by Ruth Jones, senior editor
As phone calls and written complaints continued to roll in, Volvo remained silent about their investigation and its results. Long after their self-imposed January deadline passed, OOIDA took the complaints of the owner-operators to the public. Articles began to appear in Land Line about problems owner-operators were having with their Volvos, the most common of which is premature steer tire wear.
Since then, OOIDA has heard a continuing litany of complaints about Volvo trucks from owner-operators and small fleet owners. Documented/written complaints now total more than 150. Premature steer tire wear is still at the top of the complaint list, followed closely by electrical problems.
In a letter that appeared in our July issue, Volvo's vice president in charge of customer service, Bill Dawson, began waving the flag of proper alignment as the answer to the truckers' problems. Dawson touted this as an industry-wide problem, not limited to Volvo trucks. Dawson also trotted out The Maintenance Council's RP (Recommended Practice) 642 on maintenance and alignment. Coincidentally, the TMC's recommended practice had not even been available to the public at the time. It was nevertheless covered in the July issue of Land Line.
OOIDA President Jim Johnston's reply letter to Dawson made it clear that OOIDA would persist in the pursuit of members' complaints against Volvo. "We are not going to allow Volvo to continue to just throw the blame on its customers," says Johnston.
He should know...
Ron Oster is a retired service representative for Volvo. He speaks critically of the service and guidance owner-operators have received from various Volvo dealers and other sources. Oster, citing his many years of experience, is emphatic that "excessive toe-in causes excessive right steer tire wear," but his tone suggests he is less than confident that Volvo owners will get proper alignments and advice at some Volvo shops.
Oster's point has been corroborated by many OOIDA members who own Volvos. These owner-operators are careful about alignments, having them done only at Volvo facilities or Volvo-recommended facilities.
Some have even noticed a difference in tire wear between Volvo alignment shops. Ron Powers of Meade, KS, reports he prefers to align his 610 at a Volvo facility near Omaha rather than one in Oklahoma City. Powers claims he gets as much as 30,000 more miles out of his tires if he has his alignment done in Omaha, but still isn't getting the mileage he feels he should.
"There is no reason I shouldn't be getting 100,000 miles or more out of a set of steering tires," says Powers, "but I never have."
Salt in the wounds
Volvo's latest insult to the intelligence of some of its owner-operator customers came in the form of a letter from Volvo National Service Director Dwight McAlexander to trucker Ron Dunaway of Fremont, NE, dated June 22. A number of other owner-operators report they also have received similar letters.
Dear Mr. Dunaway,
We at Volvo Trucks North America are dedicated to supplying products that are safe, and of highest quality. We are sorry to hear that you have been experiencing, what you feel is premature tire life.
Tire wear and alignment has been an industry concern for years. The problem is so great that The Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Associations under took the task of developing a Recommended Practice "RP" to deal with it. You might have read about the RP in the May/June issue of Land Line Magazine's Technical Editor Paul Abelson's article. (See editor's note.)
Alignment and tire wear, as previously mentioned, has been a long-standing concern. There have been many myths and opinions surrounding axles, axle positions, and other components of a truck and their effect on tire wear. Volvo was one of the original supporters of the task force that developed RP 642.
When the OOIDA approached us with your concern of tire wear and alignment we discussed RP 642 with Misters Johnston, Spencer, and Cullen. On several occasions Volvo has asked OOIDA to advise their membership of this important message. It can literally save the trucking industry millions of dollars in tire costs and fuel savings in a year.
Volvo has great concern for the industry of which we are proud to be a part of. The misunderstanding of what is causing decreased tire life had lead up to sponsoring a nationwide series of seminars to enlighten people on what the cause and corrections are for a shortened tire life. These seminars are scheduled in the July through September time frame. We hope to see you at one of these. You will be reading more about them soon in the highly recognized press and in Petro TravelCenters nationwide.
We understand the life of the owner-operator, and how difficult it is to operate profitably in today's environment. In order to be more understanding of your current schedule we would like to offer a personalized seminar for you. If you would contact me with your availability over the next few weeks we will arrange to have one of our experts meet with you and help you understand what is happening with the alignment and tire wear on your truck. If an alignment problem exists we will gladly pay for the adjustments necessary to correct it.
Please let us hear from you soon. We need your schedule over the next couple of weeks and a telephone number or e-mail address where we may contact you to set up a time and place that is satisfactory to you. A complimentary copy of RP642 will also be made available to you if you would like one.
National Service Director
Editor's note: It would seem that McAlexander has not made the connection between OOIDA and Land Line Magazine, since he is still exhorting OOIDA to tell their members about TMC's RP642.
Definitely rubbed the wrong way
McAlexander's letter prompted Dunaway to make an immediate call to OOIDA. "In more than 13 years of trucking, I never had a tire wear problem until I bought this Volvo," he raged to project coordinator Ruth Jones. "I check tire pressure at least once a day, I don't drag my wheels across curbs, and I avoid potholes. I keep my truck perfectly aligned, and Volvo's going to teach me how to take care of my tires?"
Understanding his frustration, OOIDA encouraged Dunaway to reply to McAlexander's letter as soon as he could. On July 29, Dunaway made his feelings clear in this e-mailed letter sent to Dwight McAlexander at vtna.dwight.volvo.memo.com.
I am writing this e-mail in response to the "form letter" that you have mailed to me, as well as, many other dumb, ignorant, stupid owner-operators. According to your letter, I don't know the proper procedure for taking care of one of my largest expenses - my tires.
I wasn't sure if I should laugh or punch my dash as I read your letter. Which in my opinion, as well as that of a group that I belong to - "OOIDA," was a pretty big slam on the intelligence level of most hard working owner-operators who are tired of being pushed around.
In your letter you stated Volvo would offer seminars and a personal visit to enlighten me on proper procedures to obtain the maximum life from my tires. All of this so-called important information has taken one year from the time I had my problems with the steer tires on my 1999 Volvo 770 and turned in my original complaint with the general manager at your Great Basin store in Omaha, NE.
I would like to inform you that for being an uninformed negligent owner-operator, the service manager, Don Cox, at a large truck tire retailer, Walker Tire, has stated that I am one of the top three customers for tire life in the 20+ years that he has been in the tire business. That three is not 3 percent, but three out of thousands of customers.
Since I took my truck and had it properly aligned and put new steer tries on at my expense, as well as repairing some other front end problems (on a truck that has less than 50,000 miles on it), I was able to obtain over 135,000 miles on my last set of steers. As a footnote, the steers I replaced still had 7/32+ when I replaced them to use at a later date on my trailer.
I hope I have made my point! I will not be satisfied with a class on proper tire procedures. I want my money refunded that I spent on an alignment and new tires! I have had other problems with my new $108,000 Volvo, but since your letter only relates to the tires I will not include these points in my correspondence.
Proud OOIDA Member