking: 2020 Update. https://truckingresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/ATRI-Operational-Costs-of-Trucking-2020.pdf.

11 - Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. (2021, June 25). Roadside Inspections. U.S. Department of Transportation. https://ai.fmcsa.dot.gov/SafetyProgram/RoadsideInspections.aspx.

12 - J. Gajda, P. Burnos and R. Sroka, "Accuracy Assessment of Weigh-in-Motion Systems for Vehicle's Direct Enforcement," in IEEE Intelligent Transportation Systems Magazine, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 88-94, Spring 2018, doi: 10.1109/MITS.2017.2776111. 

Topics: Air Scale, Overloaded, Overweight ticket, truck scale, fines, Maintenance, FMCSA

Tiffney Lopez

Written by Tiffney Lopez