Avoiding Overweight Fines:
Various Options for Pro Truck Drivers
During our trucking careers, we
have been in
a position of avoiding overweight fines numerous times. We will
describe the circumstances and what we did about them.
Break a Seal"
We were told when we went through Swift's orientation
that drivers were never to break a seal. Granted, we were newbie
drivers -- greenhorns -- but we took that instruction
literally. So, when we picked up
a northbound load of beer at the Swift terminal in Eden, North
Carolina, we didn't break the seal -- even though the trailer seemed to
leaning to the right a bit.
The nearest truck scale at that time (because the one at
distribution center was not working) was at the truck stop up on I-81.
required a long, winding, tortuous trek up U.S. 220.
we got to the truck stop and Mike could not axle
out the load. He did
his best three times. He read his numbers to his
manager. There was way too much weight on the drive axles, even with
the trailer axles pulled all the way up and an adjustment on the fifth
wheel. He was told to take the load back to Eden. So, we went down
that long, winding, tortuous trek back down U.S. 220. Argh!
When we got to the terminal in Eden, we took the
paperwork back inside. Whoever it was we dealt with told us that we
have broken the seal to look inside before taking the load. We told him
that we had been told in orientation never to break a seal. He said --
and we think he
was just trying to cover himself -- that that didn't apply to "beer
loads." He broke the seal himself and opened the doors.
The sight that simultaneously met all of our eyes was
amazing. The following illustrations will tell the story. (Note: The
dimensions may not be to scale. They are for demonstration purposes
This first image shows the view from the top of how the
been loaded, with a bulkhead all the way up in the nose of the trailer
and all of the pallets staggered in alternate rows of 1 or 2 pallets
But this second image shows the view from the top
of how it was actually loaded, with no bulkhead
and all of the pallets bunched up in the right front corner of
No wonder the trailer had been leaning to the right!
wonder Mike couldn't get the load to axle out!
But that wasn't the end
of the account...
The guy who came out had the nerve to claim that we had
slammed on the brakes to cause the load to shift in the trailer!
if that had been true, we would have expected to see
- skid marks on the floor from
- some of the product leaning out
upright shrink wrapped positions,
- perhaps some of the product
- definitely damage to the
trailer wall when that much weight hit it.
None of that was apparent. The guy just wanted a
scapegoat. He didn't want to have to deal with the beer distributor to
get the load reworked (unloaded and then reloaded properly).
By the way, had Mike slammed on the brakes as the dispatcher claimed,
we probably would have "rolled the truck over." Those of you who have
traveled that stretch of U.S. 220 know exactly what we are talking
The lesson to be learned here on avoiding overweight
fines is to weigh your load, preferably on a certified full-length
Limited Regarding Fuel
When we drove for Swift, we once had to pick up a
cotton load from the Long Beach, California, port. The load was
supposed to weigh only 43,000 pounds. But when we scaled out -- with
only 1/3 tank of fuel in the truck, our weight was at 79,000 pounds!
There was no way
that the load could have weighed only that much. (We figured that the
cotton had absorbed moisture by sitting at the port.)
we contacted our fleet manager and he said that
if we could axle out the truck, we were weight limited by how much fuel
we could take on.
In our quest for avoiding overweight fines, we had
- calculate the weight of the
fuel we could
take on based on our scaled out weight,
- know the weight of diesel per
(about 7.15 pounds according to Wiki Answers),
- estimate how much diesel we
would burn off (based on miles per gallon) until the next
- make frequent stops for fuel up
to our max weight.
It was a pain in the
neck to keep taking on a dab of fuel here and a dab of fuel
there all the way to Texas(!), but we weren't about to get an
overweight fine. Fortunately, never
again did we have a load that we estimated to be over 50,000 pounds on
that rig. Thank goodness!
Our reward though is that we never had a problem with an
overweight fine because we never took on so much fuel that it caused
our rig to be overweight.
Between Here and There
Mike had a situation when Vicki was riding with him when
he was coming out of Virginia with a heavy load. There was no truck
stop where he could scale out between the shipper and the next nearest
Fortunately, there was a legal truck route -- a U.S.
highway -- where
he could go around the permanent scale. He had no problems.
The obvious danger in going
around a scale is that the state DOT can pull out their portable scales
All I Can Do
During the years Mike has driven solo, he has had
numerous occasions when he has called or sent a message to his
company about the weight of the rig. He had done all he could do to
make the load "legal" (weight-wise) while bearing in mind two
occasionally opposing things:
- making the load legal while
axling out, and
- not pulling the trailer tandems
back so far that it
violates the most restrictive of the
bridge laws of the states he was going through or to.
He explained the
situation to his company and asked if they would cover him if he got an
fine. They always did.
least one situation when Vicki was riding with
him, he figured for sure when he drove through a weigh station that he
would get "the signal" to pull around for a closer look. We were both
calm, cool and collected as Mike pulled onto the scale. Instead of
getting pulled around, he got the signal to go! Whew!
We don't know if
DOT was particularly lenient that day or what. But the point is that
Mike notified his company in advance of the possibility that there
might be a problem and asked for coverage. If he had waited until he
got the fine -- too late!
If you routinely haul overweight loads (those heavier
than 80,000 pounds), make sure that you have an overweight permit in
Money saving tip:
Mike's rule of thumb when driving regionally is to scale out his rig
whenever his load is 35,000 pounds or more.
What do you do if in spite of your best efforts
you get an overweight fine anyway? Well, if you scaled out on a CAT
Scale (Certified Automatic Truck Scale) and you were legal then, they
are supposed to go to bat for you. That's their guarantee.
If you didn't scale out and didn't contact your
company about them covering the fine for you, then our recommendation
is to have the attorneys through your legal services plan fight it for
Note: Even if you are successful in having an
overweight fine overturned, there is a possibility that the violation
could go on your MVR (motor vehicle record), your DAC report and even
be counted against you regarding your CSA score. You may want to check
all of these to make sure the violation was expunged from the pertinent
records. We are not sure if it is even possible to have an overweight
fine removed from a CSA record.
Make sure that if you try to avoid a DOT weigh
station that the "secondary routes" you take are legitimate truck
routes. You don't want to run the risk of taking non-truck
routes while avoiding overweight fines.
Some owner-operators may choose to have an
on-board weighing device on their trucks so that they don't have to
depend on stationary scales. Learn how to calibrate them for
from Avoiding Overweight Fines: Various Options for Pro Truck Drivers to our Truck Operations page
Truck Drivers Money
Saving Tips home page.