Oil prices alter cost for truckers, related items | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Oil prices alter cost for truckers, related items

The cost of doing business on the open road has almost closed some trucking businesses.

Trucker Jim Martin of South Lake Tahoe got out of the long-haul business but maintains an equipment yard. He traded a big rig for a snow plow in the winter and a gravel hauler in the summer.

Martin doesn’t miss paying the high price of diesel.

Like all gasoline these days, the less-refined fuel runs about 50 cents higher than last year’s prices. The average cost of diesel in California is $2 a gallon. A year ago, that price was $1.49. This summer, the price jumped 16 cents in just 10 days, AAA reported. In Nevada, the average cost of diesel is $1.93 a gallon. At Lake Tahoe stations, diesel prices hover between $1.89 and $2.09.

The situation has prompted many angry truckers to tighten their belts and re-evaluate their line of work.

European truckers staged protests in which some haulers dumped their loads or blocked traffic by leaving their rigs parked on the highways.

“It’s terrible,” said Martin, 52, remembering his high-school days paying 18 cents for a gallon of regular fuel for his hot rod during gas wars in Sacramento.

Much of a trucker’s survival is tied to the price of fuel, considering most rigs get 5 mpg.

“It’s killing all of us,” said Al Moss, who runs the Chevron on U.S. Highway 50, along with a fleet of 25 tow trucks. “It’s a nightmare.”

Moss spends twice as much for fuel for his trucks this year than he did last year, comparing his $5,500 in annual fuel costs with the $11,000 he pays now. Yet, he remains obligated under contract with the Northern California Auto Club.

“If it’s impacting us that bad, then probably it’s really impacting the truck drivers,” Moss said.

Ditto, said Jim Fernhoff. The owner of Lakeside Towing and Trucking in Truckee lamented that fuel costs are “taking a big bite” out of his profits.

If the price of fuel isn’t squeezing California truckers enough, the regulations are.

State regulators recently approved a plan to cut soot from diesel engines by requiring state-of-the-art filters on new motors sold in California and retrofitting most existing engines.

These kinds of retrofits cost a trucker up to $8,000 for one truck, the California Trucking Association reported.

“Some trucks are not even worth that,” said spokeswoman Stephanie Williams, whose group represents 2,500 truck owners.

The association is currently lobbying the state legislature for subsidies to perform the retrofits and tax breaks for buying the cleaner engines.

Between high fuel costs and tougher standards, Williams said truckers are “really paying the price” of doing business in the Golden State.

The plan imposes the strictest diesel rules in the nation in a state with the highest prices. Midwest states traditionally sell diesel for the lowest prices.

There are more than 680,000 diesel-powered cars, trucks and buses on California roads and about 500,000 off-road diesel-run vehicles and equipment including tractors and construction rigs.

Luckily, Martin only had to shell out the retrofitting expense for one of his four trucks. The other three were newer.

But trucker Joe Alves, on his way from Truckee to Calistoga to pick up a load of bottled water, said he couldn’t afford to retrofit his truck.

“When they start making us pay for this, at that point, I’ll just turn over the truck,” said Alves, who sometimes drives 600 miles a day. “I’m not getting rich doing this, you know.”

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