Truck News


Lessons learned from across the pond

As I've mentioned in previous columns, trucking is fundamentally the same the world over, but we all do things a little differently. Not just in the specification of our vehicles, but also in the way we do things.

As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, trucking is fundamentally the same the world over, but we all do things a little differently. Not just in the specification of our vehicles, but also in the way we do things.

I now earn my crust in Canada and in doing so I have learned some new things and as a result have expanded my horizons beyond my own little bubble. There’s a lesson to be learned from that.

I can without hesitation name 10 things that we do over here that would benefit the British trucking industry and vice-versa.
As I’m writing this in a Canadian magazine there’s no point going over the things that we do better over here, so I’ll share some of the things I learned across the pond.

The one thing that I noticed before my first cup of Timmies had gone cold was the different way we drive truck, most noticeably in the way we shift.

I had spent 20 years on the road, some of it as a road tester and I had never heard of ‘progressive’ shifting.

Over there we’ve had extremely high fuel costs for a long time, so fuel economy is very important. The trucks there are all vertically integrated, so a Volvo truck will have a Volvo engine, a Volvo transmission and Volvo axles. With modern electronics each component can ‘talk’ to another and the truck can perform to its optimum level.

One such thing that electronics perform better than almost any driver is shifting gears. To stay with Volvo, its I-Shift will change up and down through the gears to keep the engine singing; the biggest difference from the electronic interference is that it will block change.

A transmission may have 12 (or more) gears, but that doesn’t mean that every gear has to be used every time; the extra ratios are there so that for any given road speed there is a gear that can keep the engine close to the sweet spot.

On level ground a fully loaded truck with the I-Shift will pull off in 1hi then go to 3lo, 4lo, 5lo, 5hi, 6lo, 6hi. That’s seven ratios; just over half of what are available.

Of course over there, before I-Shift and its competitors, we had ‘girly’ synchromesh transmissions, so block shifting was much easier than it is with a constant mesh transmission.

Yet a good driver can make any transmission sing, so I just don’t understand progressive shifting at all. It’s supposed to save fuel and be easier on the driveline, but a block shift should not put too much stress on the driveline if it’s done correctly.

So maybe it’s done to save fuel, but then if that’s the case, why does the truck that’s been progressive shifting its way through town then waste every drop of fuel it has saved by sitting on high idle for 15 minutes while the driver gets a double-double and a Boston cream?

From what I can work out, it’s about driver training, or a complete lack of driver training.

Progressive shifting is the easy way out. Within a couple of days any rookie will be able to progressive shift without grinding gears. As established professionals, surely we have raised our game by now? If progressive shifting was the best way to get down the road, why have Volvo (among others) designed a transmission not to do it?

Shifting is just the tip of the iceberg. Once the driving test has been passed, the next training a driver gets is an orientation.
In most cases this will cover specific policies at a company; idle-time and maximum speed may be covered in the interest of saving fuel, but not one minute is dedicated to training a driver on getting the absolute best from a couple of hundred thousands dollars of equipment.

A long time ago a very wise trucking man replied to my question of how much his company spent on driver training by telling me that it wasn’t how much it cost to train the drivers, it was how much it would cost not to train the drivers.

Which brings me to seatbelts. I was recently listening to a radio show that had a truck driver call in, and state that not only did he always wear a seatbelt, he also made sure he was secured in the bunk while he was training a new driver. Can you see what was wrong with that statement?

I have been through training programs with most of the truck manufacturers in the world; as a result my driving has improved considerably, even though I was pretty good at it already.

Manufacturers were confident enough in my driving ability that I could test their products and record performance and economy figures that were compared to their competitors.

As well as my own natural ability, the training I received helped me achieve the best results and during all the training programs I attended, not once was the ‘trainer’ asleep in the bunk. And we wonder why driving truck is seen as unskilled labour? 

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