False knowledge, said Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, is “more dangerous than ignorance.” The false knowledge shared among truckers includes some dangerous and costly myths. Here we tackle 12 of them, separating truth from fiction and leaving a 13th in hot debate. With these tips, you might just save a life, raise your income and preserve your reputation.
MYTH 1: ENGINE OIL MUST BE CHANGED EVERY 12,000 MILES.
“Not so,” says Zack Ellison, Cummins director of customer support. “There isn’t a truck out there you couldn’t run under normal circumstances for 20,000 to 25,000 miles without changing any oil.”
Today’s oils, especially those with a C14 grade, are better than ever, Ellison says.
Moreover, product quality, fuel consumption, gross vehicle weight, idle time, dust levels and whether you drive city or highway all affect change intervals.
“The more work you’re doing, the more fuel you use, and that means fewer miles in your drain intervals,” Ellison says.
Substandard oils also shorten intervals. “Some do a better job with the amount of additives they put in, and some just add the bare minimum,” Ellison says. But with oil approved by the engine maker, you can go at least 15,000 miles between oil changes in even the most severe conditions.
Cummins and other engine makers don’t expect shorter intervals with the 2007 engines. If anything, change intervals might lengthen because the new engines will require low-ash oil and low-sulfur fuel to meet emissions standards, Ellison says.
MYTH 2: YOU CAN IDLE ILLEGALLY TO PROTECT A PET.
Thirteen states have animal cruelty laws that prohibit leaving pets in too-hot or too-cold vehicles, and all states have more general animal protection laws that ban abuse.
Additionally, dozens of cities, counties or states have anti-idling laws, with fines as high as $25,000. But you can’t break no-idle laws to keep your pet safe.
“One law would not supersede the other,” says Belinda Mager of the U.S. Humane Society. “You would have to comply with both laws.”
Enforcement of a penalty might come down to whether a judge is more pro-animal or more anti-idling, speculates Dr. Richard Crawford of the Animal Welfare Information Center. But there is no reason to expect mercy. While animal cruelty laws can be stringent – New York levies a maximum $1,000 fine – the smart owner-operator won’t risk breaking either law.
MYTH 3: ADDING GASOLINE TO DIESEL IS A GOOD WAY TO PREVENT GELLING.
Yes, adding gasoline to No. 2 diesel does the trick in cold weather, but at some risk: It lowers diesel’s flashpoint, the lowest temperature at which its vapor will ignite.
“Mixing gas with diesel creates an explosion hazard,” says Frank Meyer of Phase Technology, which provides phase analyzers for petroleum products.
“Today’s engines use the fuel to cool the injectors,” says Chuck Blake, senior engineer at Detroit Diesel. “Consequently, the fuel takes on an added 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit every time it circulates through the head.”
A heated gas/diesel mix with a lower flashpoint has a significant chance of exploding from static-electricity sparks. That means when refueling with a gas/diesel mix, it’s critical to use brass, non-sparking tools for repairs near the fuel tanks and to ground the hose, tanks and possibly the whole truck.
An explosion isn’t the only problem. “Gas has less lubrication than diesel and may cause premature wear to components that were not engineered for gasoline,” Meyer says.
For these reasons, the best anti-gelling choices are still commercially mixed winter blends of diesel.
MYTH 4: YOU CAN BALANCE YOUR TIRES BY INSERTING GOLF BALLS.
“The best thing to do with a golf ball is keep it on the golf course,” says Harvey Brodsky, managing director of the Tire Retread Information Bureau.
On a recent broadcast of The Open Road Café on Sirius Satellite Radio, Brodsky’s opinion was backed by four experts: Doug Jones of Michelin, Guy Walenga of Bridgestone Firestone, Jim Green of Yokohama and Terry Westhafer, former American Retreaders president, now with Central Tire in Verona, Va.
Several simple, inexpensive balancers use tiny beads that are put into the tires. But no balancing product remotely resembles golf balls.
Owner-operators who insist on trying golf balls should prepare for a mess, Brodsky says. Rubber-wound-core balls come apart inside the tires, while solid-core balls melt and clump together, seriously unbalancing a tire.
MYTH 5: ‘LOST INCOME’ FROM UNPAID MILES IS TAX-DEDUCTIBLE.
All the fixed and variable costs associated with deadheading reduce your income, so those empty miles already cut your tax bill. But there is no tax deduction for unpaid miles or any other forgone income.
“The bottom line is you only pay taxes on the income you receive,” says trucking accountant Eva Rosenberg, known as “The Tax Mama” on her website of the same name. “Any income you don’t receive, you don’t pay taxes on anyway, so there’s nothing to deduct.”
MYTH 6: ‘TAX-DEDUCTIBLE’ OR ‘TAX WRITEOFF’ MEANS YOU GET ALL YOUR MONEY BACK.
Only tax credits – and they are very few – come straight off your tax bill. Tax deductions reduce your income, and thereby your income tax, but you don’t get a dollar back for every dollar you spend.
Suppose you’re an owner-operator in the 15 percent income tax bracket, and you buy a $1,000 laptop for your business. That expense knocks $1,000 off your income. You would have paid $150 in taxes – 15 percent – on that $1,000.
You also get a self-employment tax break worth about 14 percent. That’s another $140 you would have paid in taxes. So your total tax saving from expensing the laptop is not $1,000, but $290.
If you’re in a higher income tax bracket, deductions are worth more. But don’t kid yourself into making a frivolous business expenditure under the guise of getting your money back at tax time.
MYTH 7: OVER-THE-ROAD TRUCKERS CAN BE TICKETED FOR NOT HAVING WHITE SHEETS ON THEIR BUNKS.
According to the myth, law enforcement personnel in certain states, such as Iowa and Connecticut, enforce laws that require white-sheet-only sleepers.
“It’s not true,” says Maj. Mike Brenner, motor vehicle enforcement officer in Iowa. “You won’t get a ticket in Iowa for not having white sheets on your berth. I’ve been here 31 years, and I’ve never heard of that.” Ditto, say troopers in Connecticut.
Brenner does point to a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations provision that specifies the sleeper berth’s size, shape, location and access. Those specs, which don’t mention the color of sheets, are routinely met by manufacturers before the owner-operator ever takes possession of the truck.
Another federal regulation states that sleeper berths “must be properly equipped for sleeping.” In other words, “You can’t log sleeper berth time if it’s full of books or something,” Brenner says. “You might get a ticket for logging sleeper berth time when your berth is not ready to be slept in.”
MYTH 8: DRIVING FASTER USES LESS FUEL BECAUSE YOU GET THERE QUICKER.
Above 55 mph, aerodynamic drag becomes the greatest eater of fuel mileage. To overcome that drag requires more fuel. The standard industry wisdom is that every mile an hour over 55 decreases miles per gallon by a tenth. Add 10 mph to 55 mph, and that’s a full mile per gallon lost to cover an extra 10 miles in 60 minutes.
Some drivers believe that big diesels get better fuel mileage at higher rpms, but this is untrue. “The faster the rpm, the worse the fuel economy,” says Zack Ellison of Cummins. The lowest rpm that still maintains performance needs is best, he says, which is often between 1,200 and 1,500 rpm.
MYTH 9: CONVICTED FELONS CANNOT HOLD A CDL.
Drivers who have been found guilty of certain felonies in the past seven years, or who are awaiting trial for certain felonies, cannot get a hazmat endorsement and might have trouble getting a job. But they can hold a commercial driver’s license, according to the U.S. Patriot Act.
The act prohibits states from issuing, renewing, transferring or upgrading hazmat endorsements until the U.S. Transportation Safety Administration “has determined that the applicant does not pose a security risk warranting denial of such endorsement.”
Some of the hazmat-prohibiting felonies are murderous assault, rape, kidnapping, drug possession, fraud, bribery, smuggling and immigration violations. Also barred are non-U.S. citizens identified as security threats and people judged to be mentally incompetent.
MYTH 10: PREPASS DATA IS USED TO CATCH SPEEDERS.
PrePass would work well as a law enforcement device. But PrePass, operated by Affiliated Computer Services and administered by Heavy Vehicle Electronic License Plate Inc., says that’s not going to happen.
“Enforcement officials frequently ask for PrePass data that could be used for speed, log book and tax enforcement,” says HELP President Richard Landis. “Our answer is always the same: ‘Sorry, but we can’t.'”
Landis explains that more than 10 years ago, HELP’s half-industry/half-government board of directors agreed that “PrePass data would be used only for the purpose of complying with state requirements at the time of the by-pass.”
“We have never backed away from this formal policy,” Landis says.
MYTH 11: THE OKLAHOMA TURNPIKE AUTHORITY USES PIKEPASS TO CONFISCATE $100 BILLS.
To sniff out counterfeit $10, $20 and $50 bills, the U.S. Treasury uses magnetic and color-shifting ink, security threads and watermarks. None of these identifiers is detectable by PikePass, and none is in $100 bills.
“PikePass is just an electronic toll collection system,” says Oklahoma Turnpike Authority spokeswoman Brigette Berglan. If a driver goes through the PikePass lane without a transponder, the system photographs the vehicle’s license plate. “We’ll locate the driver with that information,” Berglan says. “But that doesn’t have anything to do with detecting money.”
MYTH 12: YOU CAN’T SMOKE IN YOUR TRUCK IN CALIFORNIA.
Smokers, relax. You don’t have to leave your truck to smoke while in the Golden State, assures Officer Chris Sahagun of the California Highway Patrol.
Yet some smoking rules apply, depending on where the truck is parked. If a driver is pulled into an inspection building at a scale facility, “then he’s in a public building,” Sahagun says. “It’s unlawful to smoke in a public building, so even if the driver is in his truck, the truck is in a public building, and the driver cannot smoke.”
IS CELL PHONE USE MORE DANGEROUS THAN DRUNK DRIVING?
Laws cracking down on cell phone use while driving are becoming more common. But is the combination worse than drunk driving, as some word of mouth indicates?
That idea has at least some basis. According to a 2002 study by the world-renowned Transport Research Laboratory in Wokingham, England, “Talking on a mobile phone while driving is more dangerous than operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.” The study used driving simulators and the UK’s legal definition of drunk, also standard now throughout the United States: 0.08 blood alcohol content.
What’s known about fatalities caused by driving while using a cell phone, however, is mostly limited to individual cases. Not so for DUI. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16,694 people – 40 percent of all traffic deaths – died in alcohol-related crashes in 2004. Drunk drivers kill someone every 31 minutes and injure someone every two minutes.
While such numbers dwarf those of phone-related accidents, that’s no reason to take the problem lightly. A 2005 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Perth, Australia, concluded that those who use cell phones while driving are four times as likely to have an accident as those who don’t. That rate doesn’t improve with hands-free devices.
On the other hand, a 2001 AAA-funded study found that only 1.5 percent of drivers using cell phones were fully distracted.