When it comes to what people know about semi-trucks and the lifestyles of the truckers who drive them, most members of the public have got the bulk of their information from the movies. However, films like Smokey and the Bandit, Convoy, and Breaker! Breaker! are not always exactly true to life, and give viewers a rather inaccurate idea of what life on the big rigs is all about.
If you really want to learn some surprising and intriguing facts about semi-trucks, then you should try talking to a trucker – or check out the list below. These really are quite impressive pieces of engineering, capable of covering vast distances over a long career on the road. Not only that, but many of them act as a temporary home for their drivers, who can spend days or even weeks away from home.
And if you’ve never really given semi-trucks a second thought before, now might be the time to start considering how different your life would be without their national and even international distribution network, bringing food and other goods from the other side of the country to your local store. Without semi-trucks, the shelves in our grocery stores would be very bare indeed!
Take a read of the list below, and learn some surprising facts that most people don’t know about semi trucks.
1. THE ENGINE CAN LAST FOR ONE MILLION MILES
Most cars can keep running for about 200,000 miles on average before they start to need some serious TLC for their engine and various other parts. For most drivers, that is the equivalent to about 11 years of driving. For truckers, however, 200,000 miles would be done and dusted in just a couple of years, which is why truck engines are designed to be much more sturdy and tough and to last a lot longer. In fact, the engines of new semi trucks can last for up to one million miles; a serious amount of driving for the truckers who work on the 18-wheelers.
2. SEMI TRUCKS HAVE UP TO 18 GEARS
As we have already heard, there are some significant differences between driving a car and a semi truck, even if the basic engineering is the same. Perhaps the biggest difference is when it comes to the transmission.
While most cars in the US are automatic, semi trucks are all manual, and some of the bigger models can have up to 18 gears.
It can take a lot of practice getting used to how you navigate all these different gears, especially as some trucks have more than one stick, and learning when is the best time to employ each of the gears on offer.
3. SEMIS WERE INITIALLY CREATED TO TRANSPORT CARS
In the early days of semi trucks, no-one really saw their potential for transporting freight around the country. These first truck cabs were initially created in order to move cars from the production plant to the dealership or local garage, and it was only later that some bright spark realized that other goods could be moved in exactly the same way. Modern car transporters still use the same kind of truck cab at the front, but they are now able to transport a much larger number of cars at one time, all apparently precariously balanced on the specially-built trailer section.
4. MOST TRUCKS REGISTERED IN THREE STATES
Semi trucks cover a lot of ground during their time on the road, driving from coast to coast and from border to border. So you might expect, therefore, that these freight trucks would be registered all over the country, as there is no one place where it is logical for them to start their journey. And yet, the vast majority of US semi trucks are registered in just three states; Florida, California, and Texas. California was the legal home of over 14 million trucks in 2015, compared to almost 13 million in Texas and 7.7 million in Florida.
5. SEMI TRUCKS DRIVE 140 BILLION MILES EACH YEAR
As you can see from the number of trucks registered in just three states, there are a lot of 18-wheelers driving around on America’s highways and interstates, and through our towns and cities.
In fact, in 2015, there were an astonishing 140 million trucks registered in states across the country, each one making long-distance journeys on a weekly basis.
That adds up to an awful lot of miles each year; 140 billion miles to be precise. It has been calculated that the US semi truck fleet covers an average of 140 billion miles each year, just in domestic freight deliveries.
6. EACH SEMI DRIVES AN AVERAGE OF 45,000 MILES PEACH YEAR
But how many of those 140 billion miles does each individual trucker drive for themselves? The workforce of US truckers is thought to consist of about 3.5 million drivers (though that figure doesn’t include all the mechanics who keep their trucks in good condition or the valuable admin staff who keep the freight moving. So 3.5 million drivers and a total of 140 billion miles mean that each individual truck driver covers an average of 45,000 miles each year. Some, of course, will drive much more than 45,000 miles, depending on which routes they take, while others may prefer to stay closer to home.
7. AVERAGE WEIGHT OF A SEMI TRUCK
Semi trucks aren’t just much longer than the average vehicle, they are also a great deal heavier. In fact, the average weight of loaded semi is a hefty 80,000 pounds. Some commercial vehicles can be a lot heavier, however, including the semi trucks which are used for freight transportation in South Dakota. The state has no weight limit on its non-interstate roads, which means companies can attach pretty much as many trailers as they want to their trucks, so long as they get the proper license. These South Dakota mega-trucks can weigh up to as much as 170,000 pounds.
8. TOP SELLING SEMI BRAND IS FREIGHTLINER
Several companies make semi trucks for sale on the US domestic market and for export internationally, but the number one sellers are the trucks made by Freightliner.
The company is a division of Daimler Trucks North America, which bought Freightliner in the 1980s.
Freightliner’s history starts a long time before the Daimler deal, however; their first trucks were developed back in the 1930s, but they didn’t start manufacturing trucks on a large-scale basis until the 1960s. In 2015, Freightliner trucks had 37.5% of the market share for semi trucks, a long way ahead of the second best-seller Peterbilt, on just 15.9%.
9. ANTI-LOCK BRAKES HAVE BEEN REQUIRED SINCE 1997
The trucking industry has made lots of changes in recent decades to improve the safety performance of semi trucks and other commercial vehicles. One of the most significant changes came in 1995, when the Department of Transport announced new regulations making anti-lock brake systems mandatory on trucks built after 31 March 2017. ABS brakes made trucks much safer for drivers and for other road users, as they can help to prevent jack-knifing in the event that truck drivers have to brake suddenly. The industry was initially opposed to the measure because of the added cost, but such safety changes are now widely accepted by both drivers and bosses.
10. FIRST SEMI TRUCK CREATED IN 1898
Semi trucks have a longer history than most people think, dating all the way back to 1898. Alexander Winton is the man credited with inventing the semi truck in Cleveland, Ohio. He was a car maker and wanted to find a way to transport his vehicles to their new owners without them suffering any wear and tear on the way. Eventually, Winton began manufacturing these semi trucks/car transporters to sell to other car makers. This first semi-truck didn’t look much like the big rigs of today; for a start, the semi-trailer only had two wheels, not the 18 wheels on today’s trailers.