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  #1  
Old 02-27-2009, 08:22 AM
No Wikipedia Cites No Wikipedia Cites is offline
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Just how difficult is it to learn & drive a Semi-tractor trailer?

Word on the street is that it takes 6 months to learn to drive one of those things. I saw a picture of a cockpit for a semi and it looked like a 747's.

So how hard is it to learn and drive one of these things?
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  #2  
Old 02-27-2009, 08:26 AM
UncleRojelio UncleRojelio is offline
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I friend of mine just got back from truck driving school. It was a three week course.
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Old 02-27-2009, 08:58 AM
Balthisar Balthisar is offline
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Originally Posted by UncleRojelio View Post
I friend of mine just got back from truck driving school. It was a three week course.
I see ads around here for a one week course!
My brother is a trucker (when he feels like working). I think he went to school for a couple of months. I don't know if it was full or part time, just a few hours a day, or what, though.
Methinks most of the difficulty is learning the rules and regulations. Unless you've never backed up a trailer before, then that could be tricky (bigger trailers are easier IMHO, but I've never backed up anything that big!).
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Old 02-27-2009, 09:07 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Balthisar View Post
I see ads around here for a one week course!
My brother is a trucker (when he feels like working). I think he went to school for a couple of months. I don't know if it was full or part time, just a few hours a day, or what, though.
Methinks most of the difficulty is learning the rules and regulations. Unless you've never backed up a trailer before, then that could be tricky (bigger trailers are easier IMHO, but I've never backed up anything that big!).
I went to one of those schools years ago,3 week course, the emphasis is on road rules and driving. You learn enough to pass the DMV test and possibly get hired by a trucking firm.
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Old 02-27-2009, 09:33 AM
Really Not All That Bright Really Not All That Bright is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Balthisar View Post
I see ads around here for a one week course!
My brother is a trucker (when he feels like working). I think he went to school for a couple of months. I don't know if it was full or part time, just a few hours a day, or what, though.
Methinks most of the difficulty is learning the rules and regulations. Unless you've never backed up a trailer before, then that could be tricky (bigger trailers are easier IMHO, but I've never backed up anything that big!).
It's pretty hard to learn how to drive a vehicle with a ten+ speed gearbox. I think most trucks come with semi-automatic or automatic gearboxes now, though.
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  #6  
Old 02-27-2009, 09:48 AM
LSLGuy LSLGuy is offline
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My bro did this 5 years ago. A three week school was the norm. Most of the students didn't read so good, so the school tried very hard to teach the state test & most folks who stayed all 3 weeks passed. About 1/3rd of the class found three whole weeks of attendance to be too arduous and dropped out.

Learning to drive the tractor was harder for folks who'd never driven a manual. For those who had, it was just a matter of dealing with double-clutching. As noted above, most tractors built in the last 10 years are (semi-)automatic. But a lot of older manuals are still on the road, so they teach that too.

When you attach the trailer a whole new set of skills get involved. Not just backing, but fitting the darn thing around city street corners, changing lanes w/o squashing small cars, etc.

Nevertheless, after 3 weeks most folks were not hitting things.

At graduation there were trucking companies there to offer the grads jobs. Everybody got at least one offer. Bro got three. That should have been a hint this was not a fine career choice.

At his new company there was a 1-day classroom orientation to how they run the show. The next day he set out on the road with a company instructor, hauling freight and learning as they went. They drove together for IIRC 2 weeks & then he was on his own.

He said it took about a month after that to feel fully comfortable no matter what came up.


Bottom line: 2 months from "what's a truck?" to comfortable journeyman.

Last edited by LSLGuy; 02-27-2009 at 09:51 AM..
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  #7  
Old 02-27-2009, 12:22 PM
Santo Rugger Santo Rugger is offline
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Originally Posted by Really Not All That Bright View Post
It's pretty hard to learn how to drive a vehicle with a ten+ speed gearbox.
Not if you already know how to drive a manual. When I worked on the explosives testing range, they had me cruise the lowboy around the mountain every once in awhile. Granted, I wasn't going highway speeds, and my load was only about 1/4 the capacity of the truck, but I'd been in enough duece and a halfs, etc. that it wasn't really intimidating. I think they rode with me two or three times to make sure I knew what I was doing (or at least wasn't going to kill myself coming down the mountain). I've heard things start acting very different when you get a full load and are going uphill, but getting the thing going and backing it up aren't much different than driving a gooseneck.
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Old 02-27-2009, 12:35 PM
Really Not All That Bright Really Not All That Bright is offline
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Originally Posted by Santo Rugger View Post
Not if you already know how to drive a manual. When I worked on the explosives testing range, they had me cruise the lowboy around the mountain every once in awhile. Granted, I wasn't going highway speeds, and my load was only about 1/4 the capacity of the truck, but I'd been in enough duece and a halfs, etc. that it wasn't really intimidating. I think they rode with me two or three times to make sure I knew what I was doing (or at least wasn't going to kill myself coming down the mountain). I've heard things start acting very different when you get a full load and are going uphill, but getting the thing going and backing it up aren't much different than driving a gooseneck.
I actually partly learned to drive on a Scammell army truck with an 8-speed transmission (set up as an H+1 with a toggle for the four higher ratios) and it was a total PITA. The hard part for me was the clutch- you only used half of the travel for normal shifting, and if you went past 50% travel it activating the clutch brake, which made things a bit graunchy.

OTOH, stalling a 6-ton vehicle at 40 miles an hour is awfully fun.
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  #9  
Old 02-27-2009, 07:03 PM
dynamitedave dynamitedave is offline
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Originally Posted by sassyfras View Post
I saw a picture of a cockpit for a semi and it looked like a 747's.
All the dials are just extra information. There'll be oil temp and pressure gauges for the engine and one or both for the transmission. Perhaps temp gauges for the diffs. One or two air pressure gauges. An EGT, especially if turbo'ed. Volt and amp gauges. Lights for metal shavings in the trans and diffs. Switches/lights for inter- and/or intra-axle locks. Manual trailer brake valve. Hoist and tailgate controls, with a second set for a trailer.

Does every truck have these? No, especially if it's bought by an accountant. The dash on these are almost car like, usually with only an additional gauge for air pressure. Owner-drivers though are a different story. They want to operate the truck at it's most efficient point and want to know if there's a change from normal so things can be checked out asap.

10+ gears? Pah! My beasty's got 32 forward and reverse. Though granted you've gotta stop to do the 16th to 17th change. It's my profile pic
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  #10  
Old 02-28-2009, 09:09 AM
Anachronism Anachronism is offline
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The course I took was six weeks. Most companies that hire new drivers send them out with some sort of trainer for your first couple of weeks out of school. The majority of companies want one year or more of driving experience. It takes some time out on the road to start to feel comfortable.

Many of the switches in a truck are redundant or seldom used. I have driven trucks that had separate switches for headlights, parking lights, and marker lights - turning one switch into three. Then a switch to turn off the tail lights for a second (it's how we thank other trucks for letting us back in after making a pass) There are also seldom used switches like one to lower the suspension, another to lock the differential, and one to slide the fifth wheel (for weight distribution). In the trucks I have driven the only switch on the steering column has been the turn signal, so adding cruise control and wiper controls to the dash adds to the cockpit look.

I have only worked for two companies but from what I hear I don't believe that any kind of automatic transmission is that common.

Overall most people who are good at driving a car and have some mechanical aptitude should be able to pick up the basics in 3-6 weeks and be a decent truck driver after 6 months to a year on the road.
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  #11  
Old 02-28-2009, 09:56 AM
obfusciatrist obfusciatrist is offline
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When I was a kid my mom had a job for a while running the financial aid office of a trucking school in Portland, Oregon.

I have no idea how hard it is to drive them (the only thing bigger than a car I've ever driven is a 27-foot RV for about 5 miles in stop-and-go traffic), but if I recall correctly the course they did was six weeks in Portland and then they had to go to some place near Phoenix for a week for more significant road work.
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  #12  
Old 02-28-2009, 10:42 AM
Gary Robson Gary Robson is offline
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I've actually been wondering about this, too. I was trying to make a deal with a buddy that has a farm down the road. He would help me with some stuff on my ranch, and I'd drive a beet truck for him for a couple of days during the beet harvest. I thought it would be cool to get my license so I could also drive a cattle truck.

It appears I have to take a class to get the license. The only local truck-driving course I could find cost $10,000 and took three weeks.

WHAT!? I've driven tractors, swathers, stick shifts, automatics, busses and vans. I've towed 30-foot horse trailers behind 4-door pickups (and backed them around corners in corrals). I've driven a 42-foot motor home and pulled boats, cars, and flatbeds.

How on Earth could it take me three freakin' weeks to learn to drive a semi? What makes it so darned complicated?
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  #13  
Old 02-28-2009, 11:17 AM
Anachronism Anachronism is offline
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Originally Posted by InvisibleWombat View Post
I've actually been wondering about this, too. I was trying to make a deal with a buddy that has a farm down the road. He would help me with some stuff on my ranch, and I'd drive a beet truck for him for a couple of days during the beet harvest. I thought it would be cool to get my license so I could also drive a cattle truck.

It appears I have to take a class to get the license. The only local truck-driving course I could find cost $10,000 and took three weeks.

WHAT!? I've driven tractors, swathers, stick shifts, automatics, busses and vans. I've towed 30-foot horse trailers behind 4-door pickups (and backed them around corners in corrals). I've driven a 42-foot motor home and pulled boats, cars, and flatbeds.

How on Earth could it take me three freakin' weeks to learn to drive a semi? What makes it so darned complicated?
A fair amount is classroom stuff, learning regulations. The rules for hours of service and keeping a log book are complicated and take up quite a bit of time.

If you have never driven a vehicle with a transmission that does not have syncros it can take a while to get the hang of it. At the school I went to we spent a couple days going up and down the gears in an area without traffic just to get the hang of it.

For actual driving the two main things are shifting and handling a large vehicle on the road. If you lose your gear and become flustered it is hard to concentrate on what you need to do because of the size of the vehicle.

If you are already used to driving a large vehicle obviously you have a good part of the driving part down.

It has been a long time since I was in school but $10,000 seems high. Some schools in my area offer different programs at a cheaper price for people who don't need the whole course. It is possible to get your liscence without school but it is difficult, obviously you need access to a truck to practice on and take the driving portion of the test with.

A guy who worked as a helper at my company spent a few days driving trucks around our yard and some time on the road with his learners permit with a driver and was able to get his license without any school.
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  #14  
Old 02-28-2009, 11:35 AM
Dog80 Dog80 is offline
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I recently got my C-class driver license. (Here is a list of European classes). That means I can drive any rigid truck, but no articulated ones. I spent about 1500 euros. The lessons were about 800 euros, the rest of it was for various taxes, doctor fees etc.

It is 10 hours theory and 10 hours driving lessons. You have to first pass the theory test to continue to driving lessons. So if you do two hours of theory per day and then two hours driving lessons per day you will be finished in 2 weeks. But a more realistic number is 3 to 4 weeks because you might not be able to take lessons for five consecutive days and then you'll have to find an empty slot for the tests.

EDIT: I should note that 10 theory +10 driving hours is the minimum mandated by the law. If you are still not comfortable driving a truck, you can take as many extra hours you like but not less than that.

Last edited by Dog80; 02-28-2009 at 11:38 AM..
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