6 Things Writers Get Wrong About Trucks (and you won’t believe #6!) 

They say “write what you know.” I know a couple of things about truck driving, so if you decide to write about it in one of your books, maybe these details will help.
1- Blowouts don’t automatically make you crash. Your average tractor trailer has 18 wheels (10 on the truck, 8 on the trailer.) the five axles are called the steer, the drives, and the tandems. The steer axle is the only one with just two tires on it.

If you lose a drive or a tandem tire, you will most likely hear it, but it won’t destabilize the truck because you have three more tires across the same axle, plus more tires in front or behind. However if you blow a steer tire, that can cause you to lose control and steer abruptly to one side. Hold the steering wheel steady and don’t hit the brakes if this happens–come to a controlled and gradual stop if you can.
2- You can’t drop a trailer while driving. The trailer has a metal pin on it called the kingpin. It locks into the 5th wheel plate on the truck and is held there by super strong locking jaws. Even when you’re parked, you can’t pull the handle to release the jaws of their is any pressure on them, which there definitely is when the truck is in motion. Even trucks with buttons in the cab that release the locking jaws will not do so if the truck is driving. And even if you somehow bypassed that control, you still couldn’t do it while the truck is no if and the kingpin is jammed against the locking jaws.
3- There are two ways you can jacknife a truck. Both ways involve locking up the brakes. If the brakes on the tractor lock up, the trailer will keep pushing it, causing the tractor to turn left or right. If the brakes on the trailer lock up, the tail end of the trailer will swing out to the left or right. It depends on where the brakes lock up.
4- Trucks are more worried about stopping than going. You have three ways to brake in a tractor-trailer: the pedal, the knobs, and the trolley handle. The brake pedal engages whenever it’s pushed. Pulling the knobs (yellow for truck, red for trailer) is like hitting the e-brake in your car, it will lock them up (so this is for dire emergencies only.) The trolley handle (a.k.a. the Johnson bar or trailer brake) only engages the brakes on the trailer. Use this if the tractor brakes get too hot (from overuse, which is a form of bad driving…). But be careful because too much pressure on trailer brakes can cause a jacknife.
5- “Waaaah! Two trucks are going uphill and one is barely fast enough to pass the other one! Waaaah! Truckers are jerks!” Surprise: YOU’RE the jerk. Long distance truckers are paid by the mile, not the hour, and their daily driving hours are limited. If they have a long way to go, and mountains to climb in the process, they are worried about keeping their average speed high. This means momentum. If a truck slows down while climbing, he is never getting that momentum back. So if a heavy guy can go 50 and a heavier guy can only go 45, it doesn’t matter if you want to go 75. Mister 50 is going to get around Mister 45 to maintain his 50, or else he will cost himself money. It’s either 5 minutes of inconveniencing a motorist who can go faster and drive longer, or 1/2 hour of lost drive time because he touched the brakes–and lost money for it. Granted, there are guys who are irresponsible with this, but they are the exception.
6- AIR LINES! CUT THEM, AND YOUR BRAKES LOCK UP. This is the biggest mistake in Hollywood!!! License to Kill, Terminator Genisys, The Flash, and Pete’s Dragon are just a few off the top of my head that get this wrong.

With cars, yes, you lose brake pressure if you cut the brake line. That’s because car brakes use liquid pressure to close the brake pads on a disc, or open them against a drum. Without that liquid pressure, the pads won’t press.

But air brakes are the exact opposite. The default position for air brakes is the locked position, where brake pads are pressed against brake drums and will not let the wheels turn. Once you start the truck and let the air compressor fill up, it pushes those brake pads off of the drum so that the wheels can move. If you cut the air line, all the air bleeds out and the brakes engage within seconds, and there is NOTHING you can do about it while in motion.

Trucks are built this way for a reason: if the air system fails (how or why are irrelevant), it’s better for the truck to stop than to be a runaway. A 40-ton missile does more damage than a 40-ton roadblock around which you can drive.
This is my biggest pet peeve about trucks on tv and in movies, because it is so basic to truck engineering. Trucks are not cars. Don’t ever write it this way or I will find you and bludgeon you with my textbook from trucking school.
That’s all, folks. Happy writing!

Author: grahambradley

Writer, illustrator, reader, truck driver.

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