For over a decade now, the US and the Canadian government have been working to restrict the use of Glider Kits on the roads. After years of working to implement stricter emissions standards on the trucking industry, they may have successfully led to the demise of the glider kit as an alternative to purchasing unreliable, fuel-guzzling, emission-compliant engines. This has left many truck owners very upset and for good reason. Recent changes to these regulations may open up glider kits as a solution for US drivers but Canadians are still stuck with the “new and improved” trucks.
What is a Glider Kit?
A rolling glider is essentially a brand new truck with everything included except an engine. There’s a new transmission, new axles, new body, new frame, the works. An owner-operator can then purchase a rebuilt (pre-emission testing) engine and drop it into the frame.
The intention of a glider kit is to evade regulations imposed by the Clean Air Act emission standards in the USA or Green House Gas Emissions (GHG) regulations in Canada. One advantage of glider kits is that you can get a like-new truck for sometimes 25% less than a new rig. However, the main motivation for glider kits is that these older engines are typically much more dependable than newer emission-ready versions.
The Rise of Glider Kits
In January of 2007, the EPA set more stringent standards for “heavy duty highway vehicles”. This resulted in many vehicle manufacturers needing to redesign their engines. Unfortunately, these newer vehicles hadn’t “cut their teeth” out on the road and the result was a lot of breakdowns and major malfunctions.
Statistics were released recently, revealing what those in the trucking industry already knew. The 2012 year production, Class 8 trucks, were experiencing an incidence of repair rate of almost 50%, meaning that half of all new trucks built last year had already suffered breakdowns and downtime during the first year of service.
These emission system issues can cost upwards of $20,000 to repair. If it isn’t a major malfunction, then often truckers report these vehicles nickel-and-diming them to death.
Not to mention that these newer vehicles had an added cost of sometimes $13,000 compared to older engine styles. Owner-operators and small fleets could hardly afford to buy new trucks.
The majority of these breakdowns were related in some way to their new emission efficient engines and the surrounding plumbing. This came as no surprise to anyone who has been involved in trucking for any serious length of time.
The average owner-operator, when buying a new truck, cannot afford breakdowns or downtime in the first year of service for a brand new piece of equipment. The financial hit from such a breakdown could be enough to put an owner-operator out of business. The down payment plus the payments on a new truck, AND the downtime involved can easily sink an owner-operator.
It quickly became evident that these new emissions engines were problematic. They were getting lousy fuel mileage and they weren’t reliable. However, they were mandated by the government.
So, truckers found a way around the regulation.
We bought rolling glider kits, basically, a brand new truck with no engine in it then took an older engine and rebuilt it. These older engines were grandfathered in and worked great.
This is not necessarily a cheap solution to the existing problem. The cost of rebuilding an engine alone can run as high as $30,000 and a new glider kit can easily demand a six digit figure. The price of a new glider trucker can be as much or more than a new truck, but at least you have a reliable truck that ought to last for many years.
Are Glider Kits Legal?
It wasn’t too long before the EPA began to notice the uprise of glider kits. They realized they had created a loophole in their regulation and they decided they better plug it up. Luckily for us, the government moves slowly, so we had some time on our hands.
In the meantime, companies like Fitzgerald Glider Kit and others became huge by mass producing these glider kits for the market for guys that needed reliable truck engines. These glider kits became a huge boost to our industry. We were able to continue getting decent fuel mileage and have reliable equipment. It was a real boom to us, especially for the owner-operators and small fleets. The trucks produced by Fitzgerald and other glider companies were producing better, more reliable trucks than the factories were.
But with everything; all good things come to an end.
The EPA finally managed to figure out how to clamp down on the glider industry. Their argument was that glider kit trucks were still creating too much pollution. The EPA, after all, is not concerned about the operational cost of equipment or whether their mandate works in the real world or not. The EPA is only concerned with emissions. So, they found a way to satisfy their mandate by essentially making the sale of glider kits illegal.
Related > Complete Owner Operator Guide
The Death of Glider Kits
So, now we’re back to trucks in 2018 with factory engines that meet 2018 regs. They will have the same problems as we’ve seen previously; bad fuel mileage and all sorts of breakdowns. So in their wisdom, the NHTSA in combination with the EPA has issued what they referred to as GHG, greenhouse gases, phase two. And they’ll begin that mandate in 2018.
That mandate plans to eliminate large glider kit factories like Fitzgerald that put older emissions-free engines in new glider kits. The mandates original intention was to allow small business owners to continue to use glider kits but not on a mass production level.
The plan was that after 2021, the grandfathering clause, if you will, will be eliminated altogether and glider kits would be no more.
At least, that was the plan.
Recent legislative action taken by the EPA loosens the grip on the glider kit industry. Essentially, they are no longer classified as “new vehicles” and the annual cap of 300 has been removed.
Does this mean that gliders will continue to be used? There’s a great deal of opposition to this change and it is likely that it will be short-lived but we’ll see.
Glider Kit Restrictions & Regulations
Fitzgerald Glider Kits played a major role in influencing the change to the EPA’s mandate. Sponsored studies showed that the emissions from glider kits may be much lower than previously thought. This study made a major impact on the EPA’s decision to repeal the rule.
While many support the removal of the regulation, there is still a lot of opposition even within the trucking industry. While glider kits may be saved in the US temporarily, it doesn’t mean they’re in the clear.
As part of the Heavy-duty Vehicle and Engine Greenhouse Gas Emission Regulations, glider kits are allowed in Canada so long as they meet several conditions.
- • The engine has not reached the end of its useful life since it was manufactured;
- • The engine has accumulated less than 100,000 miles;
- The engine is at least as recent as the 2010 model year and less than three years have passed since the engine’s original date of manufacture.
Glider kits are not certifiable according to the GHG regulations or Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards so they are not recommended as an option for Canadian drivers. Glider Kits MAY be a solution to American truckers, but not to Canadian truckers.
Glider Kits are Not a Solution for Canadian Truckers
In the U.S., if you wish to survive in this economy as a small business in trucking, glider kits may very well be the way to go.
In Canada, however, in a nation where it’s politicians care nothing for the small trucking business owner, the government has once again devised a system designed to defect small business.
The Canadian E.P.A. declares that emission regulations and requirements for Class 8 trucks here are based on the year of the body of the truck.
So if you have a 2013 glider kit, the engine under the hood must meet emission requirements for a 2013 engine, not emission requirements for the year of the engine’s manufacture. If the old engine can’t meet the new emissions standards, you can’t license the vehicle.
In Canada, a new glider kit with a reliable pre-emission engine is not an option to get around buying a new truck.
If you’re Canadian, be sure to thank your local MP or MPP for putting another nail in the coffin of small trucking business in Canada.
No wonder more and more Canadian owner-operators are packing it in and getting out of trucking.
The Future of Emission Engines & Glider Kits
Where does that leave us?
All we can do now at this point is hope that the engineers get a whole lot better at making these emissions-friendly engines than they are now. Maybe they’ll be able to get these bugs out and make these engines operate more freely. I look forward to an emissions-friendly vehicle that can breathe; that won’t break down; that won’t plug up with the emissions controls and that has decent fuel mileage.
The technology is going to have to catch up to the mandate so we can afford to keep operating. Trucking is an integral aspect of the economy. With poor pay and higher costs to get involved, it’s no wonder there are so many truck seats that need to be filled. If we can’t afford to keep operating, then why continue working?
The government and the truck manufacturers are going to have to get a whole lot better with these emission-friendly engines than they are now. They’ve got a long way to go. That’s how I see it from the driver’s seat anyway.