By on July 27, 2018

The new acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Andrew Wheeler, has jackknifed former EPA head Scott Pruitt’s decision to quit enforcing the strict sales limits imposed on glider trucks.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, they’re basically new heavy commercial trucks that use old powertrains. Advocates argue that using refurbished engines and transmissions save business owners loads of cash and promote recycling, since the internals would likely end up in a scrapyard. However, many complain that glider trucks simply exist to circumvent emissions regulations.

During President Obama’s tenure, the EPA said that if gliders were allowed through 2025, they would make up a scant five percent of the freight vehicles on the road — but would account for one third of all nitrogen oxides and particulate emissions from the heavy truck fleet. A crackdown was inevitable.

However, the EPA under President Donald Trump said gliders should not be regulated as new motor vehicles under the Clean Air Act. In 2017, Pruitt claimed prohibiting their sales risked putting specialized truck manufacturers out of business as he moved toward deregulation.

In fact, the EPA later issued a “no action assurance” letter on July 6th (Pruitt’s last day) that said glider truck firms would not have to limit their annual production to 300 vehicles through the end of 2019.

Wheeler performed an about-face on the issue, saying he has “concluded that the application of current regulations to the glider industry does not represent the kind of extremely unusual circumstances that support the EPA’s exercise of enforcement discretion.”

According to the LA Times, environmental groups challenged the EPA’s “no action assurance” letter on July 17th in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, asking for an administrative stay as the court considered their emergency motion. That motion was granted the following day.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said the July 6th memo “was blatantly unlawful … By letting more of these super polluting trucks on the road, EPA is putting politics before the public’s health and safety.”

On Thursday, Wheeler said the EPA will move expeditiously on revising the regulations “that apply to the introduction of glider vehicles into commerce to the extent consistent with statutory requirements and due consideration of air quality impacts.” The agency later confirmed it had withdrawn the guidance established under Pruitt.

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48 Comments on “EPA to Resume Enforcement of ‘Glider Truck’ Rules...”


  • avatar
    Sub-600

    “During President Obama’s tenure,”….Uh-oh the BS-O-Meter is lighting up like a Christmas tree…whoop!…particulate emissions…whoop!…nitrogen oxides…whoop!….get Bill Nye in here, stat….whoop!…regulate regulate regulate…

  • avatar
    TW5

    Stupid. Cab aerodynamics have improved dramatically, and new cab designs tie-in to the side skirts and boat tail equipment used on trailers.

    The people who claim to be helping the environment are actually swamp creatures who make good the enemy of great so that consumers and freight companies are forced to do business with the powertrain manufacturers.

    The result will be fewer upgrades and more pollution. This is SOP for the entire ecological community. Myopic political agitators incapable of seeing the symbiosis between man and nature. Pinchot is dead.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said the July 6th memo “was blatantly unlawful … By letting more of these super polluting trucks on the road, EPA is putting politics before the public’s health and safety.””

    Which ALL road vehicles in 2009 created 5% of all emitted NOx gasses, but let’s not let facts get into it Atty Goober (hint: the vast majority of emissions were power plants). Chasing this nonsense is pointless; #WalkAway.

  • avatar
    Chocolatedeath

    Well what do you know..I a logged in now.

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    Ground all military aircraft for a weekend. That should let the ole’ gliders run for 10 years, pollution-wise. In ten years, ground it again. Stasis achieved.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Stupid. I’d like my new F150 with a rebuilt 300 straight 6. Too bad. Honestly if this is a legit thing, I’ll take a Challenger with a “glider” Deusenberg SJ motor.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      nyet. they were “allowable” in heavy trucks since for the longest time the truck manufacturer and engine manufacturer were completely different. Detroit Diesel, Caterpillar, and Cummins made engines, while Paccar, International, Ford, Marmon, etc. made the trucks. because of all of the different possible permutations of engines, trucks, and body/chassis styles, emissions certification was done on the *engine.* not the truck.

      light duty vehicles are certified at the *vehicle* level.

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      Here’s the problem with that statement.
      A new F150 5.0 gas is an awesome motor, and beats a 300 six in every way possible.
      2007+ diesels are more expensive, get less fuel economy, have much higher maintenance costs, and worse reliability than the refurb units installed in gliders.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        the love for the 300 six is nostalgic BS anyway. people will call it “torquey” with a straight face, even though it nearly always had less torque (and a lot less horsepower) than the 302 V8 of the same period. a torque peak 100 rpm lower than the V8 doesn’t make it “torquey.”

        or they look at the torque/hp ratio of the two engines, see that the six has a higher tq/hp ratio than the 302 (even though both numbers are lower) and incorrectly think that makes the engine “torquey.” No, it means the engine sucks at making horsepower.

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          I don’t understand the love for the I-6 either other than the fact that both the Ford 300 “6” and Chevy 250 “6” were as reliable as hammers.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    Honestly I am torn on this issue, no sarcasm.
    I get the costs that incurred with the new emissions requirements, yet i also loath seeing old Mack trucks and other of their ilk spewing massive amounts of diesel douche.

    The electricfication of the heavy fleet cant come soon enough. I dont see it for the OTR rig, but it is coming for the local dump truck / delivery truck fleet.

  • avatar
    stuki

    “Ground all military aircraft for a weekend. That should let the ole’ gliders run for 10 years, pollution-wise. In ten years, ground it again. Stasis achieved.”

    Instead of incessantly coming up with ways to pitch one interest group against another, simply tax pollutant emissions. It makes exactly not one lick of difference where it comes from; whether new trucks, old cars, fighter planes nor ocean liners. If NO2 is harmful, tax it as directly as possible.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    I guess Wheeler is ok with it because the trucks don’t use coal. Frankly, stopping this process is good news for everybody. The number of trucks (and buses) spewing visible particulates has been dropping as have the number of “air quality alert” days. And yes, we have REGULATION to thank for the marked improvement in air quality. The free market excels in many ways, but cleaning up pollution is NOT one of them. Imagine the compliance rates for “voluntary” standards.

    Aside from emissions, isn’t the real reason for such trucks simply that it costs less to refurbish than replace? I am guessing here. I would think that any potential loss of fuel efficiency from having an emission standard would be more than offset by the greater efficiency that technology would bring. Either way, the practice should be banned. I, for one, appreciate the better air quality we now enjoy. Any plan, or politician who want to reverse that isn’t worthy of a vote.

    • 0 avatar
      EquipmentJunkie

      To answer your question, glider kits have been produced by truck manufacturers for decades…long before the EPA and Tier-1 emission standards were formed. I had a glider kit brochure from Kenworth from the early-’80s, I believe. A quick eBay search showed me glider kit brochures dating back to the mid-60s. Glider kits are not new…but it is a solution that comes from desperation. Let me explain.

      The real reasons for Class-8 truck glider kits from a historical perspective:
      – Repair after a significant accident. Trucks are tools. If your main tool of your trade gets broken, you don’t make money. This is especially true for owner operators. A major accident could put an owner operator in financial perile. Also, a repaired truck could be an unsafe or ill-handling truck. A glider kit is a cost-effective repair that saves a bunch of money in components and in labor since gliders came with a new wiring harness. It was the truck equivilent to plug & play.
      – Upward mobility. Truck drivers are like George Jefferson…movin’ on up to the East Side. A glider kit was seen as a cost-effective way to live the American dream. Say you drove for a company, saved your money, and finally went out on your own and you bought a sensible truck when you began your business. This sensible truck served you well. You worked hard and had five successful years. The truck cab is your office for 60 hours a week and the old, sensible truck leaves something to be desired. Your five successful years are enough to get you into a glider kit by recycling your rotating assemblies, but not enough to get you into a brand-new truck. A glider kit lets you live the good life of a new cab with out paying for it all…and nobody is the wiser that it’s a glider!
      – Times change. Say you bought a new Class-8 truck a year ago set up to haul regionally. This year-old truck was just what you needed to be the most comfortable and efficient at hauling regionally. However, things can happen in life. The company that you are contracted with goes belly up and the other gigs you find aren’t really suited for your truck specs. Or, you know of a dream job of hauling produce coast-to-coast opens up. You buy a glider kit suited for the new work with your nearly-new mechanicals.

      This next point is very important to understand. Most current glider kit buyers are owner operators. These guys are very similar in nature to cowboys in that they like solitude and are fiercely independent. These owner operators are not intentially trying to stick a thumb in the eye of “The Man” or flipping the bird to the EPA & Green Peace by running older engines. Most owner operators would still rather buy totally brand-new trucks with Tier-4 engines…but they don’t feel that they can. Even worse, they did buy brand-new trucks and wound up gettling burned badly by the operational realities of Tier-4 enngines. Why? Talk to truck drivers and find out. Most have personal horror stories of either themselves or friends who have been ham strung by what new Tier-4 engines are costing them in reliability and fuel economy.

      Truck drivers left the Golden Age of truck engines about 10-15 years ago and entered into the Malaise-era for trucks. Engines from that Golden Age period were incredibly powerful, efficient, and clean. Yes, clean. (If you look historically where diesel engines have come from, the NOx and particulates are way, way down in Tier-3 engines.) Fuel economy for heavy-duty trucks from the Golden Age was often in the 6.0-7.5 mpg range! That is amazing! On top of it all, these Tier-3 diesels were incredibly reliable. This is why I said it was the Golden Age. There was no down-side…until Tier-4 standards arrived.

      Tier-4 diesels came along in a bit of a perfect storm scenario which I will co-opt the term and call it the truck Malaise-era. Tier-4 engines were a theoretically and labritorially efficient engine. You can eat off the inside of exhaust stacks they are so clean. But, several things came into play with the new Tier-4 engines.
      1) DEF – The new engines required DEF (Diesel Exhaust Fluid) to operate.
      DEF is a urea-based additive injected into the exhaust system post-turbo to clean up the exhaust. DEF is often seen as an operational hassle and an added cost to operate.
      (All things considered, DEF isn’t that bad to deal with, but it was new and coincided with points 2, 3, and 4. These major problems came at the same time so that DEF was a bit of a poster child for what went wrong.)
      2) Horrible Fuel Economy – The reality was a new Tier-4 engine burned fuel at a rate of 4.5 mpg. That is a number I commonly heard. So, a lot more fuel is now burned per mile = increased costs.
      3) Fuel Prices – You are trying to make ends meet with an inefficient engine while the price of diesel fuel crested $4/gallon.
      4) Malaise-era Engine Codes – Heavy trucks and their operators suffered a rash of debilitating malfunctions of their engines. Certain brands of engines were worse than others. If you got lucky and equipped your truck with a Detroit Diesel, you only had points 1-3 from above to worry about. If you ran an International engine, you likely had point #4 on the list that was driving you to some sort of substance abuse.
      5) Cost – Tier-4 engines cost more to purchase…a lot more. Thousands more.

      In hindsight, what appears to be the canary in the coalmine, Caterpillar chose to quit while they were ahead and pulled out of the on-highway engine market in 2008 before Tier-4 came into effect. Wisdom or dumb luck? Nobody knows.

      Truck drivers already were feeling pressure from all sides in relation to fixed operating costs. Enter the Great Recession. Now truck drivers are suffering from a lack of loads in a down economy when it costs them more per mile than ever before. Higher operatings costs spread over fewer miles traveled equals an increased break-even point. The saying goes: “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” I think it applies here.

      Meanwhile, Malaise-era drivers had the Golden Age of truck engines fresh in their recent memory. It was like comfort food, nostalgia, and a mother’s hug all rolled up into one. So, some owner operators intentionally sought out clean trucks from 10-15 years ago and chose to run them instead of buying brand-new trucks. Some drivers punched the calculator buttons and decided to buy lousy-looking trucks that still carried these wonderfully reliable, efficient, and powerful engines that they loved.

      Enter the oft-forgotten niche product of the glider kit. It scratches the Tier-4 itch.

      • 0 avatar
        Whittaker

        Excellent post.
        Bonus points for no politics.

      • 0 avatar
        Darkdowgow

        I learned more from this post than the main article

      • 0 avatar
        carguy67

        Great post. Only one of my questions not answered: Where did the term ‘gliders’ come from?

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        International is not a good example. they hung on far too long trying to make their engines compliant w/o SCR, and then had to implement it at the last minute.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        Thanks for the very informative reply. I did do some digging and the systems for emission control from the 2000s seemed to be fraught with problems, especially the pre-DEF systems. Malaise era trucks sounds about right; these issues mirror the growing pains emission systems had with cars in the 1970s. The corner seems to have been turned though as the newest systems appear to be a vast improvement over the old ones. There seems to be a lot of reasons why the first systems were so problematic but a lot of it seems to have been caused by the same reasons car makers had such problems. But I have to say – the dirty plumes of diesel exhaust are not that common anymore. None of this comes free of course, but there must be a lot of medical costs offset by the overall improvement in air quality.

      • 0 avatar
        Malforus

        The upwards mobility part though was a Rent-To-Own Scam:
        https://www.usatoday.com/pages/interactives/news/rigged-forced-into-debt-worked-past-exhaustion-left-with-nothing/

        Glider kits wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for the bigger issue of particulate problems on the drivetrains put in them.
        Yes the kits can make a drivetrain perform better when transplanted but a smoker is still a smoker and the science shows that especially for short-haul port traffic (99% of glider truck use under the law) those additional particulates have a measurable effect on the regional populace in less than a generation.

        Look I get that it has potential, and gliders as a concept aren’t the problem, the problem is how dirty you can make a glider because of the loop-holes associated.

      • 0 avatar
        Flipper35

        One point to add. With the new engines getting worse fuel economy that means that while some emissions are down, others are up because you are burning more fuel.

      • 0 avatar

        This was an excellent comment, EquipmentJunkie. Thank you for putting in the time to type it all out.

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    TTAC comment threads are getting more trollish these days. I used to come here for nuanced and intelligent discussion about personal vehicles. Most of those commenters are long gone. It is feeling ever more like visiting Fox news and reading commentaries that have intellectual level equivalent to Yahoo News commentors. There are less paragraphs, and more and more presumptive unsubstantiated one liners.
    I am cringing every time there is a topic that hints at politics, because that is when commenters here fall into the ideological and propaganda food fight that our politics has become.
    All that said, the spirit of coal rolling is subliminally present on this commentary thread.

    • 0 avatar
      spookiness

      @ttacgreg. You’re not wrong. Also not that coal rolling rhymes with trolling.

    • 0 avatar
      EquipmentJunkie

      I won’t disagree with you. I left another auto blog a couple years ago since the articles were becoming intentionally troll-inducing with the political content.

    • 0 avatar
      TW5

      @ ttacgreg

      Numerous people have explained this isn’t about politics. Not just this article but many others as well. Outlawing gliders is not a political topic. It’s the EPA using its authority to force truckers to do business with the powertrain manufacturers. The end result will likely be fewer powertain upgrades and more pollutants since people will not benefit from upgraded gliders.

      Obviously, this is an abuse of power that would have gotten someone blindfolded and shot decades ago, but if you call your treachery politics, people have to respect your “difference of opinion”.

      Gliders are not political. Our trade deficit and the international crimes committed to perpetuate our deficit are not political. Framing a presidential candidate for colluding with a foreign country is not political. The sooner people stop referring to them as politics, the sooner they will be fixed.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        TW5 – except the problems you outlined often have political fixes. Skipping the “framing of the president”-really? and sticking to trucks, a problem is identified – Diesel emissions. The fix is to create a standard and have the industry use whatever method they determine to address the goal. The standards themselves are technology agnostic. The EPA can’t tell you to use method “X”, they can only say meet the target. But setting that target is done politically. No way around it.

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    Amen, brother. I have to weigh how much of my time I want to waste debating these trolls who measure their masculinity by how much waste they can create and spread around. I like cars and I like clean air. Make me choose just one, and I won’t choose the cars, much less dirty trucks using vintage engines.

  • avatar
    Garak

    I had no clue this kind of industry even existed. Pretty bizarre stuff, building “new” vehicles from scrapyard parts.

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    Fun facts:

    1. These glider-kit trucks (new chassis fitted with old engines built before new technologies significantly reduced emissions of particulates and nitrogen oxide) produce as much as 55 times the air pollution as trucks that have modern emissions controls.

    2. Particulate and NOx pollution is blamed for asthma, lung cancer and other ailments.

    3. One year’s worth of pre-limit glider kit truck sales was estimated to release 13 times as much nitrogen oxide as all of the Volkswagen diesel cars with fraudulent emissions controls, a scheme that resulted in a criminal case against the company and more than $4 billion in fines.

  • avatar
    Garrett

    At some point, these trucks, with engines that are perfectly legal, will end up with new motors – after the old ones wear out.

    At that point, technology will be ever better.

    I have no issue with engines being allowed to be used for the entirety of their useful lifespan.

    What I do have issue with is altogether something different with regards to trucks: crappy retreads.

    I’m so sick of dodging blown tires on the freeway, or worse, having pieces of tire smack my car when one of them blows.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      I think retreads for trucks has been banned in Australia. I haven’t seen a thrown retread for years.

      I’ll check that one out.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      Garrett,
      I did a quick search on truck tyre retreading, interesting.

      Australia/EU (probably all UNECE signatories); Truck tyres (all tyres) that are retreaded must meet EC102(?). This means they require the same standard as new tyres.

      US; Truck retreads must have manufacturers details in the tyre, no standards. Trucks can’t use retreads on the steering axle(s). Big difference.

      The NHTSA is counting carcasses to assess standards in the US.

  • avatar
    Mike_H

    Gliders? You mean 5-year-old Harley Davidson motorcycles with S&S engines? Or maybe 50 year old piston-engined aircraft that can get rebuilt or new engines w/o any envrio controls? Or maybe the diesel engined light aircraft that require no DEF or other envrio controls?

    If the gummint is going after truckers, then it should go after EVERYONE who puts a different engine in a vehicle.

  • avatar
    Manic

    300 dirty engines per year per co. does not seem like a lot. Then again, these could be melted for something new or not produced and air would be cleaner.
    Can’t this tiny industry build kits which would allow more flexibility with modern engine/tractor combos? Second hand Tier-4 engines to new chassis or something so at least some people could keep their jobs.

  • avatar
    CarPerson

    The glider sales dynamic has changed.

    Before, if you crashed your newer rig and repairs exceeded the value, a glider could be built off your original build sheet matching all your heavy components. You got a fully built-out cab, hood, frame, front suspension, and front axle. Your wrecked doner supplied the powertrain including the rear axle and suspension. Rebuild labor was minimized and you were back on the road weeks sooner at lower cost.

    Today it seems glider-built trucks feature much older salvage engines and drivetrains as the big selling point. Limit salvage engines to three years old and newer and the glider market is right side up again. If it is your crashed truck being kitted, make it five years.

    CarPerson

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