“While you’re sleeping, they’re hauling. Have you thanked a trucker?” – Anonymous.
Even though the Coronavirus has wreaked havoc in the lives of people worldwide, truckers have been struggling to keep the country moving. Global lockdowns, massive shifts in consumer spending and supply chain issues, raw material disruptions, cyberattacks, canals getting blocked and backing up freight, and you name it, already put our just-in-time manufacturing and delivery systems in complete disarray. When these problems also hit the trucking industry hard, as we see now, recoveries are fragile, and further shortages become the current reality and possibly the future norm. Every year the US economy depends on ten billion tons of every commodity imaginable to be delivered to the tune of almost 700 billion dollars worth of goods. If the trucks stop running, filling stations that sell nearly 300,000 gallons per month and require multiple deliveries per day could run out of fuel in hours or days. Manufacturers, unable to deliver their products from plastic bottles to toys to tomatoes, would have to halt production and sit idly by. You would see shortages of just about everything in your stores within two days. That would spark panic buying and further complicate the problems. Within a week, the entire economy would grind to a halt if all trucks stopped running.
Are we barreling down the road towards a trucking collapse? A complete truck collapse isn’t necessary for it to get so bad that every consumer feels the impact in all aspects of their lives. Several significant problems are facing this critical piece of the supply chain. If it fails, the whole system will collapse. If it struggles, the entire system could collapse. In this video, we will examine some of the growing problems facing the trucking industry, from drivers to rigs to weather, and I’ll tell you what you need to know in order to survive a possible Truckpocalypse.
This is a stand-alone video collaborating with several other fantastic YouTube preparedness channels as part of the 30 Days of Preparedness Collaboration and National Preparedness Month. I will link to these channels in the comments below that are involved in this project. Let’s get to the info…
A Natural Disaster
The supply chain is already in shambles at several points along the way. Most retail establishments and manufacturers rely on delicately fine-tuned just-in-time delivery systems to keep inventory as thin as possible and profits as high as possible. Storage and warehousing of extensive inventories require costly real estate and utilities. In the just-in-time system, any interruption in truck deliveries due to natural disasters making roads impassable, economic factors, lack of adequately trained truckers, rapid fluctuations in consumer demands, or lack of parts and maintenance for the active truck fleet results in shortages of thousands of products. This is true even when manufacturers or growers are producing an abundance.
An already strained supply chain is strained even further by recent and future natural disasters. Hurricanes striking the south and southeast coasts haven’t helped matters. It is expected to be a multi-week recovery after Hurricane Ida, and many remain without power, safe water, or gasoline. Residents are struggling to find fresh drinking water and ice, as well as non-perishable foods. It’s safe to say that manufacturing in these regions has also ground to a halt. Deliveries into these dead zones for gasoline aren’t likely either. After previous disasters, a massive and aggressive rebuilding effort occurred, as carpenters, roofers, and other skilled workers rushed into the affected zones, and mills and construction material producers ramped up production. With the supply chain already frazzled and inventories of steel, copper wire, lumber, aluminum, and lighting supplies in short supply, construction teams will struggle to get the materials they need to get the work done. Already before Ida, 83% of contractors reported experiencing product delays.
The recovery is also hampered by the situation faced by the trucking industry. Hurricane Ida forced major refineries along the Mississippi to shut down. Ports of New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Gramercy, and Morgan City in Louisiana and the Port of Pascagoula in Mississippi were all closed. Ida also forced the shutdown for several days of two Colonial Pipeline lines from Houston to Greensboro, North Carolina, as a precaution. Truckers and trucking companies are coming in to save the region and kick-start the recovery effort by delivering vital goods. Still, they do so at a time when demand across the nation is already high, and inventories are low. They’re going as far into the region as possible, but none are going to risk driving into an area where fuel or maintenance services would make it difficult to get out. They face outages, road closures, and fuel supply challenges. Trucks that might have otherwise been available in California or the Northeast delivering vital other items may be repositioned to the Southeast to deliver vital FEMA freight. The problem in the recovery effort right now is physically getting trucks, already in short supply, to the devastated region.
With more storms currently forming and the hurricane season projected to last through November, natural disasters could continue to stymie a recovering economy. More shipments across the country could experience greater delays, and consumer demand and panic buying could exacerbate supply chain problems. These problems are hitting the freight carriers hard, which drives up costs for the consumer. We could see several more months of this as natural disasters continue.
Parts Are Part
There is still a shortage of microchips for several reasons, and you are probably finding out how many things you use every day rely upon them. First, as the world shuts down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many factories closed as well. This made the supplies needed for chip manufacturing unavailable for months. More people during lockdowns worked from home, and consumers and employers created a rising demand for home office equipment. At the same time, consumers massively shifted their spending habits from recreation, dining out, and entertainment to home improvement, kitchen remodels, and appliance upgrades. All of this created massive consumer demand for chips at the same time production was at a trickle.
Ford, GM, Volvo, Hyundai, and Toyota have all massively scaled back production because they simply cannot obtain the chips they need for their cars. Some of those same chips are in the big rigs you see on the road, and they face the same availability problems for new rigs and the maintenance of the existing fleet. It’s not just microchip parts, though. Volatility in steel and rubber prices has impacted the availability of tires and forged parts like blocks and housings, and lead times for parts that used to be a few days can drag on for weeks. There have even been some areas reporting shortages of bulk 10w30 engine oil, which makes maintaining the existing fleet a challenge at best. Water pumps, NOx sensors, gaskets, clamps, even taillights are reported as in short supply or out of stock and on backorder. Often, freight companies send parts back from regions where they can find them in sleeper trucks– a truck that has dropped its load and is returning to the hub. Parts supply is suffering from shortages of raw material, labor shortages, production problems, and high demand.
You may have experienced some of these same parts procurement problems if you recently tried to get new tires or parts for your car. Even rubber for parts manufacturers is in short supply. First, the natural rubber supply dipped because of a leaf disease that spread across rubber trees. Then, China bought up rubber supplies throughout 2020, taking advantage of the low prices at the time. Then the Ever Given container ship’s blockage of the Suez Canal for six days also slowed rubber shipments. As for steel, the pandemic brought the American steel industry to its knees last spring, forcing manufacturers to shut down production as they struggled to survive the imploding economy. Analysts say steel production has returned to pre-pandemic levels, but it’s still far below demand right now. The need for steel has sent the price for it to triple historical highs. This results in higher shipping costs for freight carriers, which translates to higher prices for consumers on absolutely everything. There will be continued disruptions in the raw materials to parts pathway. Watch for future shortages of lithium for batteries and copper. Both will be in short demand with recent consumer shifts in demand.
All the way from the raw material producer through the manufacturer to the distributor to the maintenance facility and mechanics, any part requiring steel or rubber has been in low supply. As some part suppliers, manufacturers, and fleets hoard available products and spike demand for products, the problem only gets worse. In some cases, they place orders for future fulfillment to multiple manufacturers and vendors and pray that someone comes through with what they need to keep the fleets running. Meanwhile, truck drivers may have loads to move but no working trucks to carry the loads. Those with functional trucks see massive revenue increases as they work as much as possible to fulfill consumers’ shifted demands. Many drivers, though, wait for parts to arrive or functional and maintained trucks to become available as world economies continue to struggle.
Truckers: A Rare Breed
According to the US Census, there are 3.5 million truck drivers in the U.S., making driving one of the most popular occupations in the United States. The American Trucking Association (ATA) has reported the trucking industry will need to hire roughly 1.1 million new drivers in the next decade (or about 110,000 drivers per year) to keep up with the current industry demand.
There was a shortage even before the days of COVID. During the lockdowns, truckers found themselves locked out of truck stops and restaurants and sometimes sidelined by illness. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states the average age of professional truck drivers is 55 years old. That’s roughly ten years higher than the average age across similar industries. The lockdowns impacted this group probably the hardest as life on the road became more difficult. Many independent drivers were forced into hard economic choices that may have resulted in an early retirement during this phase of the lockdown.
Now, COVID vaccine mandates may push many more drivers into early retirement. A recent Truckers News poll found one-third of truckers would tell their employers to fire them if they were required to get vaccinated against the COVID-19 coronavirus. Another 16% stated they would quit on their own if they were forced to get the vaccine. That’s 50% of all truck drivers opting not to get the vaccine. Another 15% said they would seek a religious or health exemption. Only an estimated 25% of truck drivers are vaccinated, with another paltry 6% indicating they were planning to get vaccinated. Still, the White House is rolling out a vaccine mandate that would force employers with more than 100 workers to either ensure that the workers have taken the vaccine or to require weekly COVID-19 testing. This could easily result in many truckers getting sidelined at a time when consumer demand remains at historical highs for some products in an economy struggling to recover.
How dramatically the hassles of the road, vaccine mandates, or COVID results in sidelining truckers already in short supply remains to be seen. Truckers in short supply is an ongoing problem without a clear solution beyond the horizon. In this phase of the crisis, some independent truckers are reportedly reaping huge benefits from the shortage as shipping costs and the demand for truck drivers have soared.
A Military Rescue?
One possible solution to the driver shortage could be allowing the military and Guard to climb into the driver’s seat. There are currently 18.2 million military veterans in the United States and 1 in 10 of them are truck drivers. Turning to the military and particularly to those qualified military drivers returning from the two-decade war in Afghanistan may be one possible solution to the driver-side of the equation. If you were an 88M – Motor Transport Operator (Enlisted) in the Army, you can’t simply walk out of your military job and start as a truck driver. A Commercial Driver’s License comes in three varieties– A, B, and C. A are those tractor-trailers, semis, and big rigs you see on the road. This includes livestock carriers, tankers carrying non-hazardous chemicals, and flatbeds. Class B are those straight trucks, buses, segmented buses, dump trucks, delivery trucks, and box trucks. Class C are the double and triple trailers, tank trucks, and HazMat vehicles. As a veteran, even though your daily job may have been driving and maintaining one of these vehicles, you can’t once you are a civilian. There is a skills test waiver allowing a military driver with two years’ experience safely operating heavy military vehicles to obtain a commercial driver’s license without taking the driving skills test. This program is available in every state.
Making the fast track to civilian driving even easier or simply assigning military or guard drivers to fill the empty trucking seats and maintenance garages might alleviate some of the human resource shortages and keep every available truck on the road. If it gets much worse than we see today, such a creative solution might be necessary.
What Can You Do?
Focus on your needs over your wants. As a prepper, you do need to get the materials you need to survive a prolonged system failure. That being said, you need to focus on the essentials and pass on the luxuries or wants. According to a recent poll on our site, only about 30% of you are new preppers with less than a year and engaged in catching up. Buying a vehicle, TV, major appliance, or any durable goods of that nature in the past would have bolstered the economy’s future. Now, it just puts further strain on the fracturing supply lines. It won’t help the economy. By focusing on the basics of food, water, and power, you position yourself stronger and put less strain on the economy. When the economy collapses or natural disaster strikes, millions are left without power, food, or clean drinking water. You don’t have to be one of those millions at the mercy of the elements, your equally distressed neighbors, or the government.
You can also focus on turning away from global systems that continue to struggle and source more and more of what you need to survive locally. You will benefit by living within your growing seasons and within your region, thereby insulating yourself from continued global supply chain failures. Furthermore, if you learn even a few new skills, you will insulate yourself even more. If there’s a glass shortage and your pickles can’t be packaged and shipped to your store, as usual, no problem, make your own from locally sourced cucumbers and homemade brines and vinegar. If the California tomato crop failure hits your favorite jar of pasta sauce, pivot to your locally sourced, dried, or canned supply of tomatoes and make your own.
In short, what you can do now is to liberate yourself from dependence on the system. You can become more self-sufficient even as the world continues to struggle. As the trucking and freight industries struggle, as raw materials don’t get from the field or Earth to the manufacturers, as manufacturers have to sit on their product or halt production because they can’t find workers or freight carriers, you could be comfortably plodding along still.
Is the US trucking industry heading toward a cliff of a Truck pocalypse? The trucking industry isn’t heading towards a collapse as much as it is just simply struggling. The availability of parts and trucks will continue to plague the industry. The spikes in fuel, parts, even driver salaries and bonuses will directly translate to sharp increases in transportation costs. These massive price fluctuations will continue to oscillate and ripple out to consumers. If the variants continue, global supply chains remain dysfunctional, and consumer demand stays high, we could be looking at a very weird holiday season. We could be looking at a prolonged period where shortages, out-of-stock signs, and backorders become the new normal.
What do you think? Are you experiencing any shortages directly linked to deliveries? Are you a trucker working at maximum miles or without a truck?
As always, stay safe out there.