How to Drive a Tractor-Trailer

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Driving a tractor trailer truck can be a rewarding and lucrative endeavor. The majority of goods in the United States are delivered via tractor trailer, so having the ability to drive one can make employment very accessible. The average driver makes $50,000 a year or more, so its a skill that can help fill your wallet. Driving one of these large vehicles comes with many responsibilities and hazards. With proper training, attention to detail and a willingness to work, driving a tractor trailer will be an asset you can exploit for the rest of your life.

  • Perform a pre trip inspection. Every state has its own pre trip requirements, but they are all basically the same. The driver inspects every part of the truck and trailer. Outside the truck, lights, blinkers, tires and wiper blades are examined and must be in working order. The hood is popped open and the engine and steering mechanisms are inspected. Finally the driver climbs into the truck and performs some tests to ensure the brakes and gauges are working properly. It sounds overwhelming to the novice, but to the professional it becomes second nature.

  • Put the seat belt on and engage the clutch. With your left foot while pressing on the brake pedal holding it while you release the tractor and the trailer brake. Place the shifter in first gear. Slowly lift the clutch pedal and as you feel the truck begin to pull, let off the brake. At this point your idle will slowly pull your truck along without the need to depress the fuel pedal.

  • Depress the fuel pedal and observe your tachometer. As your speed and RPMs increase press the clutch pedal to the floor and at the same time take the shifter and bring it into the neutral position and release the clutch pedal. Quickly depress the pedal again and place the shifter in the next gear. Then release the pedal again and continue to accelerate. This is called double clutching and is the proper way to change gears. Changing gears can also be accomplished by floating the clutch, but this easier method is not acceptable by DOT standards and the driver must learn to double clutch to pass the exam.

  • Once the tractor trailer has reached the desired speed, place two hands on the steering wheel and be alert for changing conditions. During the entire process of driving, care should be taken to observe the surroundings and other vehicles. Scan all fields of view constantly, including mirrors. Also pay attention to the feel of your load and the truck's performance.

  • Maneuver turns with care, paying attention to your trailer. Left turns should be made wide to the right, and vice versa for right turns.

  • Shift down with the same method as shifting up when decreasing your speed. Once parked, apply both the trailer and the tractor's parking brakes. Perform a post trip inspection.

Tips & Warnings

  • Never let your guard down. Always be alert when driving. If you are tired, take a break.
  • Driving a tractor trailer requires a Class A license and in most states to obtain one the driver must complete a minimal amount of professional training and pass an exam. Don't attempt to drive a tractor trailer until you have obtained the proper training and a license.

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