Why do tractor units not have automatic transmissions?
Everyone knows them, most of them love them: American tractor units. Trailers can be 53 feet (16.5 m) long and the total length must not exceed 23 meters, so there is enough space for safety (bonnet) and a little quality of life. For my part, I wouldn't drive a European cabover for a lot of money, a 75 centimeter wide bed? No thanks. Mine is four feet wide.
I claim that in the seven years we've been here there has been a revolution. Our first International Eagle still had a clutch that required 73 pounds of downforce. It was only used to start up. Parking heaters were practically unknown. The engines swallowed around 50 liters per 100 kilometers, and it sucked miserably in every nook and cranny. The engines were left to run mercilessly at 1,100 revolutions all year round at night. Truck stops were exhaust gas-laden hells of noise.
US trucks have caught up a lot technically
Our Peterbilt has an exhaust-gas-cleaned Cummins engine with 475 hp comparable to Euro 6, which is content with an average of 32 liters per 100 kilometers. We have auxiliary heating, engine heating and a battery pack that enables air conditioning for ten hours when the vehicle is stationary. And the hole between the driver and front passenger, which used to be covered with a simple rubber grommet and from which the gearshift lever protrudes and allows all the noises from the engine and transmission to be heard without insulation, is perfectly encapsulated. The wailing of the unsynchronized 13-speed Fuller transmission, once you have switched, can hardly be heard. The clutch is easy to use. Admittedly, a US truck is not as quiet as a MAN, but you won't get any more hearing damage. There are only a few automatic transmissions. In Canada, the nearest workshop can be 500 kilometers away. And then with the emergency gear at ten kilometers an hour or by Dr. Hook, the towing service, to be towed 500 kilometers to the workshop just to change a fuse?
We also don't have any disc brakes. The conclusion that we are technically lagging behind here is still wrong, everything that is available in Europe would be available here, only: Nobody wants it! It's not just the distances. Canada is a huge workshop misery. There are far too few authorized workshops. It can take days for a workshop to take pity on you because of overloading. The tried and tested has priority.
Dry van is the usual type of trailer
We come to the most important thing, the trailer. In the USA and Canada, around 80 percent of all truck loads are loaded in the so-called dry van, in the box train. A dry van consists of two parts, a frameless case, which gets its stability through reinforcements in the side walls, and the axle assembly that can be moved on two small rails under the case. There are innumerable combinations of axes, weights and lengths in different states and provinces. The longest is likely to be the combination of three 16.5m long trailers in a row between Saskatoon and Regina in Canada. There are almost no limits to your imagination.
Only one combination is uniform: three-axle tractor with two-axle trailer. Total length up to 23 meters, trailer length 53 feet (= 16.15 meters). In the US, the total weight can be 80,000 pounds (36.3 tons), in Canada it is 88,000 pounds or 39.9 tons. Not only is the total weight important, but also the axle load distribution: the steering axle carries 12,000 pounds, the drive axles 34,000 pounds and the trailer axles also 34,000 pounds. Since not all loads are evenly distributed, the fifth wheel coupling and axle assembly can be moved.
Uniform ramp height across North America
Drive axles and trailer axles are air-sprung, but there are only driving and unhitching positions on the tractor unit and driving and parking positions on the trailer. If you maneuver the trailer to the ramp and pull the trailer brake, you can unload without a difference in height between the ramp and trailer. There is a uniform ramp height throughout North America. Loading and unloading is exclusively a matter for the customer, in many companies even entering the warehouse is forbidden. The pallet problem is the customer's problem.
A good transport company has three times as many trailers as tractor units. The customer is given as many trailers as he needs. The customer's own shunt truck places the empty trailers at the dock and back on the site. The city truck of the transport company brings the trailer to the shipping depot and the long hauler drives the load either to the nearest shipping depot or, in areas where there is no depot, sometimes to the customer. With the customer there is usually an appointment, a fixed unloading date. Conditions like those of the large grocery chains in Germany are practically unknown. It can even happen that you have to unsaddle in the parking lot and the shunter pulls the trailer to the dock. Such companies are unionized and they do not let the butter off the bread.
Work gloves are only required for saddling and unsaddling and for refueling. There are no tools or jacks on board. In the event of a breakdown, all you need to do is call the company. They'll organize the repairs. You should only be able to put on snow chains, because the winter is often quite severe in Canada and about a month longer than in Europe.
In this article, Werner described the advantages and disadvantages of living and working as a truck driver in North America.
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