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Trucking firms turn to junkyards as they grapple with big-rig shortage

Trucking companies are turning to junkyards as a nationwide shortage of big rigs plagues the industry, The Post has learned. Businesses like family-owned Heavy Salvage in Pickens, SC are selling used truck cabs, trailers and truck parts to large trucking companies that “historically wouldn’t buy salvage,” vice president Andrew King told The Post. Indeed, industry executives say the current supply shortage has left trucking companies with few options. “Most people who come here have tried everywhere else first,” said an employee at US Truck Parts in Houston, who did not want to be identified. Already strained by a driver shortage, the hammered trucking industry has to wait more than a year on average to get new trucks because of a dearth of semiconductors, according to the American Trucking Associations. “The equipment shortage is worse than the driver shortage at the moment,” said Don Ake, vice president of FTR, an economic and forecasting company covering commercial transportation. Ake estimates that the industry is short between 85,000 and 100,000 trucks as the current supply breaks down and companies can’t find the parts to fix them or new trucks to replace them with. The lack of equipment is compounded by surging demand for freight services as consumer spending continues to climb. “Fleets are scouring any and every marketplace for parts, sourcing them from Craigslist, eBay, salvage yards and other fleets,” said Robert Braswell, executive director of the ATA’s Technology and Maintenance Council. “We’ve never seen it at such frenetic levels as we are today.” Most trucking companies are loathe to admit that they are looking at rigs that were in accidents or floods and fires to get an engine that’s still humming or a trailer with a high-tech refrigeration unit. That’s because they fear the public might think they are putting an unsafe vehicle on the road. But salvage companies insist there’s no shame in turning to them for equipment, noting that any salvage vehicle is ultimately inspected by government officials for safety standards before it’s put back on the road. “There are probably more salvage vehicles on the road than you’d expect,” King said. King, for his part, sells between 50 and 60 trucks a day mostly on behalf of insurance companies whose customers have been in accidents and are submitting a claim for the damaged vehicle. The insurance companies contract with Heavy Salvage to recoup the money they have to pay out to their policy holder. Heavy Salvage never takes possession of the vehicles but sells them on its website to the highest bidder. Sales at Heavy Salvage increased by 20% in 2021, King said, while salvage sales at Willow Springs Missouri-based The Larson Group are up 30% so far this year, Chief Operating Officer Kory Larson told The Post. “Engines are in high demand,” Larson said. “Manufacturers just don’t have the parts right now.” “The maintenance side of the industry has largely been overlooked,” added Steve Keppler, co-director of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting. “The problem is particularly acute because when problems arise, trucks aren’t moving because they can’t get the parts.” As a result, prices for used trucks and parts have skyrocketed. A truck that might have sold for $25,000 in 2019 can now fetch $50,000, King said. The average used truck sold in November 2021 was 67% more expensive than in October, according to an ATA letter to members of Congress. “We are seeing more demand for trucks that are being rehabilitated versus completely stripped down for parts,” King said. But some industry executives of large companies say they’ve avoided the salvage market because they harvested parts from their own fleets or invested more heavily in their maintenance crew. Baylor Trucking of Milan, Indiana, typically buys a minimum of 50 new trucks a year except in 2021 when the number went to zero, President Cari Baylor told The Post. The strain of not getting new trucks forced Baylor to take parts from “empty” trucks to use in other trucks in its fleet. “We did that last year, but would not typically do that,” Baylor said. Chef’s Warehouse, a Bronx-based food supplier to the restaurant industry, has held on to its current fleet of trucks by “being resourceful,” Chief Executive Christopher Pappas said, and beefing up its “maintenance teams to work overtime in ensuring trucks are safe and keeping them on the road.”

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