Rash of parts thefts is leaving Freightliner trucks inoperable

Semiconductor shortage blamed for rash of rip-offs that leaves trucks for dead

A rash of thefts of semiconductor-loaded powertrain control modules from parked Freightliner and Western Star trucks is turning the tractors into oversize paperweights. Daimler Truck North America is going after the bad guys but has few leads.

The rip-offs of common powertrain control module 4 units relate to the ongoing shortage of microchips. Harvesting and reprogramming the modules allow them to work in other trucks, Daimler said.

“The theft of CPC modules is a crime that threatens the livelihood of customers and disrupts our dealers’ operations,” Paul Romanaggi, DTNA chief customer experience officer, said in a press release Monday.

A shortage of semiconductors is one of the major shortfalls limiting new truck production. It is a big reason why low-mileage used trucks have practically doubled in price over the past year. Fleets are holding on to their trucks beyond the typical trade-in cycle, reducing the availability of desirable used equipment.

Other truck manufacturers did not immediately respond to a FreightWaves query about possible similar thefts.

Chip thefts

In one theft in April, thieves stole modules from 24 trucks awaiting sale at an auction yard in Pennsylvania, Daimler said. A large number of other thefts have occurred at dealerships and customer terminals. Daimler said it is aware of about 175 thefts to date.

The list price for a CPC4l is about $1,400. Like the thefts of air bags and catalysts more common to passenger vehicles, the used CPCs can attract a lot more on the black market.

Experienced thieves can steal the module quickly, assuming they have access to the truck. And Daimler knows of smash-and-grab thefts that damage wire harnesses, dashes and windows.  

Vehicles cannot operate without a powertrain control module, which controls various engine and powertrain functions. Daimler would not disclose the number of programmable chips in a module. A Class 8 truck has about 17 chip sets controlling everything from power windows to safety systems. 

The chip shortage has led to red-tagging of trucks, built to near completion and parked while awaiting necessary semiconductors. Manufacturers shift chips around in production to finish as many trucks as they can for delivery to customers.

Going after bad guys committing the thefts

DTNA is undertaking anti-theft measures to prevent the problem from growing further by:

  • Asking customers and dealers to report stolen CPCs to both local law enforcement and DTNA at 1-800-FTL-HELP. 
  • Recommending all dealerships, customers and repair facilities cross reference vehicle identification numbers (VINs) from CPCs brought in for installation against the company’s database of CPCs to spot stolen or illicitly sold units.
  • Providing tracking capability through DTNA Service Systems to detect any stolen CPC that someone is attempting to install on a different VIN.
  • Recommending all fleets and customers password-protect their CPCs.

DTNA is working with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute CPC theft. The company will consider civil actions for software infringement against those involved in CPC theft and mismanagement.

“Daimler Truck North America is committed to doing everything in its power to protect our customers and dealers from this crime, and will support prosecution of anyone found participating in these thefts,” Romanaggi said.