Ongoing Supply Chain Crisis Hitting Fleets Hard

Owners Wrestle With Halt in New Production + Critical Part Delays that Ground Trucks

The ongoing supply chain crisis, impacted largely by a historic backlog at major ports on the West Coast, is hitting fleets particularly hard. In addition to preventing companies from accessing critical repair parts like DEF sensors that keep trucks on the road, the related chip shortage has also all but halted production of new heavy duty trucks.

The shortfall of new Class 8 trucks is particularly devastating as demand for big rigs – and drivers – continues to grow. According to the Wall Street Journal, production of domestic freight haulers sank this summer to its lowest level since the height of the coronavirus pandemic in May 2020. In July, equipment makers built 14,920 units as “the backlog of trucks ordered but not built nearly tripled from the same month a year ago, to 262,100, according to transportation data provider ACT Research.”

In August alone fleets nationwide ordered 36,900 heavy-duty trucks, up 90% from the prior-year period, ACT Research reports.

Couple that with difficulties getting parts – especially those that require semiconductors – and it paints a dismal picture for fleets across the board.

“We’ve gotten hit with this dynamic in our own operations, so we know our fleet customers are wrestling with some significant challenges,” said SCL General Manager Travis Becktel. “You can only get specific models from certain manufacturers right now, so this new model shortfall is forcing fleet owners to rethink their operations. Add to that the scarcity of drivers, how difficult it is to keep drivers, and the ongoing battle to get parts that keep your trucks on the road, and it’s easy to see why fleet owners and managers are getting a little less sleep at night these days.”

DEF Sensor Repair Hits Roadblock

One specific challenge regarding trucks is the failure of DEF sensors that allow machines to keep running. Once DEF sensors fail, which can happen in vehicles as new as a year old, operations are significantly compromised – which is exactly what thousands of trucks nationwide are currently experiencing.

“The sensors, which measure the quality and level of diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) in the tank, normally retail for roughly $300,” according to Transport Topics. “But due to global computer chip shortages causing a backlog the part is being offered for sale — in some cases on digital retail sites such as eBay — for as much as $7,000, according to some industry technicians.”

Although there are ways to manipulate the software and get sidelined trucks moving, it requires approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – which has yet to happen. “Absent that,” states Transport Topics, “running a truck with a defective sensor would not only cause its speed to drastically decline, but would violate current federal emissions regulations.”

Aside from the relatively few repair shops that have DEF sensors in stock, many fleets have been relegated to waiting out federal approval to revise the process or – worse – the supply chain crisis itself.

“Your No. 1 expense owning a trucking fleet is your drivers, which you already have a problem with due to the ongoing shortage and the fierce competition that’s occurring right now for qualified drivers that are on the market,” Becktel said. “No. 2 is fuel costs, which continue to increase. And then No. 3 gets into the overall maintenance of the truck. The supply chain crisis has become a significant challenge in maintaining fleets as has buying new trucks to offset both ageing and cost prohibitive power trains. There are a lot of fleet owners with relatively new units just sitting on dealer lots, waiting for the backlog to catch up, all the while still paying on depreciation, registration and insurance.” 

According to Becktel, “it’s more than simply preventative maintenance that owners need to be focused on right now. Our drivers are the key cog to better understanding how each asset is performing daily and which ones may need a little more love than usual.” 

Fleet owners and operators that fail to do so by keeping a finger on the pulse may result in extensive downtime and ultimately more vehicles being taken off the road. For more information on optimizing maintenance schedules and investing in premium products that can help keep your trucks performing at their peak, contact your SCL representative today.


Contact an SCL Consultant today 

In a wide range of automotive, industrial and commercial sectors, SCL remains steadfast in its commitment to product and industry knowledge, performance satisfaction and superior logistics. We protect and optimize the machines that keep our country moving. For more information on how we can help with services including bulk purchasing or managing inventory, contact an SCL expert today.

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