Couple's complaints of 'cab sway' in Volvo VNL 780 prompt NHTSA assessment

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line associate editor | 10/9/2015

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is seeking input from truckers who may have experienced excessive cab sway or lean in late-model Volvo VNL 780 vehicles that may be contributing to driver fatigue and injury or to loss of vehicle control.

Photo by Greg Grisolano

OOIDA Members Nancy and Albert Cusson

On Sept. 28, NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation responded to a petition for an assessment. According to ODI’s summary, three complaints received by the agency claimed both driver fatigue and loss of control due to the swaying of the cab. One driver claimed the sway was so pronounced it activated the truck’s crash avoidance system while rounding a corner on a four-lane divided highway at a speed of 40 mph. The summary states that in all cases, claims of cab sway were evident from the first day of use.

Nate Seymour, a safety defect engineer with NHTSA, said the agency is in an information-gathering stage right now, and is seeking input from both Volvo engineers and other drivers who may have complaints similar to the ones reported.

“At this point our question is to gather some information,” Seymour said in a phone interview with Land Line. “If it looks like it warrants an investigation, we’ll grant it. If it looks like there isn’t a reason to go forward, we’ll deny the petition and that will be the end of it.”

The assessment was prompted by a petition from OOIDA Members Albert and Nancy Cusson. The Kathleen, Fla.-based couple spoke repeatedly with Land Line and said they thought they were getting the truck of their dreams when they purchased a 2015 Volvo VNL 780 last year. Instead, the couple say the truck has been more like a nightmare due to what they describe as a severe cab sway that makes driving the rig difficult and riding in the sleeper berth almost impossible.

Within the first year of owning the truck, the Cussons said they estimate they’ve been down for at least four out of 12 months while they’ve attempted numerous fixes, including realigning the cab and replacing the shocks on more than one occasion. They say the repairs offer temporary fixes, but both the front-to-back and lateral movement of the cab continues to reappear, often worse than before.

They say the uncontrollable rolling motion of the cab makes handling the tractor, particularly in poor weather or on poor road conditions, extremely difficult and could cause a crash. They also claim the physical toll from the bouncing and rolling has led to them feeling fatigued and injured.

“Physically, this truck is killing us. It’s just killing us,” Nancy said. “We’re just really tired and really in a lot of pain. I don’t know what else to do. I have a truck payment to make, I have insurance payments to make, and I have to stay in this truck. And it’s killing us.”

The Cussons run team as a drop-deck trailer operation hauling primarily specialty and oversized loads. Albert said when they initially went to Volvo to purchase the new truck, he ordered it to be set up with a 248-inch wheel base, VEC and VEST safety packages, and a variety of lighting accoutrements.

“You can’t sleep in the truck without being beat or tossed around in the sleeper,” Albert said. “We can’t afford that. Number one, I’m 60-years-old and when you get a beating in the sleeper, it’s like being in a fight. I’d rather get in the ring with a boxer before I sleep in the truck.”

The couple admit that Volvo even offered to buy the truck back from them at one point, but they say they’re not OK with that.

“If they buy the truck back, they could probably stop us from buying another Volvo.” Albert said. “The problem is, I got everything on this truck that I want on a truck. I finally got it set up the way it needs to be set up. … When I bought the truck, I ordered it in specific colors; I ordered it a specific length. I ordered it with special stuff on this truck to handle the type of driving that I do. …That all took time. That took six weeks to set this truck up. I’m not ready to do it again.”

The relationship between the Cussons and Volvo has gotten more acrimonious as the problems have persisted. They are currently suing the truck manufacturer in Texas under the state’s Lemon Law.

“We want our Volvo,” Nancy said. “We love our Volvo. It has everything we want. It is superior in every way to any other truck that’s out there. But it has this one problem. All we’ve ever wanted was Volvo to work for us. We didn’t want to have to go file under the Lemon Law. … We didn’t want to have to do all that.”

For its part, Volvo spokesman John Mies said the nation’s largest commercial truck maker takes customer feedback “very seriously,” and has followed up individually with customers who’ve complained about “perceived ‘cab sway.’”

“We also conducted a thorough investigation of this issue, and to the best of our knowledge, there is no product quality or safety concern. Rather, we believe that in the instances we’re aware of, the issue has been a matter of customer ride preference,” Mies said in an email to Land Line.

Mies said Volvo will offer “our full support to the agency.”

“Our expectation is that when NHTSA has all the facts, it will conclude that there is no product quality or safety concern,” Mies stated.

The ODI petition states that the agency identified Early Warning Reporting field reports on 2013-2016 Volvo trucks in which there are concerns about cab lean, but the petition states that those issues have yet to be verified as related to the allegations in the petition.

NHTSA’s Seymour said there are three ways for Volvo truck drivers to report similar issues or concerns: via online submission form at the agency’s website; by calling the agency’s hotline at 888-327-4236; or by printing out a complaint form on the agency’s website, filling it out and mailing, or faxing it in.

“(Those submissions) help us make a determination one way or another,” Seymour said. “What sometimes gets lost is just because one person experiences (an issue with a vehicle) doesn’t mean it’s not an unreasonable risk to highway safety. When it becomes multiple vehicles experiencing the same thing, and it becomes a hazardous condition, then that becomes something our agency is really designed to address.”

Copyright © OOIDA