Ch 11 -The Little Truck That Could

I know and have no love for Internationals. The ones at Western [Express] were always scuffed and smelled like dog piss. The POS (piece of shits) at Coastal [Transportation] were always begging to be regenerated at the worst possible time. Often the dashboard signal would flash and scream when I was miles from civilization and in danger of going over my hours (Hours of Service: 11 hours of driving and 14 hours of working each day)

So, yes, I like the rest of my compadres, hated “Shitynationals” as much as we dread a bad case of runs. But we were newbies and drivers wet around the ears with urea (fluid sprayed to the exhaust stream to break down dangerous NOx) can’t be expected to sport a Peterbilt or Kenworth like we were million milers or something. So after 12 months behind one Prostar to the next – living with all the uncanny quirks and dorks, I reluctantly accepted my fate as a Prostar speedster.

While companies like Western and Coastal took it in the chin, companies like Crete and Paschall abruptly cancelled their mult-year lease program with Navistar International, the owner of International trucks. Many companies, lost so much revenue with shippers and were encumbered with the secondary costs of lodging and transportation (for drivers), they sued Navistar for misrepresenting facts about their Maxxforce engine.

It really wasn’t about the engines. The Maxxforce engines which were produced from 2008-2012 were a signature power plant for the Prostars that were as strong as a rock and light as a feather.

What doomed Navistar instead was the EPA 2010 emissions standards which halved the amount of Nitrous Oxide (NOx), that were allowed to shoot through the exhaust pipes. Every heavy duty truck manufacturer went back to the drawing board to comply. Everyone of them chose to use Selected Catalytic Reduction requiring the driver to add Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) to breakdown the soot.

Navistar thought they could outsmart the competition with the advanced Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) – recirculating a portion of the exhaust back into the engine to break down the soot. In theory this worked, but in practice, it was a train wreck. The EGR would perennially choke the engine with too much soot impacting fuel economy and requiring the aggravated driver to pull over and conduct a forced regeneration. This was time consuming and inconvenient and often, a driver would be required to do this 2-3 times a day.

Eventually the EGRs would totally breakdown requiring a complete overhaul of the emissions system (which would include the Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) and Diesel Oxidation Catalyst (DOC) – a predicament that could cost a company over $15,000 to repair

And to add insult to injury, these International trucks were not able to meet the highly stringent EPA standards (.02 NOx) resulting in a big slap on the wrist in the tune of $70 million.

With the Maxxforce fiasco, the company was getting broadsided from every angle. There was the massive lawsuit from trucking companies that had bought or leased these trucks, the scolding from Uncle Sam, and now a class action lawsuit from owner operators who had to fork up large sums of money for repairs – many who had already gone out of business.

Plus their reputation had gone into a tailspin. Even after Navistar replaced the Prostars with the new, compliant Cummins engines, customers were hesitant to commit. They were lied to before and they wouldn’t be shamed again.

Heads rolled and the company rode on the brink of bankruptcy until Volkswagen offered a lifeline by buying a huge stake. So the road ahead looks bright, and Navistar is a company that would be around longer than I would be trucking.

But for the time being, Navistar had to figure out what to do with their idle trucks – several thousand trucks that were returned due to cancellation of company leases. Although the conceptual design of the EGR was faulty, not all trucks had issues – when the companies cancelled the lease, they returned all prostars – good or bad. Plus even the ones that had EGR problems could be resolved by embarking on an overhaul of the entire emissions system (in the amount of 15 precious Grand). And since I had already endured the numerous Regens and breakdowns, I knew I would be able to tolerate such an experience under my own authority.

Starting in 2016 and peaking in 2017, trucking companies large and small were returning 2011-2013 Prostars to Navistar like it was going out of style. The company could not keep the trucks in their lots and had to get rid of these assets (or liabilities) from their books. Since they were already a significant tax write-off, they were willing to dispose of these trucks as part of a total fire sale.

It became exceedingly apparent to me then that I might be able to acquire one of these trucks for a song and a dance, perhaps as much as 1/3rd the price of a similar truck that had not gone through the same fate.

Excited that I was on to something, I started googling for Prostars looking for new homes. They were abundant – a deal like this wouldn’t last for long especially after other investors got wind of it.

The nearest one to me was Baltimore Used Trucks in Dundalk, MD – I couldn’t wait and drove there right away even though it was in the thick of rush hour and the gates would close before I got there.

That’s ok, I would stop at Costas a nearby watering hole where locals loved to pick their Chesapeake blues with an ebb of Boh-tini (Moisten the rim of a mason jar and dip it in a plate of Old Bay seasoning. Then fill it to the rim with a medium-bodied Natty Boh). Bohemians would call it a Maryland Margarita and it goes great with old-school Baltimore crab soup

The locals were cheering for the Nationals to beat the Cubs. Why not, the Orioles were a total joke this year. At least Navistar had hope.

I spent the night just outside the gate, window shopping like it was Black Friday at Wally World. Sure enough I was the first one there when the gates opened – there wasn’t even a line of eager shoppers – apparently they weren’t onboard with giving second chances.

As advertised, all the Prostars were marked down to $20,000. It didn’t matter the type of truck – single sleeper, double bunk condo, roof fairing or none, mileage, condition – they were all sticker priced the same and no time to kick the tires. But seriously even the tires looked relatively new. Though they were not Firestone or Yokohamas, they all easily had 4/32nd tread depth left. Was there something I didn’t know about this truck?

Currently, there were only a half dozen of Prostars with the infamous Maxxforce left since the sale had been going on since the summer.

“They must be selling like hot cakes,” I commented to John, the manager of the truck center.

“Yes, we’ve sold quite a bit. Navistar also shipped a bunch of them overseas.”

“That makes sense, only the US (and Europe) would care about emissions. I bet you there’s a big market for these in Nigeria.”

John nodded his head and smiled. Then he looked at me and probably wondered whether I would be a prudent shopper or one who wouldn’t know a good deal if it struck him in the face.

I scanned the lot like an attentive hawk, and only one truck stood out mean and tall.

This particular one wasn’t just a Prostar – she was an Eagle+ which meant she had a nice interior with lots of trim and faux wood, a large bed, plenty of cabinets and faux leather seating. It seemed to me that this cab wasn’t designed for any newbie – it was probably assigned to their most senior driver who deserved some custom comfort and a good night’s sleep. Probably even teamed with his wife or dragged his kid along during the summer.

And yes, she was royalty. There was only one aspect that didn’t appeal – the high mileage – 515,000 miles. Many of the other Prostars had significantly lower mileage – one only had 350,000 miles. But then I realized that the reason those trucks had low mileage was because they were breaking down a lot. The Eagle+ that captivated my attention definitely stayed out of the shop. For a truck to roll 100,000 miles a year was the norm and hopefully, the company that leased her – Crete – treated her like a queen.

I took her for a roll around the lumbering streets of Dundalk, and it took me a while to get used to shifting gears – all three companies that I worked for only offered automatics – they didn’t trust us.

And she drove like a chauffeured cadillac and even the gears — all 10 of them, once my heart slowed down so I could double shift, shifted like creaming butter.

I knew if I did not make an offer on this truck post haste, the roadie who drove it would track her down and pay cash to steal her away.

The inside of my Prostar in previous mint condition.

So here I was, up against the jersey wall, having to make a decision that was bigger than when I bought my first rental property. Of course I would proceed full speed.

A truck may break down, but she won’t break my heart.