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Buying your first heavy-duty truck is exciting, but it can also be overwhelming. Unfortunately, many new owner-operators focus too much on aspects of their purchase that may not significantly impact their vehicle's long-term profitability. Brands and even engines, while important, aren't necessarily the most critical aspects of your rig for day-to-day operations.
Instead, it's worth considering two aspects of your truck that many new drivers typically overlook: the wheelbase and the axle ratios. These two factors are critical in determining your truck's capabilities and even its comfort on long trips. This guide will help you understand how to evaluate a semi-truck with these specs in mind and why you should care.
Understanding Your Business Requirements
Every trucking business is unique, and you need to consider your requirements as an owner-operator. Where will you be operating your truck most often? Will you be dealing primarily with deep overland travel, or do you expect tight driving in dense cities? Are you pulling your own trailer? Is it a flatbed or a box trailer? Will the terrain be flat or mountainous?
These questions might seem excessive, but you should be able to answer most or all of them as part of your business plan. In turn, your answers will impact how you should spec your ideal truck. If you're buying used, it's imperative to understand your needs so you can focus on trucks that will provide the capabilities you need without being too frustrating to drive.
Wheelbase and Axle Ratios 101
Speccing a truck is a complex process that can fill many books, but you can quickly put a few basics into practice. When it comes to wheelbases, remember that a longer wheelbase tends to translate into more stability and a smoother ride at the cost of maneuverability and fuel economy. A longer wheelbase may be a more versatile option if you can afford the extra fuel and don't expect to do much city driving.
Likewise, axle ratios significantly impact your fuel economy and performance in a variety of driving situations. As a general rule of thumb, higher ratios provide greater power at the expense of more fuel. Trucks with higher axle ratios tend to be well-suited for heavy loads and climbing, but they can also be more expensive to operate for long highway runs.
While you might not get the precise wheelbase and axle ratio combination you're looking for, you should be able to find a rig that fits your business requirements by keeping these simple rules in mind.
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10 November 2021