The sun is already fading behind the ADESA Auto Auction in Moody, Ala., before Neal Ivey can load his first vehicle onto his car hauler. The 43-year-old driver from Douglas, Ala., arrives at Great Rigs Inc., around 2:30 p.m., but he must wait until the dealers’ sale next door is over before he can pick up his paperwork at dispatch to find out how many vehicles he’s hauling and where they are going.
Ivey says the uncertainty of his destination and the various shapes and sizes of his haul are just parts of the job of hauling late model used cars. He loves the challenge of having to be ready to load and roll. “It doesn’t really matter where I’m going,” Ivey says. “A lot of our loads are regional so I can usually deliver the next day, and I get to be home a lot more.”
Challenges are numerous for car haulers because they load and unload their own trailers. But they can be even greater for drivers who pick up vehicles at used car auctions. The first test for the drivers is to find the dispatched vehicles in a virtual sea of trucks, cars and vans. Sometimes, the vehicles have been moved from their assigned spaces to the other side auction lot.
Other times, a dealer may decide to drive the vehicle home without telling dispatch or the drivers. It can be quite a scavenger hunt for drivers who are trying to load and get on the road.
Today, Ivey, a 10-year veteran car hauler, gets help in locating his cars on the lot. Henry Young chauffeurs fellow Great Rigs drivers around the lot in one of the cars he is to haul. This saves a great deal of time. “You don’t always have someone to help you find the cars,” Ivey says. “Sometimes you go to these big sales, and your cars might be a mile away. Time you find 10 cars, you’ve walked about 10 miles. Then, you’ve still got to load and then drive.”
Vehicles on the auction lot can also have dead batteries and empty gas tanks. Even worse are vehicles with the keys locked inside. Ivey says car haulers all know little tricks of the trade to combat problems with locked doors. “I keep an extra antennas handy that I can use to get in most cars,” Ivey says. “It works better than a slim jim.”
Long before all the cars have been found, Ivey is mentally loading his trailer. He says getting as many as 11 vehicles on a trailer is somewhat like working a puzzle. “A big part of it is trying to figure out what goes where and how to get the height and weight right,” Ivey says. “You might put a load on and have to take it back off and start again. You don’t want to do it over. After you’ve been doing it awhile, you get a pretty good idea of how you can put cars on there and make it work.”
Sometimes, drivers ask other drivers for their opinions on the best way to put a particularly tough load on the trailer. “If you do the job right, you’re not supposed to have to do it again,” says Johnny Ledford, an owner-operator from Cleveland, Tenn. But even after 30 years of hauling cars, Ledford grins and adds, “Yeah, sometimes, I have to unload and try it again.”
Experience is built on trial and error. “Every haul is a challenge,” says Roy Wyatt, 59, of Cowpens, S.C., who hauls cars for R.G. Motors of Marion, Va. “Every load is different. It’s never the same.” Wyatt has been hauling cars for 17 years.
Wyatt says things get more complicated if a driver has more than one drop because it affects the way the trailer can be loaded. “It’s much easier to haul if you have one drop,” Wyatt says. “If you have more than one drop, it’s hard to load your first drop on the back and make it work out right.”
On a good day, a driver can find all his vehicles, drive them on the trailer, tie everything down and be on the road in about three hours. That’s not always the case. “Sometimes you have to load in the rain, sleet and snow,” Ivey says. “And you have to unload in the rain, sleet and snow.”
There are dangers associated with this part of the job in any weather. Getting in and out of a vehicle loaded on the top of the trailer is a balancing act. “You can fall and get hurt,” Wyatt says. “It happened to me. I fell off the top getting out of a car and hurt my feet, legs and back.”
Car haulers say loading and unloading is easy today thanks to better equipment. “Trailers have gotten better from what it used to be,” Wyatt says. “They are a breeze now compared to when I started.” Ledford agrees. “Equipment is a lot better,” he says. “When I started we had spring-back trailers. We didn’t have hydraulics.”
Changes in body styles and bigger vehicles also present challenges. “It’s harder to haul vans and some trucks because they are big and bulky,” Wyatt says. “You always have a danger of scraping the sides of the trailer.”
Ivey says a car hauler, whether he is loading, unloading or driving down the road, takes damaging a vehicle personally. “Any car hauler will tell you, he hates to damage a vehicle,” Ivey says. “It makes me literally sick to my stomach to damage something. The secret is to not get in a big hurry. After I load I always do a walk-around to check everything to make sure I didn’t miss something.”
“When I stop, I look at all my chains to make sure the tie-downs are secure, and then I don’t worry about it anymore while I’m on the road,” Wyatt says. “A lot of boys are afraid to haul cars, but I’ve been out here so many years, I don’t worry about it. I love it.”
Ivey says car haulers must learn to take personal responsibility, or they won’t be around very long.
“You have to know where you can go and where you can’t,” Ivey says. “You can’t get off the interstate to avoid a wreck. You can get into trouble. The job’s not for everybody. I’ve trained guys and tried to train guys.”
Wyatt say while the money is better than average for a driver, it’s the challenges and personal satisfaction that keep him on the road. “I pulled a dry box for five years, but I’d rather haul cars than anything,” Wyatt says. “It’s hard work, but I enjoy it. I enjoy trucking, and both go together.”
Ivey says that it gets in your blood. “I tried to quit a couple of times over the years, but I really like it.”