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A Look At Financing Options For Trucking Companies

Whether you are looking to finance a new trucking company, finance equipment for your yard, or finance invoices, there are many money options available for owner-operators or others looking to become a part of – or expand – the trucking industry footprint.

Owners of trucking companies understand how important it is to stay organized, keep money flowing and keep trucks on the road. Freight does not move unless truck drivers are moving it. And with a shortage of truck drivers available for motor carriers to hire, they must ensure they are on top of their game to attract the top talent.

The thing is, remaining competitive in the trucking industry calls for continual investment in your operation. Tractors and trailers require periodic maintenance and the occasional changing of a worn-out part. Where the rubber hits the road is factoring financial demands into the equation. From delivering on truck driver wages to paying liability insurance to fuel and toll expenses. Trucking companies have a lot to worry about where the financial security of the organization is concerned.

In order to effectively manage these different factors and claim a piece of the market, trucking companies and startup operators need to partner up with a reliable source of funding whether that be a bank or a freight factoring firm. Effective financial partners will be able to offer affordable, flexible financing options for trucking companies of all types. Custom-tailored solutions should help businesses meet their financial goals and have access to capital, even with bad credit.

Financing Equipment

Loans for commercial motor vehicle, accessory, and trailer equipment differ from those used for passenger vehicle financing. Local banks typically do not offer funding for those types of purchases. And while some banks do advertise financing options for small businesses looking to expand their equipment or business space, trucking companies often find it harder to come by consistent and reliable funding options. Why? Because, statistically, trucking companies have higher failure rates for new businesses.

Still, this doesn’t make equipment financing harder to come by. Operators must know who to talk to and where to look. There are small agencies out there that specialize in lending for commercial motor vehicles and associated equipment, whether it be for trucks, trailers, vans, box trucks, sprinters, tractors, combines, dump trucks or excavators.

Businesses have to put there foundation down somewhere, and commercial motor vehicle loans can be found. Often the agencies who provide this funding are utilizing their own finance, rather than using third-party funds. The beauty of working with agencies like these is that they are able to finance in whatever situations they want. Even if a potential operator has a bankruptcy on their credit, they may still be able to get financing for their fledgling trucking business.

What to Expect

It is important that trucking operators understand the verbiage behind financing and know what they are getting into. If you see a lender advertising attractive interest rates with no money down or little-to-no deposit, these loans are for individuals or entities that have excellent credit with no negative marks. For those looking for financing with less-than-stellar credit, interest rate ranges from 10% – 30% can be expected. Higher deposits can also be expected of those looking for financing with tough credit histories.

As an example, if you want to get a loan for $50,000 to buy equipment and you qualify for a 30% deposit, then you are going to have to come up with $15,000. It is critically important that operators understand that making payments on time could be the determinant on whether the equipment that money was just put down on doesn’t get repossessed.

Working with a trucking funding option does not need to require a lot of paperwork in the modern era. Many financing companies have streamlined their operation to the point that upon approval, the trucking company has near-immediate access to funds with very little delay. These new funds could be used for anything from upgrading existing vehicles and equipment to hiring new staff or extending business range of operations.

A trucking company that is managed well can provide big returns for the owner. The problem lies in the capital investiture required to open a trucking company. Those looking to break into the industry must ensure they have access to the financing they need to purchase equipment and fund business ventures. In most cases you can apply online, fill out a few basic business-relevant questions and have access to capital for equipment financing.

Here are some quick tips for finding financing:

  • Equipment Lenders: Equipment lenders encompass agencies, institutions, and banks that provide capital to companies large and small to finance equipment.
  • Franchise Lending Agreements: Franchise lending agreements allow owner-operators to expand their business under the centralized name of the business they are partnering with.
  • Freight Factoring: Overcoming delays in invoice fulfillment pose major problems for motor carriers both large and small. With banks setting stringent lending conditions, freight factoring can be an answer.
  • Bank Loans: Bank loans can be counted on to address cash flow issues or expand business operations, whether it be to invest in new equipment or expand operations.

Freight Factoring on the Rise

With the ELD mandate firmly on the rise, many trucking companies are looking for new ways to fund their operations without having to rely on banks, which are not always reliable in their ability to fund fledgling trucking companies. This is why trucking companies look to freight factoring.

When shippers, receivers, or other partners cannot pay their invoices, trucking companies are caught in a bind. Not having access to accounts receivables when they are due can create big headaches for the back office as they try to work through cash flow issues that are likely to pile up as a result of the unpaid invoices.

We have to remember that yesterday’s dollars pay for whatever truck drivers are paying at the pump today. When those dollars aren’t available, the fuel might not be as easy to come by. Freight factoring agencies can purchase those unpaid invoices for a small fee and provide immediate financing.

The truth is, there are many trucking companies – whether owner-operators or large fleets – who live and die by freight factoring. It fills a critical need where cash flow is concerned. When you talk about financing options for trucking companies, freight factoring must be considered.

What Are The Benefits Of Biodiesel for trucking companies?

While switching your operation to biodiesel may seem daunting, it could be easier than you think. For motor carriers who are new to the fuel, time must be invested in learning the terminology and usage benefits of biodiesel.

The first question is: What exactly is biodiesel in the first place? In short, biodiesel is an advanced biofuel that is both renewable and biodegradable. As a drop-in replacement for standard gasoline and diesel fuel, it burns cleaner and provides greater levels of fuel efficiency. It is also a versatile fuel, as it can be used in both vehicles and building heating systems.

Biodiesel fuels come in different varieties but must fall within the two categories of renewable and biodegradable. Although the methodologies and specific ignition ingredients may vary, most biofuels are produced from animal fats, inedible corn oil, or recycled vegetable or cooking oil. Still, not all biofuels come from these sources.

Longtime, skilled producers have refined their processes enough to produce high-quality biodiesel from a variety of agricultural feedstocks. The process includes something called transferification, which converts the fats in the oils into a chemical substrate called fatty acid methyl esters (FAME). FAME is the acronym that represents the scientific name for biodiesel.

The esters are the fuel, while the leftover glycerin is used to make things like soap and beauty products. Virgin waste oil from restaurants can be used in this process with good results. From seed-to-pump, biofuels are entirely renewable. Even better, the benefits are compounded since the plants that provide the fuel already remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis.

As would be expected of a fuel, biodiesel is held to specific ASTM standards. It must meet a rigorous standard of quality to be used in commercial applications. Biodiesel is also mixed into petroleum, which is referred to as “B” and a number. Take B20 as an example. The “B” stands for blend level and the 20 stands for the 20 percent biodiesel mixed in with 80% petroleum diesel. A B5 mix would consist of 5% biodiesel.

The Advantages of Biofuel

There are many ways in which a fleet can benefit from converting to biodiesel. First is in the area of performance. In some cases, biodiesel fuel outperforms its petroleum-based counterparts. The ASTM spec for biodiesel specifically calls for a Cetane number of 47. For an engine of the same specs using standard petroleum diesel? 40. A higher Cetane rating equates to a shorter ignition time and better overall engine and fuel efficiency performance.

The construction of biofuels serves as another advantage over traditional petroleum diesel. Biofuels have the sulfur removed during the refining process. A B2 blend, as one example, can double the fuel’s level of lubrication. Since modern diesel engines rely on the fuel they use to lubricate the system, biofuel blends can handle this responsibility quite well.

In the age of GHG fuel economy regulations, biofuels have the ability to dramatically reduce emissions from commercial motor vehicles. The aforementioned B20 blend has been shown to reduce particulate matter and carbon monoxide emissions by double digits. In fact, a recent study completed by academic and federal researchers found that biodiesel reduces greenhouse gas emissions within the supply chain by 72% and fossil fuel use by 80%. These are truly impressive numbers.

Biofuels are also usually grown, produced, and distributed locally. While petroleum-based products are limited by demand and geography, biodiesel can work as an alternative form of fuel from just about anywhere. It can easily be produced in local refineries where it can quickly be delivered to the end user.

When a product is produced at the local level, it generally translates into hundreds – if not thousands – of jobs. Biofuels created from crops helps to stimulate sustainable crop microeconomies. The knock-on effect is great. Less particles in the air and decreased smog and emissions results in less healthcare expenses for communities.

Conversely, when oil is extracted from underground sources, it must be refined to run on diesel engines. It cannot be immediately transferred into the vehicle for use. The refining process also uses harsh chemicals that – if released into the environment – could create a large disaster. Biofuel refineries use far less harsh chemicals. In fact, most of the solvents and chemical byproducts used in the creation of biofuels are themselves biodegradable.

Did you know that semi-trucks that run on biofuels typically have a fuel economy measure 30% better than their straight petroleum-burning counterparts? That means fewer trips to the pump and more money pumped into the bottom line. Less petroleum use means the United States can rely less on foreign powers for energy. Creating more of what we need weans us off of other sources.

A final pro related to the use of biofuels can be traced back to business. For fleets looking to meet specific sustainability goals, biofuel can be an attractive option. Whether it be through a fleet’s operations or their vendor partnerships, specific carbon reduction goals are attainable with biofuels. Take Walmart as one example. They have pledged to reduce emissions within their fleet by a gigaton within 12 years. Biofuels, natural gas, and other renewables will play a big part in helping large organizations committed to reducing emissions meet their goals.

But are there disadvantages to biofuel? Of course, nothing is perfect. There are variations in the quality of biofuels out there. Biofuels are also not the best option for low temperatures, as they tend to gel up depending on the oil or fat used in the fuel. Fleets that run with biofuels in the winter months can avoid this by blending it with winterized diesel fuel.

From food shortages to the increased use of fertilizers or potential fuel filter clogging, biofuels carry several cons. Fortunately, many of them can be easily mitigated. There is far more to gain from the use of biofuels in your fleet operations than there is to lose.

Ethanol is a Biofuel

While some may not realize it, simply because of its ubiquity in the world of fuel, ethanol is a biofuel. Since it can be made from various refined plant sources, ethanol is technically a biofuel. By itself ethanol is also a blending agent, used in combination with gasoline to increase octane and cut down on CO2 release. The use of ethanol as a blending agent also reduces smog-causing emissions.

Ethanol carries the same moniker as the base biofuel, being a combination letter and number. The most common type of ethanol blend used is E10, which breaks down to 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline. Flexible fuel vehicles can run on E85, which represents 51% to 83% ethanol. What many don’t realize is that approximately 97% of all the fuel used in the U.S. has some ethanol in it.

Although most ethanol products have been based off of hardy plant sugars, research scientists are developing new technologies that take advantage of engineered cellulose. These methodologies could be the most sustainable of all.

Engineered cellulose and hemicellulose are non-edible, fibrous materials that can be used to generate energy in much the same way plant matter – which is composed of the same materials – does. The fermentation method of converting biomass into biofuel is ubiquitous across applications. During fermentation, microorganisms metabolize plant sugars whether artificial or not.

Adding Biodiesel to Your Operation

Biodiesel seems to get more popular by the day. Trucking companies saw their biodiesel consumption rise by over 130% between 2011 and 2016. Even more, private and public fleets across North America are adding biofuels to their fuel portfolio, whether it be FedEx, the city of New York, or other municipalities or entities.

Trucking companies that want to start using B20 fuel can simply pump it into their diesel vehicles. That is the beauty of the fuel. Using biofuel does not require any major upgrades to existing diesel-powered equipment. Fleets that run their own fueling operation can switch to biodiesel without supply or infrastructure interruptions.

Any diesel engine can burn biodiesel without problem. This is a critical difference from waste vegetable oil (WVO) and straight vegetable oil (SVO). What does it look, sound and smell like in application? The only difference in the exhaust is in the smell, which can be somewhat French-fry-like in nature.

For a blended product, motor carriers must ensure their current diesel supplier can meet the requirement. For onsite blending, a fleet needs to have a dedicated biodiesel storage tank and a comprehensive blending system. Technicians able to operate the equipment and manage the right blends will also be required. This method requires some capital investment and expertise to succeed.

Still, the intrepid trucking company or truck driver that makes the switch will find themselves rewarded in the long run. Studies show that the initial cost to make the switch to a dedicated biodiesel fleet can be achieved in as little as six to 18 months. With such a high return on investment, what’s not to like about biodiesel?

A Closer Look At Fuel Prices And Fuel Management Techniques

With fuel prices on the rise, trucking companies need to come up with innovative ways of addressing a higher price at the pump. With the trucking economy booming, bottom lines are growing, and fleets are expanding, but can that expansion survive an environment where fuel prices are on the rise?

There is little doubt that trucking has been enjoying an unprecedented boom. Rates are at near-record highs with lots of freight and capacity to go around, but fuel prices could put a crimp in all the good news. With higher fuel prices come increased fleet expenses. The cost of fuel also has a direct impact on freight demand.

The Forecast

Fuel prices by June 1 moved up by more than 55 cents on the same time the year before. Recent readings put the national average cost of regular gasoline at just over $2.96 per gallon. Over the same time period, the average cost of a gallon of diesel rose by nearly 5 cents, closing in on $3.30 per gallon. But is this all cause for alarm?

Some point out that these prices are still better than they were just half-a-decade ago. It could be that motor carriers have adjusted to the sub-$2 per gallon prices from early-2016. Will they be able to transition from the lower prices to the higher prices without major market disruption?

The immediate impact of high fuel prices is about more than what your truck drivers pay at the pump. High fuel prices will affect the economy through consumer spending, which could have a knock-on effect for the transportation sector. When consumers spend less on a new dishwasher, couch, or entertainment center, it directly impacts those who transport these materials by truck.

Take the month of April as one consideration. For the month, gas prices rose around 16 cents per gallon. That translates into nearly $5 billion a year in higher gas prices instead of merchandise and other expenditures that drive the economy.

May saw a similar increase, so if you put both months together, we are talking about an average cost for gasoline approaching $10 billion in economic loss. Those are huge numbers for just two months. We have seen the cost of gasoline rise by nearly 30 cents per gallon. Will the current positive economic climate be able to withstand any more increases?

Fortunately, retail sales remain robust. April saw numbers come in at just under half-a-trillion dollars. They are expected to rise another 0.3% as we move into the summer. Retail sales grew by 0.8% in March, equaling a $1.5 billion gain. The fact is, people had to spend billions more dollars on fuel, which far outstripped the $1.5 in retail sales gain over the month.

The Department of Energy (DOT) revised its April forecast upward for the average cost of fuel over the rest of 2018. By the end of the year, diesel is expected to come in around $2.94 per gallon, which compares to the $2.65 and $2.31 reported in 2017 and 2016. Higher fuel prices are expected to remain the trend throughout 2019. From trucking companies to government agencies and trucking advocacy firms, most expect fuel prices to remain an issue.

Whether you talk to trucking economists or groups like the Oil Price Information Service, higher diesel prices are in the forecast. The underlying driver remains a global supply-and-demand scenario with lower inventories and consumption continuing on the rise. Could it be that the output of distillate fuels could ease pricing? Some say yes, some say no, yet the answer remains clouded. The question now is this: What should a fleet do to prepare themselves for higher fuel prices?

Advice for Fleets

Motor carriers have many tools at their disposal in combating a higher fuel price environment. Whether it be through a comprehensive cardlock fleet fueling solution to innovative fuel expenditures budget, fleet managers need to pay careful consideration to an unpredictable fuel market. Only by having a strict oversight of fuel assets will a motor carrier ensure fuel prices don’t eat into profits.

With global uncertainty on the rise, fleets need to review the effectiveness of their fuel management operation before big price spikes result from the uncertainty. An effective fuel management program can help identify ways to cut costs and increase efficiency through decreased fuel losses and streamlined operations.

This is about more than the size of a fleet. Whether a motor carrier is managing over 1,000 rigs or just 30 vocational trucks, it is important to play close care to aging equipment and fuel. Variable fuel costs make it more difficult to fund maintenance and equipment procurement needs.

Investing in fuel control systems allows fleet managers and motor carrier administrators to better manage their fuel assets. Without a level of authorization and accountability, it will be hard for motor carriers to adapt to an ever-changing fuel price environment. Fuel control systems help fleets track every gallon of fuel going through company assets.

Fuel Management on the Mind

Comprehensive fuel management systems prevent unauthorized fueling and fuel theft, but it also allows back office workers to better document fleet-wide fuel use and operating costs. One problem is that many fleets still rely on a manual inventory reconciliation. This methodology often results in inaccurate and inefficient fuel tracking.

By choosing an automated reconciliation method, countless hours of time spent collecting, calculating, and reporting on fuel use can be eliminated. Modern cloud-based software programs are both accurate to the dime and often fairly easy to use. Motor carriers who use the potential of automated reconciliation correctly will increase the overall depth of their inventory and streamline back office procedures.

Taken to its furthest extent, a trucking company could outfit their vehicles with tank gauges that communicate with the CAN and wirelessly send fuel data back to the office in real-time. When a fleet manager has instant visibility into current fuel volumes and the anticipated fuel usage across the fleet, they can better fine-tune fuel usage and utilization.

Fleets who utilize these systems are in a better position to both optimize both the price they pay and the time to buy for their fleet fueling needs. Whether a motor carrier is buying millions of gallons of fuel per year or just 10,000 fuel management strategies pay off.

Many times fuel management systems are interwoven with preventative maintenance programs. A package deal from a software-as-a-service OEM might provide a fleet the ability to export their fuel management program monitoring data for analysis. When fleet technicians can count on their fuel management system to better support unplanned downtime, costs drop across the board.

One Eye on the Future

The last thing a motor carrier wants to do is spend a lot of precious capital on a fuel management system that doesn’t get the job done. As mentioned before, the country is in a breakneck trucking environment, and business growth requires a fresh look at how the company is getting the job done.

If a fuel management system provider cannot offer an upgradeable components program, which leads to greater workflow efficiencies, then it may be time to look for another provider. Decades-old site controllers will do no one any good. Give a highly technically capable company the ability to look at your sites options and upgrade them as necessary and watch your savings mount.

Fleet maintenance integration and reporting capabilities allow fleet managers to cut costs through streamlined data management. This is especially true in an environment of still-relatively-low fuel prices. We all remember what happened in 2008. While no one expects to get there anytime soon, nimble fleets will need to stay prepared just in case the geopolitical situation changes, and fuel prices go through the roof.

With the recent lowered fuel cost, when comparing last year’s numbers to this year’s, should have given fleets some breathing room. With more money available due to lower fuel costs, some of that money should be invested in fuel management technologies. Why wait until fuel prices go higher to expand fuel control practices?

Consider that when fuel prices rise, fuel theft generally rises as well. While fuel theft at $2.50 per gallon may be acceptable, if we get to $4.00 a gallon, fuel theft (and loss) can be potentially devastating, especially for smaller fleets not set up to ride out the storm.

Heavy-duty motor carriers and other businesses operating commercial fleets must invest now to strengthen their fuel control practices before it is too late. This way, they will be in a far better position to keep their bottom lines happy during economically challenging times. Bank in the savings by doing more than just slapping some aerodynamic accessories on fleet vehicles and calling it a day. Take control of your fuel management operation and watch the savings roll in.

How Tanker Design Has Changed Over The Years

Many a passenger car driver will tell you that as they drive down the highway, more than once have they taken a couple glances at tanker trucks as they pass by. While these vehicles and their cargo are generally safe and proceed without incident down our nation’s roads on a constant basis, they often carry volatile or hazardous materials.

Even more, truck drivers themselves face a number of potential dangers operating tanker trucks. There are various ways that a truck driver working on a heavy-duty commercial motor vehicle can find themselves on the wrong side of an injury. Perhaps this is why the truck manufacturing industry is making efforts to make tankers easier for truckers to work around. Still, this doesn’t mean tanker trucks are unsafe.

Examining Potential Instabilities

In fact, whether they are liquid or dry bulk, tanker trucks are statistically among some of the safest vehicles on the road today. If you take a closer look at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts from 2012, it shows that cargo tanks were involved in significantly fewer crashes, whether they resulted in an injury or tow-away, then trucks operating as dry vans or flat deck equipment haulers.

Still, this doesn’t mean the tanker industry isn’t without areas for improvement. As one example, tanker trucks face dynamic stability issues, as well as safe operation techniques for handling and transporting potentially hazardous materials.

The main issue lies in the fact that many chemical and food-grade liquid tanks are shaped in such a way that their high center of gravity can cause potential rollover concerns. When turning, the liquid inside the tank tends to slosh up against the internal sides of the tank, which shifts that already-high center of gravity both up and outward, creating a potentially destabilizing effect.

Yet, it isn’t easy to simply change the shape of the tank and hope for the best. Tankers of this type require a special shape due to their unique cleaning requirements. Since the shape is largely a requirement, manufacturers and fleets utilizing these vehicles are increasingly spec’ing them with advanced safety technologies such as roll-stability control or collision avoidance systems.

Fleets are driving the push for these additional safety technologies to account for the weight, application, and reliability requirements pushed by both federal and state governments. The fact is, safety-conscious customers are asking fleets to implement these technologies at a far faster pace than ever before. What were once considered fringe options, such as roll stability and tire inflation systems, are growing in popularity and becoming standard-issue on factory roll-out truck and tanker models.

Where Design Can be Changed

Still, while some argue that the tanker shape is critical to its use profile, others argue that there are stability improvements to be found by changing the tankers shape or lowering its center of gravity. Sure, petroleum, oil and machinery lubrication tanks have had the same cylindrical and elliptical profile for many, many years – but why?

To start, this design creates a wider stance at the bottom of the tank. By lowering it even further, even by a matter of inches, OEMs can realize even greater levels of safety. But how?

While many tanker manufacturers already employ low-profile-ellipse tank shapes, they can also go a bit further by utilizing an integral chassis frame or inserting a fifth-wheel plate, as opposed to a raised bolt-on plate. Utilizing this design both brings the tank body closer to the ground, lowers overall center of gravity, and increases structural stability.

Yet, many of you may be asking, “How does that help me, the truck driver?” It helps you in the form of increased safety while operating on the nation’s roads, but there are certainly other improvements that can be made to improve truck driver safety without compromising overall design.

Preventing Falls Through Trucking Technology

If there is one aspect of being a tanker truck driver that truck driver’s dread the most, it is when they have to climb on top of their trailers or tankers. In fact, one of the biggest challenges facing the truck, trailer, and tanker manufacturers has been building in technologies that mitigate or prevent falls.

Over the years, the search for a safer tanker to work around has led to all sorts of innovations, from lifting guardrails to wider catwalks. Technologies requiring operators to tether themselves to gantries have even seen adoption within some fleets. Yet, not all innovations are perfect.

Utilizing cables means truck drivers could potentially trip on them. If a guardrail gets caught in a loading rack, it could wind up becoming twisted or warped. In some cases, if not properly reinforced, they may not be able to properly support a driver in the event of a fall.

That’s why manufacturers are beginning to look towards other innovations to reach peak level of trucker safety. Modern day fall protection measures include reinforced hand railings and lanyard attachments. But who is responsible for setting these standards?

Industry Safety and Tanker Design Advocacy

Most tanker manufacturers receive guidance from two specific industry standards groups: The Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association and the Cargo Tank Risk Management Committee. These groups represent a synergistic partnership between not only tanker manufacturers, but motor carriers, tractor OEMs, shippers, and more.

Some integral safety measures have resulted from this partnership. One such example is a tram system built by one manufacturer that employs the use of a waist-high support belt. The proprietary design provides the truck driver with a greater degree of mobility while preventing any unwanted harness entanglements.

The design itself is based on a reinforced rail that runs along the entire length of the tank. This design allows the truck driver to more easily access the dome covers on the top of the tank without having to worry about getting tangled up. Yet, the design innovation doesn’t stop there. When not in use, the rails fold down to prevent interference with loading racks. For fleets focusing on fuel efficiency, the fold down racks don’t negatively impact trailer aerodynamics.

Even more advanced designs seek to prevent unwanted falls or injuries in even more obvious way. Rather than developing advanced rail and climb technologies, why not prevent the truck driver from ever having to leave the ground in the first place?

Keeping Feet Planted

Some manufacturers have begun to look to technologies that keep truck drivers from ever having to climb around their tanks. But how do they do this? Methods include everything from bottom loading tankers to advanced vapor recovery systems. Both setups eliminate the need for a truck driver to crawl around on the top of a trailer. Other specs include pneumatic recovery systems and ground-activated actuating vents.

Still, some point out that chemical, food-grade, and dry-bulk tanks are not always conducive to such systems. But that doesn’t mean tankers operating within these applications are not without change. One tanker manufacturing company has developed a remote-controlled port cover, which allows truck drivers to operate dry-bulk tanks from the ground, with no need to climb around the tanker.

When a tanker cannot be remotely operated due to the type and condition it operates in, other technologies come into play. Safe tank-top access ladders provide a more ergonomically beneficial design and allow truck drivers to maneuver without the risk of a fall.

One example of collaboration at work was when the aforementioned tanker safety organizations teamed up with OEMs and motor carriers to design the Vision 2020 ladder, which fleets report greater safety outcomes when in use in their fleets.

The fact is, there may be some time to go before the need for a truck driver to climb around the tank is completely eliminated. But until then, tank and trucking designers are doing everything they can to ensure greater levels of safety for those operating around tanks. In those situations, perhaps one should look to lighting.

Illuminating the Way to Greater Safety

One area where tank builders are finding innovative ways to help truck drivers do their job is in lighting. Manufacturers are now offering comprehensive lighting packages that include auxiliary lighting systems, LED rows, and movement-sensitive flood lights.

Manufacturers are looking to lighting bars that range from 3 to 10 feet long and can swing out from a stowed mounting position on the body of the tank. What are these for? These lit barriers provide an added layer of protection for truck drivers who are loading or unloading. They create a greater awareness of the truck drivers work area as well as a way for others on the road to easily see the operator and avoid a potential accident.

If there is one lesson to be learned as we examine the plethora of tanker safety technologies hitting the scene on an almost-daily basis, it is that the risks truck drivers face when operating tankers are quickly fading. As manufacturers continue to innovate and release designs specifically catered to truck driver safety, expect to see the tankers of tomorrow looking little like the tankers of today.

Does Your ELD Solution Pose A Cybersecurity Risk?

According to attendees at the 2018 Geotab Connect conference in Canada, lower-cost electronic logging devices (ELD) may pose a cybersecurity risk to the motor carriers who use them. Small- to medium-sized companies may be putting themselves at unnecessary risk if they don’t do their homework before deciding on an ELD solution.

So, what’s the problem?

Technological Achille’s Heel

Consider that ELDs are an electronic device like anything else. They also need to transmit information over the air to systems back at fleet headquarters. The process is called a handshake. During the handover, the ELD transmits an encrypted key that acts as an additional security measure. Much as a password, this key confirms the validity of the devices transferring information before it is transmitted.

Yet, this security key could also be a major vulnerability. How? The University of Tulsa did a study showing that shorter keys and keys that don’t change are more susceptible to hacking. Dynamic keys that change after each use were less likely to be hacked.

Whether it was 8- or 16-bit encryption, the student researchers were able to break into the ELD devices in question using a program that was able to discover the encryption key fairly easily and in a short amount of time. Of course, University officials will not reveal what devices could be breached or what OEMs had problems.

Fortunately, there were solutions. The team proposed that ELD manufacturers focus on creating dynamic keys using 96- or 256-bit encryption. It is up to motor carriers to ensure that the ELD provider they partner with can answer basic security questions. If a provider is unable to give information regarding the security of their devices, it may be time to look somewhere else.

For fleets that are already stuck with the shorter key varieties, there are solutions. Manufacturers also provide devices called hardware breaks, which allows for full ELD functionality even as it blocks intruders. In cases where there is a suspected intrusion, they can lock down the device.

Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen?

Ever since the FMCSA opened up the self-certification registration system for ELDs, new companies have come onto the system. But how secure are these companies’ devices? It wasn’t just the University of Tulsa doing studies. The global security advisory firm IOActive also set up a test. Their research was designed to assess vulnerabilities in ELDs.

Their findings were shocking. The security firm discovered that many big-box ELDs were susceptible to penetration that would allow an attacker to access the vehicle through the device, which is potentially disastrous for many reasons.

As a result, the National Motor Freight Traffic Association issued a bulletin expressing its concern about IOActive’s findings. They specifically pointed out the two-way CAN vulnerability. If a vehicle’s CAN bus can be hijacked to send malicious information to the vehicle itself, there could be a major safety and security risk.

Still, some point out the FMCSA regulations do outline specifications where encryption at rest or in transportation are concerned. Let’s take a deeper look at what the FMCSA does outline.

There is not much detail regarding what ELD manufacturers must do in order to ensure the security of their devices within the FMCSA’s ELD Test Plan and Procedures guidance. There is also no mention of device security within the FMCSA’s recently published Frequently Asked Questions section.

The concerns arise from previously expressed industry reservations regarding the self-certification process ELD providers must go through. Motor carriers must do their homework to ensure the certification is valid.

An important measure is for fleets to ask for clauses within their ELD provider contracts that provides the motor carrier with compensation if the ELD provider has their registration yanked. They must also demand their partner includes language covering cybersecurity risk. In situations where the language cannot be inserted, general product liability should cover any damages that result from a cybersecurity breach.

How to Avoid a Cybersecurity Breach

Another thing fleets and ELD providers must keep in mind is not just malicious attacks taking over the vehicle, but also compromised data being transmitted between the device, back office, and cloud system attached to the FMCSA.

In fact, ELD providers say that hacking into the truck should not be the largest concern. Many ELD providers do not allow anything to be written to the truck through the application. They point out the real problem arises when the data is transferred to the server. How it gets through the application and browser is critical to ensuring the security and integrity of the data.

What many don’t realize is that the telematics industry has been connected to the back office through WiFi and satellite connections for over 20 years. The new concern is in the “public” connection. Yet, how valuable is this data? Generally, ELD data is sent as compressed, encrypted, or binary data. Representing a proprietary string of information, how much value could potential hackers get out of the information?

Bring-your-own-device solutions present their own problems. These devices allow truck drivers to connect smartphones or tablets to “plugged-in” telematics and ELD devices. If a smartphone or a tablet can be hacked, information vital to fleet operations could be compromised. A lot of systems capture and hold CDL numbers, truck driver names, identification information, and so much more.

To avoid potential breaches, fleets should utilize a provider that offers a dedicated SIM and APN. This way, the information contained within the device is never sent over the public internet. Many companies using the public cloud have taken great pains to ensure the data contained within the cloud is protected.

There are also still a lot of human beings making decisions and specific touchpoints. In many cases, breaches occur as a result of a decision made by a human user, rather than one made within the machine. Is data being anonymized to prevent potential theft? If there is no reason to store data related to the truck driver, why store it?

Using 96- or 256-but encryption – combined with data obfuscation – can be the most effective methods of combating potential hacks or other cybersecurity breaches. Only through thorough analysis of all internal processes can you ensure your vital information is safe. What are the technical standards and best practices? Does getting involved with security groups make a difference?

The True Story About Truck Hacking

The question on every motor carrier’s mind is a simple one: Can a tractor be hacked? We’ve discussed it a bit so far in this latest blog posts, but many ELD providers caution against automatically assuming heavy-duty commercial motor vehicles can be hacked.

Industry insiders and truckers voice their concern about the J1939 common communication architecture. While it is an efficient standard, it could open vehicles up to hacking by malicious actors. The American Trucking Association (ATA) has put together a task force to look at the issue.

The problem arises when truck makers buy systems and components from many different manufacturers. Standards must be applied across the supply chain spectrum to ensure devices are secure. Fleets need to talk to their truck drivers to ensure they are not adding their own electronic devices, which could further complicate security.

There has been some speculation that diagnostic tools and systems installed by truck drivers can be used to initiate a virus-like attack against a truck. Yet, without write privileges, there is only so much a hacker can do.

The Bad Actors

The only motivation to hack heavy-duty commercial motor vehicles would be to cause overall chaos on the nation’s roadway. Otherwise, a criminal can gain little from taking over control of a tractor-trailer.

Even if a thief has designs of navigating the vehicle to a compromising area, he/she has to get the vehicle there without the truck driver or home office dispatch alerting authorities. Sure, there are organized crime rings that are good at putting together large-scale heists, manually piloting a vehicle to a desired location with a truck driver still inside is not an easy proposition.

Yet, there are still concerns with potential terrorist actors creating chaos. If savvy criminals are able to harness digital tools that allow them to break into vehicles, what would stop them from hacking into vehicles taking needed supplies to Washington D.C.? There are potential national security implications at stake.

The fact is, trucking companies and industry players must do everything they can to ensure their digital domain remains secured. With reputations at stake, due diligence is more important than ever.