Postal trucks, those boxy, little right-hand drive workhorses known far and wide in America, are bursting into flames at a rate of one every five days for the last six years, and no one knows why but it probably has something to do with how old the vehicles are.
A new report from Motherboard found that since May 2014, at least 407 Long Life Vehicles, or LLVs, have been ending their long lives in flames on America’s roadways. From the report:
In 125 cases, the trucks were so thoroughly destroyed that the investigators were unable to identify a probable fire cause. Of the remaining 282 fires where investigators could identify a likely cause, the only pattern was that there was no pattern.
The fires occurred in hot and cold climates, at the beginning and ends of shifts, in the battery compartments, dashboards, and fuel pumps, and in vehicles that had both been recently maintained and were overdue for a check-up. They occurred on rural routes and city streets all over the country.
Although one engineering report found occasional lax maintenance practices that may have resulted in an increase in the number of fires, the most likely explanation for the fires is that the trucks are simply too old and are deteriorating on the road.
A quick search shows multiple videos and news reports of LLVs suddenly bursting into flames, like this one the mail carrier luckily escape from in Chantilly, Virginia in December 2019:
Or this fire in Poolesville, Maryland, from 2018 which came with a bonus explosion:
It seems there is no rhyme or reason to the fires, but the most likely culprit is simply age, Motherboard reports:
The LLVs were purchased between 1987 and 1994 and manufactured by Northrop Grumman to last for approximately 24 years on average, according to a 2015 USPS presentation. That means the LLVs still in service range from 26 to 33 years old, well past their useful lives. As of 2014, about 142,000 LLVs were still in service. Asked for an updated figure, Frum said “there are more than 141,000 right hand drive (RHD) LLVs in our fleet.”
Naturally, the collapse of these vehicles perfectly coincides with a tremendous budget crunch at the U.S. Postal Service. We previously reported the huge hit the USPS has taken due to short-sighted federal funding demands as well as a loss of revenue due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
There was a plan in place to replace the LLVs starting in 2018, but it’s now 2020 and the Postal Service still hasn’t settled on what vehicle will replace the old trucks. The decision should come down by the end of the year. Hopefully the new fleet will arrive before the rest go up in smoke.