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Victims of Freightliner parts thefts struggle to get replacements

Thefts include smash-and-grabs and larger rip-offs from multiple trucks in 1 location

Larry Gilliam's 2015 Freightliner interior is a jangle of wires after thieves stole its computer brain. (Photos courtesy of Larry Gilliam)

Larry Gilliam returned to Norfolk, Virginia, from a drayage run to Georgia on Monday to find one of his trucks with a hole punched in the passenger-side window. He thought a thief wanted to steal the radio from his 2015 Freightliner Cascadia.

Then he looked closer. The dash had been pried open. Wiring jutted from a gaping hole where the truck’s common powertrain control module (CPC) used to be. 

The brute force brain surgery left Gilliam’s truck immovable. It is one of hundreds of similar thefts hitting previous-generation 2014-2017 Freightliner Cascadias nationwide and in Canada. Owner-operators. Small trucking companies. A used SelecTrucks dealership in Iowa. An auction yard in Pennsylvania. No one is exempt.

It is a big enough issue that Daimler Truck North America issued a press release Monday detailing the problem. The unusual sharing of bad news called attention to the rip-offs. The market-leading Class 8 truck maker pledged to do what it could to help dealers and law enforcement crack down.

But it cannot do much. The thefts are a criminal response to a global shortage of semiconductors that power multiple truck functions. Chips inside the CPCs are so in demand that black market prices top $8,000 for a part DTNA lists at $1,400.

Smash-and-grab

“I noticed a hole the size of a fist in the passenger window. … It looked like it was smashed out,” Gilliam told FreightWaves. “When I opened the door, I noticed the dash where the air brake lines were was ripped out. My ELD tablet was missing, and the jumper cables I just bought were missing.”


He did not know the CPC even existed in his Freightliner Cascadia. 

“I just thought it was odd that the dash was ripped out instead of the thing with the radio,” Gilliam said. “I knew there were these four plugs, so I went online and [read] about the theft of these computer things.”

The 2015 Freightliner Cascadia is the newest of four trucks and three drivers that make up Lane Jockey Transport in Norfolk. 

Trucking company owner Larry Gilliam in black and gray jacket standing in front of his 2015 Freightliner Cascadia.
Larry Gilliam with his 2015 Freightliner Cascadia before it was broken into and its common powertrain control module — the brain of the truck — was stolen. (Photo courtesy of Larry Gilliam)

“That truck is pretty much a paperweight,” Gilliam said. “There’s literally nothing I can do with it now.”

After filing a police report, he paid to have the truck towed to a rental space at a secure yard in Chesapeake, Virginia. 

Part scarcity

Gilliam reports no luck so far finding a replacement part.

“Every Freightliner Cascadia dealer I’ve called so far has told me that they’ve got like 50 orders of these things that’ve been on back order since April 2021. I was going to go wherever they had one. I was going to fly out and get it. Literally nobody I called has it.”

The few units available online are suspect because they may be stolen or tampered with. They also are pricey. 

Gilliam pulled his own authority and started his business a year ago after driving for others since 2009. Now his business is in jeopardy. His 2007 Freightliner Columbia is in the shop waiting for other parts, leaving Gilliam with just his 2013 Kenworth T660 and a 2011 Navistar International.

“I took a big blow because I’m down to two trucks. The ’07 Freightliner is getting worked on and I need parts for it. That 2015 Freightliner was my newest and best truck. There are contracts I’m going to have to void because I’m not going to have the extra power [units] to do ’em.”

Volvo Trucks North America and Peterbilt said they are not experiencing similar thefts. Navistar said it had “nothing to share” on the topic. Kenworth did not respond to a FreightWaves query.

Freightliner Cascadia dealership dismay

The SelecTrucks of Omaha dealership in Council Bluffs, Iowa, across the Missouri River from Nebraska, found 17 used Cascadia break-ins with CPCs missing on May 8.

Truck Center Companies owns the store, one of 17 in four states. SelecTrucks is a DTNA brand, giving it priority in getting corporate help.

“They are expediting what they can and looking into other suppliers to get us enough of the parts in a timely manner,” Rob Cygan, Truck Center Companies president, told FreightWaves. “We’ve had trucks sitting and waiting for weeks. We’re doing the best we can to take care of customers.”

A customer planned to pick up one of the trucks on the day the CPC thefts came to light. 

“As long as I’ve been around, we’ve had random things like tires [being stolen]. Copper was a really hot item a couple of years ago. We have security all over our dealerships, so something like this is a very rare occurrence,” Cygan said. 

The dealership rip-off made the rounds on the internet. At least one Michigan dealer group alerted employees to take precautions.

Email  text with photo of a Freightliner Cascadia common powertrain control module
A warning email sent to one dealership. 

Pennsylvania auction hit for Freightliner Cascadia modules

The largest known theft of CPCs occurred at Hess Auctioneers in Marietta, Pennsylvania. Two dozen trucks waiting to go on the line lost modules in one incident.

Hess Auctioneers has tight on-site security and surveillance cameras, according to a report by WGAL-TV in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The company turned over the video to Susquehanna Regional police.

“It’s a pretty brazen thing that somebody would do to take that right out of the dash,” Bill Troop, Hess Auctioneers general manager, told the TV station.

Easy to access

But the modules are easy to access, according to a diesel technician in the Los Angeles area. He declined to use his name. 

DTNA slightly moved the location of the CPC in the New Cascadia that debuted as a 2020 model.

“It’s still easy to get to. It’s still in the dash,” the technician said. “You pull a cover off the passenger side held on by clips, unscrew the fuse box and it stares you in the face.”

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Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler. 

Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.