Postal Pintos - The Inflammable LLV Problem

Excerpted from the February 4, 2019 Issue of Mailers Hub News

It’s common knowledge in the postal community that the Postal Service’s fleet of about 140,000 “long-life vehicles” has more than outlived its name. Originally meant to last 24 years (but later extended to 30 years), the ubiquitous LLV is used by city and rural carriers nationwide. Out of production since 1994, the oldest trucks in the fleet are now 31 years old, but the anticipated replacement vehicles, expected to cost about $6 billion in all, have yet to be chosen.

Keeping them going

Meanwhile, the cost of maintaining the aging LLVs is rising; new engines and transmissions to replace decades-old parts are neither inexpensive nor readily available. Moreover, according to a 2015 report by the USPS Office of Inspector General, required inspections aren’t always happening, whether because the trucks’ workdays are getting longer, replacement vehicles aren’t available, or other maintenance takes more time as the trucks get older.

However, another, more serious problem seems to be winnowing the LLV fleet all by itself: truck fires, that usually result in near-total destruction of the truck’s all-aluminum body (and what was in it). About 125 such fires have been reported over the past five years, and at least six have occurred so far in 2019, according to Postal Times. Fortunately, none have resulted in loss of life.

Typically, carriers will hear a “pop,” or notice smoke coming into the truck cab, that quickly builds in volume and is followed by flames. Some carriers have tried – from a sense of duty but against official advice – to quickly remove the mail in the truck but often the fire advances even faster.

Media reports illustrate this situation, showing trucks burning vigorously or melted from the heat. One of the more complete videos was in a January 25 report by Kansas City (MO) station KSHB

In it, an LLV can be seen trying to climb up a snowy street when there’s a “pop” and flash, followed by the truck bursting into flame and rolling backward into a neighborhood yard. (The driver readily identified the danger and fled the truck.) When firefighters arrived there was nothing they could do except keep the fire from impacting nearby buildings; the truck was a loss. The local post office contacted other customers farther along the route to give them the bad news about their mail.

Looking for a cause

The USPS has been aware of the problem for some time. For example, an engineering firm hired by the agency in January 2014 to investigate the LLV fires determined that, “while the cause of all fires cannot be determined with certainty, the investigations have indicated conclusively some areas that need attention.” Continuing, the engineering firm’s report indicated the fires “occurred primarily due to electrical system issues or fuel and oil/hydraulic system leaks.” An April 2015 memo to vehicle maintenance managers conveyed the report’s findings and directed the managers to ensure that suspect systems are inspected thoroughly and repaired or replaced immediately as needed.

An August 2016 memo to field fleet managers repeated the warnings, listing ten specific items to check, including fuel lines, fuel system components, wiring harnesses, battery cables, and the “dimming dash lights” function.

The USPS also has noted that LLV drivers have sometimes contributed to the problem by such unsafe practices as using the cigarette lighter to charge a phone, tapping into the cigarette lighter to wire in fans, etc., or placing beverages where they can leak onto electrical wiring.

A November 2018 report in reiterated that the USPS has issued alerts about “failed fuel system components,” oil leaks that were not addressed during safety inspections, or possible incorrect installation of aftermarket fuel lines as possible hazards that needed scrutiny.

More fundamentally, and aside from the effects of wear and tear, design flaws have been suspected, including the exposure of the fuse box to moisture from liquids above it in the cab, whether spilt beverages or simply condensation.


The city carriers union has been monitoring the situation, advising members about what to do in the event of a truck fire, and urging them to conduct daily inspections carefully.

As for replacing the LLV, the Postal Service has purchased several thousand ProMaster “extended capacity delivery vehicles” to replace LLVs and minivans on park-and-loop routes, but the “next generation delivery vehicles” that will be the true replacement for the majority of the current LLV fleet are still being tested. Selecting the final supplier is expected this year, but it would be another twelve to eighteen more months before the first of the new trucks is delivered.

Until then, the problem – and danger – remains. Although the number of trucks lost to fires may be comparatively small, having to work in a vehicle with a well-publicized record of conflagration likely is a real reason for concern for those who spend their workdays driving them.


Excerpted from the Feb. 4, 2019 edition of the Mailers Hub NewsFor the full issue, please check your inbox, or log into your Mailers Hub account and visit the Mailers Hub News archives. 

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