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Save Time with a Cargo Control Checklist

Working as a flatbed truck driver involves spending time waiting for cargo to be loaded and secured before hitting the road. This is time a driver is usually not compensated for, so getting things done as quickly as possible is paramount to getting the wheels turning again. Still, drivers have to be thorough in their cargo control procedures so as to not jeopardize their loads.

A good way to save time and ensure cargo is properly secured is to establish a cargo control checklist that becomes a standard operating procedure. While this may sound obvious, you might be surprised how many drivers have no such checklist in place. They approach every load in a random matter, where cargo control is dictated by immediate circumstances. Having a checklist in place is a better option because it ensures all of the necessaries are addressed in a way that eventually leads to the driver following his or her checklist routine as a matter of habit.

checklist

It should be noted that a cargo control checklist does not have to be a formal document that the driver prints out by the hundreds so that each load has its own piece of paper. A driver may create a document to start with, but after following the checklist routine numerous times, most drivers are going to memorize it. Then it becomes a mental exercise rather than a paper one.

Cargo Control Checklist Basics

How a driver organizes his or her cargo control checklist is a matter of preference. There should be certain categories of things on every driver’s checklist, things that are appropriate to cargo control. For example:

  • Tarps and Straps – Truck tarps and straps should be inspected prior to arriving to pick up a load. Not inspecting cargo control supplies increases the likelihood of getting to a job and finding that damaged equipment cannot be used. Then the driver is slowed down while he or she searches locally for replacements.
  • Inspecting Loads – Flatbed truck drivers are ultimately responsible for how cargo is loaded on their trailers. There should be a process in place for inspecting loads to make sure weight issues are addressed, there is no unnecessary space between cargo items, and that cargo is properly blocked if necessary.
  • Securing the Cargo – Once a trailer has been loaded and securing has commenced, a system should be in place so that tarps and straps are always applied in the same way. For example, some truckers will first make sure all of their straps and/or chains are applied, then walk around the trailer to tighten down each winch consecutively.
  • Final Inspection – Just prior to departure, the truck driver should be performing a vehicle safety inspection as a matter of routine. Within that inspection, he or she can also make provision to do a final inspection of cargo control equipment. Straps, chains, and tarps should all be given the once over.
  • Inspections on the Road – Lastly, an important part of a cargo control checklist that should not be ignored are the inspections done while on the road. Drivers should be checking their loads within the first 50 miles of departure and then with every additional stop along the way. The same checklist used for the final inspection is appropriate to on-the-road inspections.

Cargo control is a normal part of flatbed trucking. Drivers can save time and do a better job of securing cargo by developing a cargo control checklist and following it on every job. A well-designed checklist turns what could be a random exercise into something that becomes routine.


Treating Trucking Supplies as Capital Investments

Owner-operators and independent contractors driving leased equipment are considered under federal law to be self-employed business owners. As such, they are required to keep track of all of their business-related expenses for the purposes of filing accurate reports and tax filings according to federal and state schedules. Unfortunately, some independent truck drivers do not treat what they do as a business. This is a mistake. We can illustrate just why this is by talking about the supplies needed to be a trucker. Those supplies should be treated as capital investments.

 

flatbed

Capital investments, sometimes known as capital expenditures, are defined in the business world as investments in equipment or supplies critical to maintaining or improving the useful life of existing assets. In terms of a flatbed trucker who owns his/her own trailer, the trailer itself would be an existing asset. Installing new tires on that trailer in order to improve its performance and comply with the law would be considered a capital investment.

As our illustration demonstrates, capital investments are almost always made in relation to equipment or supplies. The trucker’s tarps, straps, winches, ratchets, cargo control and so on are all supplies necessary to improve the performance of the flatbed trailer. They are also supplies that are required to do the job of a flatbed trucker. Therefore, they are assets that are obtained through the process of capital investment.

Why Make the Distinction?

Making money in any business requires some degree of discipline to control both income and expenditures. This is why successful companies work with annual budgets prepared by looking at history and future expectations. The company without a budget, regardless of its size and scope, is one at a high risk of failure. This is the whole point of treating your purchase of trucking supplies as capital investments.

When you think of buying supplies as a capital investment, you can start looking at future expenditures in relation to your overall budget. Let’s say your gross income – before taxes and business expenses – is $120,000 annually. Some of that will eventually become the net income you put in your bank account as an ’employee’ of your company. The rest of it will be spent on things such as fuel, truck maintenance, and trucking supplies.

The idea is to work with a budget that projects how much you will spend in the coming year based on historical performance and your expectations of the kind of work you will be taking in the next 12 months. Treating your purchase of trucking supplies as capital investments allows you to plug a number into that budget. Let us use truck tarps as an example.

Let’s assume you replace your flatbed truck tarps every 18 months on average. Most of your tarps are already a year old, so you know they will be replaced sometime during the current budget year. Take the average price you pay for each tarp, multiply it by the number of tarps to be replaced, and enter that number into your budget. That number becomes a capital investment that is essential to keeping your business going.

You might be wondering how all of this helps with the business of running a truck as an owner-operator. Simply put, it forces you to acknowledge at least an estimate of how much will be spent on trucking supplies. This is motivation to set that money aside so that you have it when the time comes. Also it keeps you on the path of owning and operating a successful business that wouldn’t get into cash flow problems. As you estimate your income versus your expenses, it gives you a realistic picture of your business’ short and long term requirements.


Tarps and Straps: Above or Below?

One of the questions we frequently hear from new flatbed truckers is whether to strap a load above the tarp or not. This question arises from the fact that new truckers see their veteran counterparts do it both ways. Some like their straps above the tarps; others like them below. But it is truly a preference thing. There is no single way to use flatbed tarps and strap systems as long as the load is protected and the tarps and straps survive the trip undamaged.

What new drivers should understand is why veterans choose one set up over the other. They also need to know that the same driver may use different setups depending on the load being transported. It is like choosing between Kelley and Triangle truck and trailer tires – drivers make their cargo control choices depending on the loads they typically carry.

tarps and straps

Straps Applied Above Tarps

There are two primary reasons you may see truckers apply their straps over the top rather than underneath their tarps. The first is to prevent the tarps from ballooning in the wind. In such a case, the load itself has already been secured underneath with either chains or additional mesh straps. The tarp has been applied only to protect the cargo from wind and road debris. This set up makes it easy to apply flatbed tarps with very little fuss while using straps to prevent ballooning.

The second reason for strapping over the top of the tarp is to secure a soft load and preventing ballooning at the same time. A good example would be transporting crates of vegetables from a farm to the processor. Such a load is unlikely to be traveling hundreds of miles, so the driver is not worried about securing both the load and the tarps separately. He or she will just throw the flatbed tarp over the load, followed by securing each stack of crates – and the tarp at the same time – with a strap.

Straps Applied Under Tarps

Likewise, there are several reasons for applying straps underneath flatbed tarps. The first is to make sure maximum load securement is achieved. Sometimes a trucker will carry a load that does not conform well to tarping, so placing straps above the tarp would not provide the best securement. By strapping underneath, where straps come in direct contact with the load itself, the cargo can be made more secure. A tarp goes on top, secured at the corner and along the sides with bungee cords.

Drivers may also choose to apply straps underneath in order to avoid loose corners flapping in the wind. They use the same setup as described above. Flatbed tarps are placed over the already secured load and held in place with bungee cords. Along the same lines, this setup is also preferred among drivers who do not like the visual presentation of exterior straps.

Lastly, there are cases in which the driver really has no choice. Drywall is a great example. Most drywall shippers tarp their loads in the shipping yard so that there is never a question about the drywall being protected. All the driver has to do is to secure the load to the trailer and pull away.

Regardless of how you decide to use your tarps and straps, Mytee Products has a full selection of both. We also carry a full line of cargo securement supplies, tires (including 11R22.5 and 11R24.5 truck tires), tarping systems and accessories, portable carports and storage structures and, of course, a full line of steel, lumber, hay, and mesh tarps. If you need it, we have it.


Rubber Tarp Straps: Natural Rubber or Synthetic?

Every truck driver knows that you need the right tools for the job. There are different tarps for different types of loads, and different methods of fastening a tarp to the trailer bed. One of the more convenient types of straps is the rubber strap with the S-hook in either end. These straps come in both natural and synthetic, ethylene propylene diene monomer (EPDM) rubbers. The question is – is one better than the other?

Neither natural nor synthetic rubber is a better product overall. Both have their pros and cons depending on how they are used. It is best to have both kinds on hand if you are a driver that works in all regions of the country and during all seasons. Both work equally well with steel and lumber tarps of all sizes.

Natural Rubber Straps

Rubber tarp straps are incredibly convenient when all you are doing is securing the tarp itself. They go on in just seconds, and are durable enough to handle road speeds and the elements.

rubber-straps

When you choose natural rubber, you are choosing a material that works very well in most environments, with the exception of the blazing hot sun of the American South and Southwest. High temperatures cause natural rubber to lose its elasticity, while UV rays break down the material’s composition.

On the other hand, natural rubber is the material of choice for winter use. Unlike EPDM, natural rubber does not become brittle in subfreezing temperatures. It also tends not to crack or tear in cold weather.

EPDM Rubber Straps

EPDM is an M-class synthetic rubber with a high ethylene content of between 45% and 85%. The higher the ethylene content, the more polymers can be used in the rubber mixture without affecting extrusion. This allows for a higher polymer cross-link density for stronger material.

EPDM is the best choice for securing tarps in hot weather under the scorching sun. This synthetic product holds up very well under high temperatures without losing strength or elasticity. EPDM offers a second benefit for sunny environments: it is not prone to breaking down from exposure to UV rays. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about EPDM in cold weather environments. Cold weather tends to make EPDM brittle and prone to tearing.

Keep in mind that branding does matter when purchasing your truck tarps and straps. Where rubber straps are concerned, the fact that they all look pretty much the same can be deceiving. You are better off paying a little more for a branded product in order to get a better quality strap with a longer life and more durability.

Pairing With Rubber Ropes

You will find that it is difficult to purchase rubber straps greater than 41 inches in length. So what does the trucker do when he or she needs coverage across a much larger area? Hooking multiple tarp straps together is not necessarily a wise idea because doing so creates more opportunities for failure. Instead, pairing straps with rubber rope is the best idea.

Rubber rope can be cut to the desired length for continuous coverage across your entire load. Then insert S-hooks at either end to be attached to shorter straps where necessary. The combination of rubber rope and tarp straps provides a perfect solution for securing any load.

When buying tarp straps, it is important to have the right tool for the job. Consider weather conditions, cargo type, and any other factors necessary to choosing the right straps.