Aside from finally switching to a brand-new mail truck, the U.S. Postal Service appears to have no solution for its trucks that can suddenly catch fire.

  • At least 120 delivery trucks operated by the U.S. Postal Service have caught fire within the past five years, and it’s likely there have been more during this truck’s 30-plus-year life span, is reporting.
  • There is no theory as to a cause and no fix in place.
  • There is still no definitive replacement for the Grumman Long Life Vehicle (LLV), which was first introduced in 1987.

We’re years away from seeing a new U.S. Postal Service truck pull up to our mailboxes, although the still undecided replacement for the 30-year-old Grumman LLV must at least deliver one promise: not catching on fire.

A thorough investigation by revealed that more than 120 of the long-serving trucks have caught fire, without a crash, within the past five years. Of these, at least a dozen burst into flames this year alone. Most of the fires, such as one this February at a gas station in Connecticut, have started within the engine compartment and then engulfed the entire truck, mail included. The U.S. Postal Service has known about the issue since at least 2011—four years before it opened a bid for the Next Generation Delivery Vehicle—when it issued a bulletin recommending timely maintenance, according to the National Association of Letter Carriers, the union for USPS delivery employees.

In that time, despite memos from
fleet managers and Inspector General reports, the U.S. Postal Service
still hasn’t found a root cause for the fires. The report
said the USPS hired an engineering firm in 2014 to determine the cause,
which it didn’t. Instead, the agency doled out advice in the form of a
basic checklist that any good mechanic would follow. A USPS spokesperson
told the website that “the safety of our employees is a matter of great
importance” while refusing to comment on anything specific related to
the fires.

Even if these fires were the only known fires in the
LLV’s history, the failure rate is so high—roughly 140,000 vehicles are
in service—that it would have triggered a recall in an ordinary
passenger vehicle, as the report noted. Likely there are
hundreds more that have gone unreported in the media during the LLV’s
long history. While the Postal Service technically has to abide by NHTSA
safety regulations, it would appear the government has taken little
interest in preventing these deadly accidents. Luckily, within that
five-year period, just one injury was reported.

For most mail carriers who drive the LLVs on a daily basis, the fires aren’t unusual, because they are expected. Their vehicles aren’t equipped to handle the heavy loads of packages that now dominate the cargo space. They don’t have airbags or anti-lock brakes. The air conditioning is a metal-caged fan. Their engines guzzle fuel even by commercial standards. Six manufacturers are competing for the $6.3 billion Postal Service contract that, in 2015, promised to put 180,000 trucks on the road by 2018. Given that progress—and the many prototypes running across the country—it’ll be many more years until a more fire-resistant mail truck arrives on your block.