How to Drive an 18 Wheeler

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Driving becomes second nature to us after we get a lot of experience. When I get behind the wheel of a car, it becomes like
an extension of my body. If it's a vehicle that I'm used to I automatically adjust to the size of the vehicle, the way it handles etc. Big trucks are no exception. The difference is that it can take years and thousands of miles until you adjust
from a car to a truck and back again with little effort. Trucks are obviously very large, so the way you drive them is like
driving a car with every move multiplied. To make turns you take as much space as you can. In traffic you must leave a lot
of space ahead of you. You take a lot of time to get up to speed. You can see much further ahead and behind you, but your
blind spots are also much bigger. To compensate for some of that, you have extra mirrors and windows and they're also larger. Trucks have a lot of torque. This makes them difficult for beginners because when you make a mistake the truck doesn't
respond lightly. I'm talking about major jerking, grinding etc. However, it's very gratifying when you get all that power under control.

Things You'll Need

  • A Truck
  • Commercial Driver's License
  • Medical Card
  • "Pre-trip inspection"

    Before driving you need to do a pre-trip inspection of the truck and anything attached to it. This is important because once you're driving, there are many things out of your line of vision.

  • "Check fluids"

    This is similar to checking the fluids in a car. The dipsticks and fluid caps are labeled. The hood is latched on both sides by a rubber hook. Undo these, go to the front of the truck, grab the handle on top of the hood, and pull the hood open.

  • "Get comfortable"

    After you climb in you will need to adjust your seat. It's best to adjust your seat high and forward if possible. This way you will have the best view over the hood. Front / back adjusts like a car. To adjust the seat up or down use the switches on the left side of the seat. The reason for the air ride is because heavy duty trucks are a much rougher ride. Many newer trucks have air-ride suspension, air-ride cab and air-ride seats. It's important, even for an experienced driver to adjust
    your seat, steering wheel, and mirrors before you put the truck in gear.

  • "Start the diesel"

    The key should be somewhere on the dash. You won't have to depress the clutch to start the diesel so make sure the shifter is in neutral. Leave the key front for a bit to let the glow plugs warm up before starting up.

  • "Put it in gear"

    This is how to shift a standard 13 speed transmission. The shifter has six positions, with neutral in the center. There's a paddle on the front, under your fingers, and a red switch on the left, under your thumb. The paddle needs to be down, and the red button needs to be to the back. Push the clutch pedal to the floor and hold for a few seconds. Release all parking brakes. Reverse is up and to the left. Reverse actually has two speeds: If you pull the little paddle on the shifter up
    before shifting into reverse, this is the higher speed. You cannot do this while the truck is moving. First gear (also called low) is down and to the right.

  • "Shifting"

    There are two ways to shift gears. #1: Double clutching. This is the recommended way to drive a truck. The advantages to learning to do this is that it's the only way to shift gears in older trucks. Also, if you use the clutch pedal, it gives you a bigger window to grab the next gear. This method sounds simple, but takes a lot of practice. When shifting up, push the clutch pedal, pull the shifter into the neutral position, release the clutch, let rpm's drop to required level, push clutch and shift into higher gear. You should be able to do all this before the truck coasts more than one truck-length.
    Down-shifting is similar except you have to raise the rpm's to grab the lower gear.

    2 No clutch. The only time you use the clutch is when starting off. When you're ready for the next gear apply slight pressure on the shifter. When the rpm's drop to the required level, the shifter should 'pop' nicely into neutral. As this is in a smaller window, the rpm's need not drop much further before you drop into the higher gear. You can test the higher gear by applying slight pressure to the shifter. Try not to grind the gears!

    13 speed gear layout. 1st gear (also called low) is down and to the right. 2nd gear is up and center. 3rd gear is down and center. 4th gear is up and right. 5th gear is down and right. For 6th gear you need to pull the paddle on the shifter up with your index and middle fingers, and shift up and center. For 7th gear, same position and move the red button on the shifter 'front' with your thumb. 8th gear: paddle up, red button back, shifter back and center. 9th gear: same position but with the red button front. 10th gear: paddle up, red button back, shifter up and right. 11th gear: same position but with the red button front. 12th gear: paddle up, red button back, shifter down and right. 13th gear: same position but with the red button front.

  • "Other Transmissions"

    9 speed: This is similar to the 13 speed, without the red button on the side of the shifter.

    10 speed: This is similar to the 9 speed, but with 6th gear down and left. (shifter paddle up)

    18 speed: This is similar to the 13 speed. The difference is that you use the red button for the gears also.

    Super 10: This transmission doesn't have the little paddle on the front, but it does have a red button on the side. 1st gear is down and left with the red button back. 2nd gear same position but with red button front etc...

    Automatic: Somewhat easier but still not at all like a car! This transmission has a clutch but you only use it for starting and stopping. The diesel revs itself up when downshifting.

  • "Gas Pedal"

    The gas pedal in a truck may be electronic, which means that the only thing connecting the pedal with the motor is wiring. It may also be touchy. When the truck's heavy or climbing hills, you need to push the pedal to the floor and hold, because changing gears on a hill can be difficult.

  • "Brakes"

    The reason we need a special license for vehicles with air brakes is because they are totally unlike hydraulic or electric brakes. They're quite touchy and need a lot more attention as air can bleed out of the lines really fast. Thankfully, most large trucks are equipped with other brakes such as engine brakes. Engine brakes are used for heavy vehicles, as regular brakes get hot really fast. They work best in a low gear with the rpm's high.

  • "Trailers"

    Obviously, the longer that your rig is, the wider you have to swing the front of your truck when making turns. If the trailer has spread axles, it's a good idea to deflate the airbags on the rear axle when turning. This will save wear on the tires and will also give the trailer a wider swing. The same principle applies when backing up. When backing up I dump the front airbag to keep the trailer from coming around too fast. It's not that difficult to back up a trailer, you just need a lot of room. When backing up a trailer with a long truck, the trailer will keep turning until the truck is straight, which may take some distance. Therefore, sometimes I begin to straighten out the truck before the trailer is pointed in the right direction.

  • "Communication"

    Truck drivers communicate with each other with citizen-band radios. (CB's) Channel 19 is the default channel for the U.S. The reason that they're important is so other drivers can alert you to problems on your rig that may be out of your line-of-sight and so you may learn of traffic and road problems that may be ahead.

    CB's are not a cure-all. Information depends on the honesty and co-operation of other anonymous drivers. It's a good idea to also get information from other company drivers, broadcast radio etc.

Tips & Warnings

  • This article simply informs others how we drive trucks. To actually drive a truck, you need a lot of supervised training, safety training etc.. I may post another article on safety tips I've learned.
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