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Burning Vans

Postby luckham » Tue Sep 01, 2015 10:15 pm

I though this was worth sharing first time I heard about this there are several articles out there.
http://nsbnews.net/content/408796-mail-truck-catches-fire-edgewater-mailman-treated-scene
burning vansm.jpg
burning vansm.jpg (10.75 KiB) Viewed 7750 times


http://postalnews.com/blog/2015/04/22/utah-another-llv-goes-up-in-flames/

0606_MET_mailfire2_t770 SM.jpg
0606_MET_mailfire2_t770 SM.jpg (13.05 KiB) Viewed 7749 times
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Re: Burning Vans

Postby shortysclimbin » Fri Sep 11, 2015 8:49 am

Wow talk about crispy! I am wondering.. oil leak, or maybe something like running without coolant? There isn't a lot that can burn in there stock, unless well they haven't maintained them and have oil all over the place. Although after seeing this I think I might order a fire extinguisher for the just in case situation. we don't want to loose a Kubvan!
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Re: Burning Vans

Postby fullergarrett1 » Tue Jun 13, 2017 8:27 pm

My name is Garrett Fuller (I'm new here) and I've researched the LLV fires. I thought I'd add my 2 cents here, as well explain what I've found. Perhaps the things I've found can save a Kubvan or Kurbwatt from going up in flames...

First, for those who don't know: the Grumman Long Life Vehicle (LLV) was produced from April 1987 to 1994. They're based on the Chevy S-10 Blazer chassis and use the GM Iron Duke engine. Over 140,000 were made in total for the United States Postal Service, but they were also sold to Canada Post (the Canadian postal service) and other government agencies. Individuals, such as rural carriers (who typically provide their own vehicle) and independent companies, could also purchase a commercial version of the LLV.

Most LLV's have been used non-stop by the postal service since they were built. Many letter carriers either don't take care of their LLV, or don't know how. In any case, the USPS doesn't do a very good job of maintaining their fleet. I heard at our local PO that the LLV's are serviced maybe once a year. This can result in conditions that can result in a fire... which you wouldn't find on a properly maintained vehicle. (Any motor vehicle, of course, has the capability to spontaneously combust.)

Of the Postal Magazine, several possible culprits of these fires have been identified. I also discuss this in the LLV section on my personal website.
    Fuel delivery system. Since the newest LLV is still 23 years old, the rubber hoses delivering flammable fuel to the engine can crack and leak over time. This can leak fuel on to hot engine components (like the manifold), leading to a fire.
    Other flammable fluids. Very similar to in the fuel delivery system, other hoses can leak. One that has been pointed out multiple times is the windshield washer fluid hose. It runs right above the fuse block. This hose will leak flammable windshield washer fluid (contains alcohol) right onto the electrical contacts of the fuse block. If this doesn't instantly combust, it will result in corrosion that will create resistance and thus heat. Which leads me to the next cause...
    Electrical System malfunctions Some claim that the LLV leaks water and other fluids right on to the fuse block. In any case, some fuse blocks are corroded. This doesn't only result in an intermittent connection, but can also result in a connection that creates increased resistance. This leads to a build up of heat that can melt the plastic fuse block, or just completely catch fire. (One carrier said that the moisture around the heated fuse block would create "steam" along with a burning plastic/burning electrical smell. Outside of moisture/corrosion damage, the USPS has added too many accessories over the years that stress the LLV's electrical system. While some have argued that Grumman originally used too small of wiring gauge in the LLV (and that is causing the fires), I have to argue that the USPS has been adding too many bells and whistles. Those add up in current, which the LLV wasn't originally built (or specified to be built to) to withstand on a continuous base. (Think of trying to run a hotplate off an extension cord continuously. While you can for a little while, over time the wire will melt and sooner or later catch fire or short out.)
    Steering Wheel Dust/Paper Fiber Buildup. I've also heard that a buildup of paper fiber or dust can form around the bottom of the steering column around the park/reverse switch. A simple tiny electrical arc (normal with switch operation) can ignite this flammable particle buildup.

Wow talk about crispy! I am wondering.. oil leak, or maybe something like running without coolant? There isn't a lot that can burn in there stock, unless well they haven't maintained them and have oil all over the place. Although after seeing this I think I might order a fire extinguisher for the just in case situation. we don't want to loose a Kubvan!


In any case, (and to address the above quote) the LLV is used as a mailtruck. Therefore, there is plenty of flammable materials (letters, packages, etc.) inside to ignite and fuel the fire. Due to the abundance of flammable materials, once the fire is started (and if there is no fire extinguisher), the truck is typically completely engulfed in about a minute to two minutes. (It's a really sad sight to watch.)

[Due to the poor maintenance of the LLV, there is a likelihood that there is an oil leak. You should always carry a fire extinguisher, but the USPS is running low on funds (not diverging into politics) and they don't need a fire extinguisher.

Moral of the story? Maintain your vehicles, have it regularly inspected, and replace cracked/damaged hoses. Don't overload electrical circuits, and never "cheap out" on service. You may save in the short term, but you'll loose big in the end. (You'll either loose your LLV, Kubvan, Kurbwatt, or any other motor vehicle.) This can happen to any vehicle, regardless of if it's a Ford, GM, Dodge, Yugo, Grumman, etc. (Some people comment it does it because it's a GM... well, the newer version of the LLV [the FFV] used a Ford Ranger chassis and is about 10 years newer, and those decide to spontaneously combust as well. It's a lack of maintenance and abuse.)

The USPS is so desperate to save any LLV they can (they still haven't found a replacement) that they've actually rebuilt burned LLV's from scrap parts and such. So there's that.

I honestly can't wait until the USPS auctions the LLV off. They've been abused too long... and they need to find new owners that will take better care of them and actually perform PM.
Last edited by fullergarrett1 on Mon Dec 04, 2017 1:29 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Burning Vans

Postby fullergarrett1 » Mon Jun 19, 2017 4:56 pm

Sorry for the double-post, but there is some addition information I forgot to throw in there. :oops:

The USPS has had problems beyond the fires with the LLV. Almost every LLV has had every part replaced at once, and even then the carriers claim that they're fairly unreliable.

The LLV has also been prone to tipping over on its side since they were first introduced. I believe there was a class-action lawsuit against either the United States Postal Service or Grumman (by then Northrup-Grumman) for the "poor" design on the LLV and its ease to tip over. Due to the tight turning radius, it's even easier to flip these things on their sides.

They also behave very poorly in accidents. Even a minor, low-speed accident can cause major injuries or death to the carrier in an LLV. This is because they were manufactured a) before safety requirements were put into place (other than seatbelts) and b) since they're used by the USPS, they can skip some of the safety protocols that was in effect in 1986/7.

Lastly, one complaint I've seen is the lack of power the LLV has in the snow - even with chains. Of course, the LLV is a rear-drive vehicle and isn't 4WD or AWD. The LLV was tested in Arizona in summer conditions, which was a flaw in the testing. That comes with the territory of having a light vehicle with a small(ish) Iron Duke, sadly.

Fires are not (sadly) the only thing that has plagued the LLV. There's the tipping over and lack of safety during an accident, plus the lack of power in snowy conditions. Plus there's the lack of air conditioning, which *could* become a safety issue for some, but I'd think that the lack of AC comes with the job. Carriers have never had A/C in any of their vehicles (unless they're rural) and they're also going to be doing a lot of walking alot.

Moving forward, I'm hoping that the fires and other side issues are not going to be a discouraging factor when the USPS decides to sell or melt the LLV once the NGDV is released. Some of the fire issues are related to the lack of maintenance the USPS provides to these vehicles, and it would be sad to see these workhorses be turned into the Next Generation Pepsi Can (NGPC?) when the NGDV is released. There is so much potential for these postal LLVs and many people want to purchase them. It would be a huge loss for the USPS if they didn't resell them. If they do resell them, I just hope people are careful and maintain them.

*for those not in the US or haven't been following the NGDV, it stands for the Next Generation Delivery Vehicle. It's essentially what is going to be replacing the LLV.*
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Re: Burning Vans

Postby spence » Wed Nov 22, 2017 8:11 am

I've heard a lot of people talk about what a great vehicle the LLV is, I having had to drive several of them from time to time, totally disagree. And the new Ford version is almost as bad. My Kubvan is a much better vehicle. It drives better, goes in the snow and handles better than the LLV or the newer version (I can't remember what set of letters they put with it). The maintenance is nearly non existant, which doesn't help. We had a flood at our post office, they changed the oil and told us to drive them. I left the post office one time with NO oil pressure and they told me to drive it until it stopped. The new version, is an example of the USPS being sold something they didn't need, it has a V6 that makes it unit fly, but it won't stop or handle, it has duel exhaust with rally wheels, not really necessary items. It could have been built with the Ford version of a hybrid that recharges as you stop, and is 4 wheel drive, seems like a great thing for a vehicle that stops 5 or 6 hundred times a day. I drove my first Kubvan for 20 years before I wrecked it and it had 800K test miles on it before I bought it. Just because it had a foreign engine in it was no reason to scrap the Kubvan. Just my two cents worth.
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Re: Burning Vans

Postby fullergarrett1 » Mon Dec 04, 2017 1:23 am

I'm taking it that you were/are a letter carrier.

The LLV could've been better, but the fires are not the fault of Grumman and/or GM. It's the poor maintenance the postal service provides. I've read reports where the FFV (the model made by Utilimaster with the Ford Ranger chassis) are also catching fire. Perhaps the maintenance problem is also more of a regional thing, as I head from a local PO that their LLV's run fairly decent.

I know a lot of letter carriers and the ones who have got to drive the FFV's enjoy them more. But they are plagued with many of the same issues that the original LLV was. The FFV doesn't (at least I don't think it does) have air conditioning, although the PO tried to solve the blind spot issue by adding a window to the passenger (to us, driver) side wall in the cargo bay. As for the rally wheels and dual exhaust on the FFV's, I've never seen them or have just didn't pay any attention. (Almost everywhere I've lived has had the older, Grumman-made LLV, though.)

The USPS is supposed to be replacing the LLV/FFV fleet in the next couple years... but they said that a decade ago! (Although they are in the process of testing replacements.)

spence wrote:It could have been built with the Ford version of a hybrid that recharges as you stop, and is 4 wheel drive, seems like a great thing for a vehicle that stops 5 or 6 hundred times a day.

The USPS experimented with that. The ELLV was an electric version of the traditional Grumman LLV which had its original Chevy S10-Blazer chassis swapped with the chassis from a modified electric Ford Ranger. It was a good idea but didn't catch on. That was done back in 2000, and there is a video floating around somewhere (couldn't find it or the link) that Ford made for the USPS detailing what it was and how to recharge it, etc.

Off Topic Time

There is a small cult following of people who desire to purchase the used LLV's when the postal service decides to let go of them. I'm a member of that population. :mrgreen: Much like the Kubvan/Kurbwatt, their bodies are built to last as they're aluminum. But the LLV is much easier to repair since it has the (very) common Chevrolet S10/Blazer chassis with the nearly indestructible GM Iron Duke engine, although the 1994 (and possible '93) models had a newer engine. (I'm not saying the Kubvan/Kurbwatts are not easy to service, parts are just somewhat harder to come by and/or more expensive.)

Plus, if the PO decides to auction the LLVs off (they'd be foolish to scrap/smelt them), there would be a large supply of them. Nearly 145,000. But you could do your own work to it, make it yours - all without having to worry about ruining the authenticity and/or value of a vehicle like the Kubvan/Kurbwatt (where the supply is very limited.) Since most LLV's will need a large degree of work to make them a safe and reliable vehicle, why not make it yours by adding air conditioning and a stereo system? ;)

P.S. - How long did the engine last with no oil pressure?
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Re: Burning Vans

Postby luckham » Thu Dec 14, 2017 10:16 am

fullergarrett1 wrote:The LLV could've been better, but the fires are not the fault of Grumman and/or GM.

I think if you kook at the statistics of cars fires for all kinds of reasons, I bet that with 145,000 units LLV's fall into the percentile probability regardless of maintenance. The nice thing about the Kubvan was the diesel was not so easy to catch fire with a fuel leak, and the worst thing that could happen with the lead acid powered Kurbwatt would be a few wires would melt until the circuit was broken.
fullergarrett1 wrote:The USPS experimented with that. The ELLV was an electric version of the traditional Grumman LLV which had its original Chevy S10-Blazer chassis swapped with the chassis from a modified electric Ford Ranger. It was a good idea but didn't catch on.

"Did not catch on" I am not a conspiracy theorist however "Who killed the Electric car" is as close as it gets. The ranger was powered with a Panasonic Battery that Texaco and Exxon put on the shelf when the bought the patent and sued Toyota for building a passenger vehicle with it. Here is some little know detail and opinion from the company that had the service contract for the Ford Ranger based LLV. It would be sweet to find one of these.

Battery MD wrote:"Yes, Ford built 500 electric postal vehicles, Grumman Olsen bodies on Ford
Ranger EV chassis. That was our entry to Ford as they needed mobile EV
technicians in Northern California. It did not take long for Ford to
realize we knew batteries so they kept handing us more and more assignments
including new pack building, battery re-manufacturing with our process and
all electronic parts storage.

These 500 vehicles were sold to the Post Office but the post office did not
want to spend money on off-warranty repairs so the vehicles went away. This
happened right at the time of the ending of the EV mandate AND the first
Anthrax scare with the post office which to no fault of their own had bigger
budget challenges (aka purchasing Anthrax testing machines) and budgeting
for the next 7 years of service for a few EVs became lower priority.
2003-2005 was a tough business period for anyone involved in EVs. We went
from having 10 year contracts in our hands with the Big 3 to Zip in a matter
of months in 2003."

fullergarrett1 wrote: Much like the Kubvan/Kurbwatt, their bodies are built to last as they're aluminum. But the LLV is much easier to repair since it has the (very) common Chevrolet S10/Blazer chassis with the nearly indestructible GM Iron Duke engine, (I'm not saying the Kubvan/Kurbwatts are not easy to service, parts are just somewhat harder to come by and/or more expensive.)

The one real short fall of the LLV is not the body or engine but the steel frame, all pickup trucks are vulnerable to frame rot and then you have a challenge, The diesel engine and running gear is a 1984 VW Rabbit parts are readily available and no more expensive than GM parts I would guess. Although the "Iron Duke" is a great engine the VW Diesel is known to go to 500,000 miles commonly, I think the Duke tops out at 200,000 from what I can see.
fullergarrett1 wrote: if the PO decides to auction the LLVs off (they'd be foolish to scrap/smelt them)

Don't be surprised if they just run them in to the ground and then sell them for the aluminum weight, no liability and these government "scrap it" programs are of no help to get old cars off the road and sell new ones. It's all very sad but true. Ya might have to steal one and hide it for a few years, likely they would never miss it. Just make sure it does not have any mail in it that would be a serious offense :) Just Kiddin DON"T DO IT !!!!
fullergarrett1 wrote:P.S. - How long did the engine last with no oil pressure?

It's amazing how long these engines will go with no fluids
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Re: Burning Vans

Postby fullergarrett1 » Sun Dec 17, 2017 7:22 pm

luckham wrote:I think if you kook at the statistics of cars fires for all kinds of reasons, I bet that with 145,000 units LLV's fall into the percentile probability regardless of maintenance. The nice thing about the Kubvan was the diesel was not so easy to catch fire with a fuel leak, and the worst thing that could happen with the lead acid powered Kurbwatt would be a few wires would melt until the circuit was broken.

I can't argue with them falling into a percentage. While most LLV's ended up going to either USPS or Canada Post, there was a small percentage that ended up in private hands. From what I've found, none of the privately-owned ones have caught fire. I don't think I've also found one from Canada Post that has caught fire. Plus, the FFV has been having issues with catching fire, too.

If Grumman or GM was at fault, Canada Post and private owners would be having fires, too. The FFV would also not be having issues catching fire, as well. (Many people have been pointing their fingers at a fault caused by Grumman or GM.)

luckham wrote:Here is some little know detail and opinion from the company that had the service contract for the Ford Ranger based LLV. It would be sweet to find one of these.

After weeks of searching, I found the video.
Part 1: https://youtu.be/YgdMEPCcQTI
Part 2: https://youtu.be/v9Z8Jl4quXs

The video doesn't go into much detail about what makes the ELLV tick, rather it was meant to be an instructional video which the PO would show letter carriers and users of the ELLV. Sad that the idea got killed off.
luckham wrote:The one real short fall of the LLV is not the body or engine but the steel frame, all pickup trucks are vulnerable to frame rot and then you have a challenge, The diesel engine and running gear is a 1984 VW Rabbit parts are readily available and no more expensive than GM parts I would guess. Although the "Iron Duke" is a great engine the VW Diesel is known to go to 500,000 miles commonly, I think the Duke tops out at 200,000 from what I can see.

I failed to mention the obvious: while the body of the LLV is aluminum (just like in the Kubvan/Kurbwatt and most other Grumman vans), the chassis is not. It's made out of steel and iron, which does "rot" (rust, etc.) over time. As for the reliability on the engine, the Iron Duke is well known for being fairly robust. I'd say 200,000 miles may be an understatement (since most engines will easily reach 200,000 miles if maintained properly - something the USPS does not do in all areas), but the LLV is kind of a "special" case.

Since they are used to deliver mail, they endure a lot of "stop-and-go" action. Most letter carriers turn the truck off when walking up to a door and return to start it... rinse and repeat for how many houses they have on their route. They're put through a lot of abuse.
(On a side tangent: there are some carriers that do actually keep their trucks running while delivering a package or something. When I had a package delivered at my parent's apartment, their carrier actually left it running. But that presents another problem: a "run-away" vehicle, since most carriers don't engage the emergency brake. Which can cause something like this: https://youtu.be/sqjO6QG0oS8.)

luckham wrote:Don't be surprised if they just run them in to the ground and then sell them for the aluminum weight, no liability and these government "scrap it" programs are of no help to get old cars off the road and sell new ones. It's all very sad but true. Ya might have to steal one and hide it for a few years, likely they would never miss it. Just make sure it does not have any mail in it that would be a serious offense Just Kiddin DON"T DO IT !!!!

I can't argue with you, there, either. I'm saying that they'd be foolish to smelt them - there is a large "demand" for them. And on auction sites they easily fetch thousands of dollars (IIRC one went for nearly $10,000.) The USPS is also operating in a large deficit, and selling their LLV's would possibly make them more money than scrapping them.

But, the US Government isn't always wise. They're trying to find a replacement, and they're actually testing prototype models. They've been looking for a replacement for a decade now, and the replacement is tangible. I think the USPS learned after they sold off their Jeeps (the precursor to the LLV) that they may not want to go down that road again.

It's also interesting you mention that the government is wanting to get any old vehicle off the road. I'm unsure their stance on that from our new Administration. While new cars = $$$, the new Admin. is also less concerned about emissions, which was one of driving factors behind the "get all cars older than 1995 off the road" attitude.

Yes, there is a chance that an LLV may be converted into a soda can or heat sink, but I wouldn't loose all hope yet. ;)

The LLV is far from perfect, but some carriers are also never going to be happy. I read on a USPS employee forum about the prototype NGDV (LLV replacement; Next Gen. Delivery Vehicle) and some carriers were not happy. I'd say give those carriers a mule and see what they think. They might appreciate their LLV/FFV/NGDV/etc. much better.
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