Imagine having to double-declutch your car’s manual gearbox every single time you changed gear … we’ve sent Robert Pepper off to become a truckie.

YOU CAN PRETTY MUCH cruise through your driving life with just a simple car license. But on occasion, you might want or need to drive something bigger, specifically more than 4.5 tonnes GVM (Gross Vehicle Mass, or the maximum a vehicle can weigh).

Given the average 4WD is around 3 to 3.5 tonnes GVM we’re not talking huge vehicles here, but the sort of small truck that you might want to convert into a motorhome – a Mitsubishi Canter, Iveco Daily or the like. Some of these come in two variants, one at 4.5 tonne GVM and one over, so the truck license to go larger is handy. But which license? There’s a few.

First off is the LR, or Light Rigid. This covers vehicles more than 4.5 tonnes GVM up to 8, and no more than 12 people on board including driver. Then there’s Medium Rigid (MR), which is any two-axle rigid vehicle more than 8 tonnes GVM. “Rigid” in this context means non-articulated, so not comprised of a prime mover and trailer.

Then there’s Heavy Rigid, which is 8 tonnes GVM or more with 3 or more axles. Above that there’s Heavy Combination, where you attach a prime mover to a trailer, and Multi Combination (MC) which is a prime mover with more than one trailer.

Most recreational drivers only need a Light Rigid license, but you may as well go for a Heavy Rigid seeing as the incremental cost is not much greater. And then you have a choice – automatic or manual. These days of course most vehicles are automatics, and that includes trucks, so obviously you’d go the auto as it’s easier. Except of course readers of this website and my other work will know that I have to do things the hard way, so I opted for the manual, as that way I can drive both autos and manuals.

So how hard can driving a truck be? My vehicle of learning is a Caterpillar 610, and it’s got three axles with 10 tyres. It is over eight-metres long, compared to a large 4WD which is closer to five. It has a 20m turning circle, close on double a car or 4WD. The GVM is 24 tonnes, or about seven LandCruisers, and it can shift 63.5 tonnes including various trailers.

So straight away it’s going to be more difficult to drive than a car because of sheer dimensions. And it’s manual, so I need to think about the gears….all 18 of them, compared to six for a normal car. You can see why a special license is needed. But that’s not all.

There’s only four shift locations, 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th. You get to 18 by having two ranges, low and high, and half gears so 1.5, 2.5 etc. This means 5th is in the same shifter location as 1st, but with the range selector in high not low.

So shifting upwards is a case of 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, range change, 5th (back to where first was), 6th and so on. At any point you can use the half gear selector too.

All clear so far? Good, because there’s more.

You have to double-declutch the changes because this truck lacks synchromesh, the beautiful bit of machinery that allows you to change gear without perfectly matching the engine revs to the engine speed. Double-declutching means you dip the clutch (only halfway, otherwise you activate the clutch brake), bring the shifter to neutral, bring the clutch up, pause briefly, dip the clutch again and select the gear. Unless you’re using the half-shift button in which case you need only press the button, then lift off the accelerator, the accelerate again without changing the gear lever’s location.

You can skip-shift, say from first to third and third to fifth, but then you need to wait just a fraction longer on the gearchanges.

Got that? Hope so, because by the time you’ve hit 60km/h you’ll need to have performed four gearchanges and a range change, in the process dipping the clutch eight times *. You can now see why truckies hate stopping, because to get going again it’s essentially a left arm workout. We could fix the problem of people playing with mobiles while driving simply by forcing everyone to drive these trucks, you’re so busy working the gears there’s no time for Facebook on the move.

How’d I get on? Watch this space…

* Yes, experienced truckies, I know, I’ll cover that later.


Robert Pepper is being trained by Foresite Training  Details on the Heavy Rigid Non-Synchromesh course can be found here.


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