Waste and recycling vehicles represent a large portion of the diesel industry—and a critical underpinning of society. Keeping an eye on trends and challenges faced by the people who keep heavy-duty trucks running can help the waste and recycling field stay ahead of the changes and challenges to come.

The waste and recycling industry has seen a great deal of change and modernization over the years, including—in some states—a shift towards natural gas fuel. However, the majority of the industry’s vehicles still run on diesel—which means the things that impact the heavy-duty diesel field will also impact the waste and recycling industry.

But what is going on in the heavy-duty diesel industry? Each year, repair shop management software Fullbay sets out to answer that question in its State of Heavy-Duty Repair report. The most recent edition—2023 to 2024—was compiled after surveying over 1,000 diesel professionals and examining data from more than 500 diesel repair shops.

The report provides a comprehensive look at the diesel field at this particular moment in time and covers everything from repair trends to technician pay and shop demographics. We have selected five trends we think will be particularly relevant to the waste and recycling field.

 

Image courtesy of Fullbay.

 

#1: The Heavy-Duty Repair Industry Skews Older
Heavy-duty repair is facing a brain drain: older technicians are retiring at a greater rate than younger technicians are entering the industry. This has been attributed to a general, decades-long societal emphasis on the four-year university track, which has had a negative impact on many trades. If this trend continues, getting vehicles in and out of repair facilities in a timely manner will become more difficult, as shops, both internal and external, simply will not have the manpower to get repairs done quickly.

Certain trades have seen something of an uptick in interest as students and parents steer away from taking on increasingly heavy debt. In addition, changes in white-collar jobs (including more automation) may lead to a resurgence in student interest in the trades. However, right now, only 22 percent of diesel technicians are between 18 and 30. Even if more young people do get into diesel, repair shops are now watching older technicians retire without passing their knowledge on to the younger generation.

Repair shops are trying to get ahead of the brain drain by preparing what younger techs they can find—34 percent have an apprenticeship program of some sort, and 14 percent want to start one.

#2: Mobile Repair Techs are on the Rise
In an ideal world, trucks never break down. Alas, we do not live in an ideal world; even a perfectly maintained vehicle may need roadside rescue. Eighty-two percent of respondents offered some form of mobile repair, whether as an independent entity or a mobile arm of an existing brick-and-mortar shop.

Understandably, the labor rate for mobile repair work from external shops tends to be higher than in-shop work—after all, mobile techs are coming to stranded drivers. The median labor rate for a repair truck is $142; compare that to the $125 median labor rate for all techs. Mobile repair techs may charge per hour or per trip and may also charge per mile or a port-to-port fee.

#3: Warranty Work Remains a Challenge
Fifty-three percent of shops surveyed are unable to do warranty work, either due to dealership restrictions or lack of equipment or training to complete certain aspects. That is a troubling number; locking over half the repair shops in the country out of such work hurts everyone—independent shops that lose the work, approved shops and dealerships that end up bogged down in it, and customers who face lengthy downtime.

#4: Electric Vehicles will be a Challenge
A complete, nationwide switch to electric vehicles is years or decades away, but it is an eventuality shops will need to face. For now, 90 percent of shop technicians are not trained to repair electric vehicles, and only 15 percent of shops have a plan in place to get those techs trained when the time comes.

This may not register as a current problem for most waste collection companies, as the majority of their vehicles still run on diesel or natural gas. However, if they begin shifting to electric vehicles and the majority of technicians are still not equipped to work on them, we may see extended periods of downtime.

#5: Repairs May Not Start Immediately
Just because you have dropped a truck off at the shop does not mean they are instantly moving on it. Shops report an overall average of 2.4 days before beginning on a repair, though there were regional differences to note—shops in the Southwest, for example, got started about 1.8 days after receiving a vehicle.
While some delays in work may be chalked up to scheduling difficulties or emergencies, those are not always the case. Shops may also need to wait on parts or authorizations from owners or fleet managers. Regardless of the reason, though, it is a good reminder to factor this into a truck’s planned downtime.

Moving Forward with the Diesel Industry
Waste and recycling vehicles represent a large portion of the diesel industry—and a critical underpinning of society. These vehicles and their drivers are why we have clean city streets; without them, trash would simply pile up and lead to both navigational and health hazards. Looking after these vehicles is paramount to maintaining a clean, safe society. That is why keeping an eye on trends and challenges faced by the people who keep heavy-duty trucks running can help the waste and recycling field stay ahead of the changes and challenges to come. | WA

Fullbay develops repair shop management software for the heavy-duty world. From increasing technician productivity to streamlining invoicing and managing the parts room, Fullbay focuses on making repair shops more efficient—and, therefore, able to generate safer and more effective repairs. To read the entire entire State of Heavy-Duty Repair report, available for free through Fullbay, visit https://heavydutyreport.com.

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