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Broken mail trucks cost the Postal Service millions

By Ed O'Keefe

If you haven't seen it, click above to watch The Federal Eye drive a Postal Service truck.

Eye Opener

Updated 9:36 a.m. ET
The wheels are literally falling off at the Postal Service and it's getting more expensive to fix them, according to a new report by the agency's auditors.

Most of the Postal Service's iconic right-hand drive delivery trucks (known as long-life vehicles or LLVs) are nearing the end of a 24-year life cycle. The Postal Service estimates it would cost about $4.2 billion -- or $30,000 per truck -- to replace the fleet. The big price tag and plummeting revenues forced the mail agency to delay purchasing new vehicles until 2018.

An audit report released Wednesday (see below) found that it cost about $524 million to fix LLVs in fiscal year 2009. Some trucks required $43,000 in maintenance even though Postal Service policy says individual repairs should cost about $3,500. Another 19,000 trucks each required an average of $5,600 in repairs, the report said. At that rate, repairs in the next eight years will cost $342 million more than it would to buy new trucks, auditors said.

Investigators did however credit the mail agency's preventive maintenance program for repairing broken vehicles instead of replacing them, arguing the strategy is robust and cost effective.

Postal officials said they plan to start replacing broken trucks more frequently during the next fiscal year and will remind maintenance staff and district managers to keep costs under control.

Considering the big costs of replacing the unique fleet, should the Postal Service trade in for a new type of truck? Or is the longevity and reliability of the current fleet worth keeping?

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

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Audit of Postal Service Mail Trucks

By Ed O'Keefe  | June 17, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener  
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How does a sheet metal vehicle, with poor heat, no air conditioning, no rear loading shelves, and no extras other than windshield wipers, cost $30 thousand dollars? How can they NOT get a bulk discount? What are they, the military, where everything is a ripoff?
The purchasing process for these vehicles should bear watching!

Posted by: mn4470 | June 17, 2010 8:30 AM | Report abuse

You can give thanks to the USPS Unions and Gov't inefficiency!

Posted by: Jimbo77 | June 17, 2010 8:34 AM | Report abuse

They should bring back the old Jeep mail trucks!

Posted by: matt_s | June 17, 2010 9:08 AM | Report abuse

It's pretty easy to imagine them costing 30K each actually. They're custom machines basically, doubt there's a factory producing a bunch of them continuously. It's not like the USPS just strolls into a dealership and says "give me a hundred grand of these." Plus they probably have to meet USPS specific requirements, so there's probably an extra layer of testing.

Posted by: koalatek | June 17, 2010 9:32 AM | Report abuse

Why aren't they getting free trucks from Government Motors?

Posted by: seraphina21 | June 17, 2010 9:35 AM | Report abuse

Kill 3 birds with 1 stone: Buy the Saturn Factory to build & re-build the Postal fleet.

Posted by: gtmoore1 | June 17, 2010 10:21 AM | Report abuse

Having purchased and operated a large truck fleet interstate for over 20 years plus a heavy truck maintenance depot I very carefully observed the cost/benefit relationship between the purchase cycle and maintenance/upgrades.

My conclusion after 20 years was irrefutable - minimize the maintenance costs which become deadly after 3 years by replacing 1/3 of the fleet each year with new vehicles and wholesale off the oldest ones. Attempting to maintain vehicles over a 24 year life cycle is absurdly ridiculous and cannot work.

Howard Grad
Mclean, VA

Posted by: howardgrad | June 17, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse

This is what you get when you custom build to unattainable specifications. Suitable mass-produced RHD delivery vehicles are commonly available, at volume prices, and with a steady supply of mass-produced spare parts.

Example: the Canadian Postal Service has signed a multi-year contract to buy Ford Transit Connect delivery vehicles.

Posted by: realworld51 | June 17, 2010 12:15 PM | Report abuse

"You can give thanks to the USPS Unions"

Please explain how USPS management's vehicle purchasing decisions are the fault of a union? I would really like to hear what twisted logic caused you to arrive at your assertion.

Posted by: RCinOK | June 17, 2010 2:26 PM | Report abuse

Many times employees do not care how they treat company owned vehicles. Curbs, pot holes, etc. are just as easy to drive over or through rather than around to many.

Posted by: gmclain | June 17, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

The USPS can't even repair the simple equipment. At least nine months ago the key broke off in the large package locker at our development - making it useless. There were only two. So now we have only one.

The problem has been reported and reported to no avail. The excuse we get is that there is only one repair person for all of Northern Virgina. Only One!?

Indian Lake Estate - Winchester, VA 22603

Posted by: mtndance | June 17, 2010 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Whether they replace or repair it should happen double time.

You're talking about jobs to repair vehicles or jobs to build new ones.

Either way, it's more jobs when we are 30 million jobs short.


Posted by: bkru | June 17, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

As a letter carrier of 25 years, I can say that during that time, the USPS has only offered two things which have actually improved the productivity of the letter carrier in any measure. Delivery Point Sequence Mail and the Long Life Vehicle.
While this vehicle may be deficient in some the was designed with carrier input and it utterly changed the way I did my work.'s right hand drive for curbside delivery. Second....the interior is specifically designed to allow me to work mail as efficiently as possible on the street. Third.....the step is at curb level to reduce leg and hip repetitive injuries for those entering and exiting hundreds of times per day. Fourth...the doors slide allowing us access to difficult curbside deliveries and allowing us to park directly in front of box units for delivery. The front wheelbase is narrower than the rear, allowing us to turn in a circle on a residential street. All these things combined, have made my job more efficient and safe. I would HATE to see this vehicle replaced with anything else. And the post office should remember the cost savings generated by this vehicle that would be lost should they replace it with anything less.

Posted by: Lythande | June 17, 2010 6:48 PM | Report abuse

I am also a letter carrier. Like Lythande, I would hate to see these vehicles go. The postal service did come out with the new FSS vehicles but these vehicles are not as efficient as the LLVs nor are they available for every route. I would like to see new LLVs being built. The only improvement would be adding some more ventilation to move more air around. In the summer months, the inside of the LLVs is more hot than the outside. Air conditioning would be nice.

Posted by: divainMD | June 17, 2010 7:05 PM | Report abuse

The problem is not the vehicles. They were designed by and for the mail carriers who love them.

The problem is their 20th century, petroleum-powered propulsion system. If any vehicle should be electric, the postal vehicles should. The typical route is 20 miles per day with hundreds of stops and starts. This is torture for conventional engines, starters, transmissions and all the other fuel-,oil-, and exhaust-stained parts. But it's perfect for the new, smooth, quiet, efficient, oil-free, battery-electric powertrains that are now coming into production.

My company is building one of five electric powered LLV prototypes for the USPS to be delivered next month. We expect the EV-LLV conversion to cost less to buy than a new gasoline vehicle, cost less per mile to operate, keep all the features the mail carriers love, and add new features they will love even more – regenerative braking, smooth quiet power, no trips to the gas pump, and fewer breakdowns.

The USPS management should love the EV-LLV too. It will put them in the forefront of the move to electric transportation. The move is important and inevitable. Some cars, not all, need to be electric to reduce petroleum consumption. But just as the auto and oil industry learned to work together last century, now we have to integrate the the vehicles and the power grid. With a fleet of thousands of EV LLVs, the USPS will be able to build the experience base and foster the innovation and commercialization so important to United States' energy policy going forward.

Posted by: tgage1 | June 17, 2010 7:22 PM | Report abuse

The LLV electric retro fit program supported by the postal service is a great solution to this issue. It maintains the integrity of the specifically design fleet so appreciated by the postal workers and will significantly reduce the federal governments contribution to air quality issues. Converting the fleet would also provide the struggling postal department with an additional revenue source (instead of the revenue dump they currently maintain) if they use vehicle to grid technology's available with electric drive systems. The revenues generated from the vehicle to grid program could offset the price of the conversions and over time even turn the fleet from an expense into a revenue stream. This is real, currently available technology. No other agency’s fleet could so effectively create jobs, reduce our dependence on foreign oil and revolutionize the way fleet of vehicles are managed in the US. I truly hope the postal service has the vision to see this program through.

Posted by: KelleyG | June 17, 2010 7:26 PM | Report abuse

How does a sheet metal vehicle, with poor heat, no air conditioning, no rear loading shelves, and no extras other than windshield wipers, cost $30 thousand dollars? How can they NOT get a bulk discount? What are they, the military, where everything is a ripoff?
The purchasing process for these vehicles should bear watching!
The Answer to the problem-

1. It is "spec'ed out" by the USPS and requirements include design / development, manufacturing (to spec, which may require specific tooling) and production and testing. These specs include minimum durability of parts, chassis and other items that are specific. One cost concern, for example is HVAC. Heating a vehicle does not necessarily put a strain on the vehicle, but the A/C will. Although A/C may be standard, it is removed (additional cost) and the testing has to be re-done.

2. Overhead and materials- Overhead is levied against each of the vehicles, when the contract starts. This includes facilities rent / buy, storage, material handling, tooling, insurance, etc., gets rolled into overhead.

3. Warranty work- Parts are stored and they cost MONEY.

I can go on, but here is the solution-

1. Go COTS and get something that is already out there.

2. Spec out for "Natural Gas" as a fuel source or bi-fuel it with ethanol or gasoline. (Electric won't work or be effective in cold weather areas.)

3. Do a solid bid evaluation based upon value, not the dollar cost per unit.

Posted by: Computer_Forensics_Expert_Computer_Expert_Witness | June 17, 2010 9:33 PM | Report abuse

Hi Computer Forensics.

I assure you that the LLV's did not come with A/C. We were lucky to get 5 inch fans on the dash.

Here is the problem with purchasing from a source that has not designed the vehicle around the user. We have a fleet of hundreds of thousands. Many carriers are in them continuously for 6-7 hrs per day delivering CURBSIDE or curbside box deliveries. Their vehicles MUST be right hand drive vehicles. The LLV's are. They also have swivel seats that turn to face a work station for sorting mail while on the street, and then they can swivel to face the open door to work mail into a box unit. What off the street vehicle can do that? Let’s say we push the carrier out of the vehicle. That means organizing the mail in the carriers lap and then lugging the mail out of the vehicle... (Its how we used to do it, and it's unbelievably inefficient in comparison)…adding additional time to the carriers stop. When you have 800 stops, adding a single minute to even a portion of them can add up to an additional hour. Multiply that by a few hundred thousand carriers each and every day, and you can easily see how purchasing a vehicle without the carrier in mind will cost the post office far more than the difference between an off the shelf vehicle and a vehicle tailored for them.

Posted by: Lythande | June 18, 2010 12:17 AM | Report abuse

Everyone else is expected to take mass transit? Why isn't that good enough for USPS? Deliver mail by bus.

Posted by: seraphina21 | June 18, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

These vehicles (trash cans on wheels) were built by Grumman Corp. They used a Chevrolet Blazer frame, and threw an aluminum body on it. The problems with the vehicle began immediately. There weren't enough mirrors to see behind the vehicle, there was no insulation to keep the engine heat out in the summer, and window cranks were balky at best. I doubt if carriers ever got a chance to try a few of them in everyday situations before the rest of them were ordered. However, the worst fault is that they were, as a friend of mine says "pigeon-toed" The front and rear wheels have different tracks so the vehicle is awful in show. $30K was way too much for this vehicle, and replacements, no doubt will be worse!

Posted by: TheOldMailman | June 18, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

OOOps, that line should say "snow"

Posted by: TheOldMailman | June 18, 2010 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Or maybe, as Servants of the Empire, they should drive Hummers?

Posted by: seraphina21 | June 18, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

I say go back to the days of the pony express and give every letter carrier a pony.or even a donkey. at least you don't have to put gas in it.and it would be just as reliable

Posted by: stephenct450 | June 18, 2010 10:44 PM | Report abuse

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