Respect the semi truck, a US engine of interstate commerce (Pt. 1)

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A red Volvo bobtail semi truck.

A Volvo bobtail semi truck. (Photo Credit: CC BY-SA/Fourthords/Wikipedia)

Whether it’s Peterbilt, Freightliner, Kenworth, Volvo, Mack or Western Star, a semi truck is an 18-wheel, 80-foot, 40-ton, double-clutch machine of U.S. interstate highway commerce. For a quarter-million dollars, you can get your hands on a new bobtail truck and trailer. Here are 10 things that you didn’t know about semis, for those who don’t know their 20.

Semi truck fact No. 1 – Origin of the term ‘semi’

The use of the tractor trailers that carry the goods transported from place to place are what gave rise to the use of the term “semi,” in that the trailers have no front wheels and can only be used if connected to a tractor.

A trailer is typically about 53 feet long, and have brakes that apply automatically when the trailer is not connected to the truck. When connected, the truck’s air pump causes the trailer brakes to release so that it can roll.

Semi truck fact No. 2 – Where the truckers are

Of the nearly 2 million semi trucks currently operating in the U.S., one-third of them are registered in one of only three states: California, Florida or Texas. There are 3.2 million semi truck drivers in the U.S., however. Ninety percent of all trucking companies and owner-operators own five trucks or less.

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Semi truck fact No. 3 – Two thirds of the goods

If you’ve ever wondered how most of the goods sold within the U.S. got to their store of destination, wonder no more. Semi trucks drive a total of around 140 billion miles per year in the U.S., and they deliver over two-thirds of all retail goods. Most of the 60,000 total pounds delivered on a per-American basis annually are accounted for by the agriculture and building material industries.

Semi truck fact No. 4 – In it for the long haul

Over the course of a single year, one semi truck will average anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 miles, according to the Federal Highway Administration. While semi trucks comprise only 15 percent of the total number of commercial trucks in the U.S., the semis track 42 percent of the total miles each year. Large commercials trucks

Semi trucks make up just 15 percent of commercial trucks in the U.S., yet they travel 42 percent of all miles covered by commercial trucks.

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Semi truck fact No. 5 – Semi trucks aren’t fuel efficient

Set aside your green notions of maximum fuel efficiency when you consider the work done each year by semi trucks. In 1973, federal agencies estimated that such long-haul commercial trucks got 5.6 miles per gallon on diesel fuel. That figure has improved to 6.5 mpg today on average, although some diesel semi trucks get as much as 8 mpg. Throw in some steep hills along the way and that number can decrease to as little as 2.9 mpg. Thankfully, going down the back side of that hill can raise fuel efficiency as high as 23 mpg.

Soon, CAFE standards will require that U.S. semi trucks with sleeper cab to average 7.2 mpg on level roads. How will semi truck makers achieve this? Improved aerodynamics and new skirts that prevent wind turbulence under the trailer are under consideration, as are “super single” wide wheels and tires intended to replace dual wheels. It is believed that this change alone will increase mileage by as much as 7 percent. Cutting edge variations on cruise control, where engine efficiency are measured against total load and road environment are measured in order to determine optimal cruising speed, may soon be a reality.

CLICK HERE to see numbers 6 through 10 of this top 10 look at the amazing semi truck.

Classic trucker’s anthem: ‘Six Days On the Road’ by Dave Dudley


Popular Mechanics

The Truckers Report

Wikipedia entry for semi-trailer truck

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