Too Much, Too Fast

Winning the battle with truck complexity.

For instance, new environmental regulations lead to EGR, which leads to variable geometry turbochargers and EGR valves. The driver shortage leads to over-the-road trucks loaded--sometimes overloaded--with creature comforts, which leads to more complicated electrical systems. Vertical integration leads to greater OEM control which leads to more returns to the dealer for maintenance work. The electrification of trucks leads to telematics and multiplexing (one of Sabo's pet peeves), which leads to ongoing technical bulletins and computer downloads and a need for computer-savvy technicians. And everything, it seems, leads to more need for training, of which there's never enough.

On top of everything else, Sabo can see his 14 technicians growing frustrated with truck complexity. "I hear that here, and you hear it everyplace," he says. "The dealers do have a direct line to the OEMs, but they're tearing their hair out, too. They're calling the OEMs and the OEMs don't know, because they've never experienced these problems."

Sabo is quick to admit that many of these problems will probably be gone five years from now. But, then, five years from now we'll be dealing with 2007 and 2010 engines...

"The complexity thing is a giant monster," he says. "I found that out when I really got into it. I thought 'complex' was not so complex of a word!"


At it's September, 2004, meeting, the TMC inaugurated an "exploratory" Task Force to look into the issue, and Sabo was pleased by the turnout at the first meeting.

"We had a lot of the OEM engine manufacturers there," he says. "There were some OEM truck manufacturers there, but not as many as I was hoping to see. They're protecting their lines; they don't want us to tell them what to do, they're telling us that what they're doing is good. And it probably is, but they're just going about it in the wrong way.

"We had a lot of support from TMC, and a lot of good talk from the attendees," he continues. "We're all headed in the right direction on this. But this complexity issue is so big, we need to now focus it down on what we're really trying to accomplish. We have to keep taking bites out of what we think are the issues. So, we've noted a lot of issues and directions to go, and now we have to try to go to them and see if we can do any good with them."

The first order of business for the Task Force is to take up the cause of the Motor Vehicle Owner's Right to Repair Act (HR2735 & SB2138) currently languishing in Congress. The bill, intended specifically for the automotive market, would require vehicle OEMs to provide independent service garages and do-it-yourselfer owners with access (at a reasonable cost) to the same technical repair and maintenance information that they provide their dealers.

If the Task Force had its way, the bill would be amended to include heavy-duty trucks. "We have to have the ability to repair trucks, and if we have to deal they way they do in the car world, we're all going to be in trouble," Sabo explains. He believes that information should come easier, "So we can continue to repair these on our terms and not on somebody else's terms."


"We're going to see if TMC and ATA (American Trucking Associations) want to endorse the Right to Repair Act," Sabo says. "I think we should slow down the OEM control, if we can do that, if that's even possible.

"I don't mean that to sound so harsh," he says, upon reflection. "Maybe I should say we need to be more interactive with the way the OEMs are building their trucks. I think the Right to Repair Act might do that, or, at least, maybe get their attention."

The scope of the Task Force's initial action items reveals that Sabo and his colleagues are willing to think big:

  • OEMs must allow us to program and work on our own vehicles;
  • Training should be free to all users of the products;
  • OEMs need to price their components to include necessary support, not make money selling that support;
  • We need to establish in-house warranty in our shops--this allows us to access the same information the dealers have, and most facilities our technicians are trained as well as the dealer techs;
  • We need to upgrade our diagnostic tools every year, but that is better than trying to work with the dealers to persuade them to repair our vehicles;
  • We need to make repairs when the unit fails, not when the dealership's doors are open;
  • We need the new technologies, but we do not need all of them.

If Sabo could boil the Task Force's action items down to one central theme, it would be: "Who owns the truck?"

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