Tips on driving large trucks?
June 9, 2006 8:02 AM   Subscribe

Tips on driving a 20' moving truck...

I'm used to driving small sporty cars. I instinctually knew the dimensions of my last sporty car within an inch; I could be unnervingly accurate when it came to placing it exactly where I wanted it.

Now I have to drive a large cube van on a regular basis. I find myself tending to drive too far to the right and running over curbs on corners. I also have to back the damn thing up to the loading bay, with only side mirrors to guide me.

Surely someone out there drives cube vans with ninja-quality skill and grace. What things do you do that make it as easy as driving a car?
posted by five fresh fish to Work & Money (21 answers total)
I don't think it's ever as easy as driving a car for us occasional moving truck drivers. But here are some things I remember when I have to drive one:

1) You must begin braking sooner, particularly when you have a load.

2) You make wider right turns. For a two-axle 20' truck, you should begin your turn once a little more than 1/2 of your vehicle has passed the radius point of your turn (this will keep you from clipping curbs).

3) You won't accelerate that fast, so pull into faster lanes of traffic with caution.

4) You will have a more difficult time maintaining acceleration on ascending grades and a more difficult time slowing down on descending.

5) Know the height of your truck.

6) Your truck is probably wider than the cab meaning you have to drive more in the center of the lane.

7) Make sure you adjust all your mirrors before you begin driving.

8) Make sure your load is properly placed and secured.

9) When backing into a space, take your time. You need to be about half the length of your truck away from any barriers that you have to navigate between. Begin making your turn into the space immediately at the point where you want to tires to rest when you are parked (i.e. with enough room to open both cab doors). You generally have to cut the wheel pretty hard if you have barriers on each side of you. Practice once or twice in an empty parking lot if you can, you'll feel better about doing it when the stakes ae higher.
posted by mrmojoflying at 8:23 AM on June 9, 2006

The two big things I remember from when I did this regularly:

1) Brake early, brake often, especially when loaded.

2) The truck cuts more to the inside on turns, so give yourself extra room.
posted by OmieWise at 8:48 AM on June 9, 2006

Good advice so far. I'll add:

Signal your turns WAY in advance. Check and check again that there's not someone driving a sporty little car just like yours trying to get around you.

Just like riding a motorcycle has made me a better car driver, I'll bet driving a huge truck will make you a more alert driver too.
posted by ImJustRick at 9:11 AM on June 9, 2006

Your mirrors are your best friend.
posted by justgary at 9:18 AM on June 9, 2006

Be careful making turns, as everyone else has said. Especially in gas stations.

I wasn't.
posted by rbs at 9:23 AM on June 9, 2006

On preview, mrmojoflying nails it pretty solid, so I will mostly expand on what he says.

You are a lumbering elephant surrounded my little rodents. Pay more attention to the vehicles around you. Re 1,3, 4: You do _everything_ slower than the vehicles around you, and they don't know that. Little cars will swerve directly in front of you, cut you off, &c. Anticipate it. Never hurry yourself. Always know what your next turn is. If you might miss your exit turn around at the next one, rather than dashing over to get it.

Also know the loaded weight of your truck. If you are driving in residential areas, many roads and bridges will have posted limits that are surprisingly low.

Learn to read your mirrors; you need to trust them. Practice, if you can. Back your truck part-way into a small space, then get out and compare where your truck is with where you expected it to be.

Right turns: Start _much_, _much_ later than you think. If there's no cars in the other lane, then use space there if you need it. (And check your mirrors when you turn, to see how close your rear tire is to the curb.) Once you've started turning, turn hard.
posted by Rifkin at 9:57 AM on June 9, 2006

More thoughts:

Always know what your next turn is..

Plan your route out ahead, whenever possible. I bought a street atlas when I started driving, and checked it between every stop. If you have regular routes, write them down and review the directions in between. You need to be thinking about driving the truck, not about where you're going.

Also, if this is work related, and you have supplied you need to carry (e.g. dolly, ties) remember the number of items you need to load. Before you can memorize the entire list, you'll be able to remember the number of items.

(Aside: I stopped driving 8 years ago. I still remember that I had fourteen items.)

If you are responsible for fueling the truck: know where you can and know what good locations there are around your area. Avoid small gas stations: bigger chains usually have more room.

Etiquette: If another truck is signaling a change into your lane, but appears to be hesitating, he's not sure if he has room. Flash your headlights to let him know he can move in. From the other end, if someone tells you, blink your rear running lights (not brake lights) as a "thank you".
posted by Rifkin at 10:11 AM on June 9, 2006

Pay constant attention to where the left hand side of the truck is. This, after all, is how most people learn to drive cars without running over curbs. (I'm assuming that you drive on the right, of course)
posted by Neiltupper at 10:20 AM on June 9, 2006

You will get the feel for driving the truck, in the same way you got the feel for driving the sports car. As you hit the little curbs and bumps in the road, it teaches you how far out the wheels extend. Hopefully the learning process doesn't involve anything costly, but it's something you should pick up quickly.
posted by knave at 10:31 AM on June 9, 2006

Assume every person driving something smaller than you is a suicidal psychopath who wants his heirs to collect a fat insurance cheque from you for running over him with your truck. The smaller and or sportier the car the more likely the driver will attempt to commit suicide by having you run over her. IMO guys driving Civics and women driving Swifts/Fireflys are the worst but it's been a few years since I drove 1 and 2 tonne trucks regularly, the magnet car for the crazies might have changed.

Make sure you mirrors are adjusted every time you turn the key. And if they aren't take the time to set them properly. Because you are driving a cube and can't check your load in the mirrors you should just barely be able to see the very back of your truck in the main mirrors. Those convex mirrors are a good accessory, the larger the better but at least 3".

Check your mirrors every few seconds. You are striving to always know what is beside you without having to look.

When you come to intersection square up to the intersection even when making a turn. You basically can't see more than 180 degrees in a cube van and if you have started your turn you are going to have a blind spot on the opposite side. Be aware the suicidal drivers are going to try and squeeze between you and the curb so when making a right hand turn try to get close enough to the curb to block cars. You won't be able stop motor cycles (who are just as reckless as they think car drivers are just in different ways) so watch for them.

As for backing up: Get a half dozen milk jugs; fill with sand, insert broomstick or other long stick and then go to some empty mall parking lot and practise, practise, practise. Both backing up and parallel parking. I can parallel park 1.5 ton truck with 12 foot deck in a spot less than 4' longer than the truck getting the duals within six inches of the curb and without running over the curb. 99 times out of a 100 I only need to reverse once.
posted by Mitheral at 11:12 AM on June 9, 2006

A piece of advice that I consider to be the cornerstone of safe driving in any vehicle is especially true in the truck: always maximize the distance between you and the vehicle ahead of you. In all but heavy traffic it's very possible to keep 5-6 car lengths between you and the person ahead of you. Doing this allows you extra time for braking, looking in mirrors, planning lane changes, and sudden stops.
posted by ontic at 2:03 PM on June 9, 2006

This is advice I got on learning to drive a car, but it may apply here as well. If you can, take the truck out some evening or some Sunday to a place where this a large reflective glass wall. Practice parking and manoeuvering the truck while being able to see its exact position and dimensions in the "mirror". This helped me no end in getting to know the corners of a car and devlop a feel for where the wheels were in relation to those corners. Malls often have wallks like this, so do suburban office/industrial parks. Practice in relation to cars, the curb, street signs, whatever.
posted by Rumple at 2:49 PM on June 9, 2006

When I was practising to get my Commercial Driver's License, the thing that I had to hammer into my head about turning was to think about the pivot point. This may only work me, but here it is: the big difference between driving a regular size car and a truck (or bus in my case) is not where you are sitting in relation to the turning wheels, but where you are in relation to the back wheels. Your vehicle is going to pivot around the back wheels, and if that point is much further back than you are accustomed to, you are going to clip corners, curbs, and other, less durable things! What I learned to do was determine where the back wheels were (usually you can see them in your side mirrors) and not start making the turn until *those* wheels were at the end of the obstacle.

Doing this means that you will pull much further into intersections than you are used to, but that's the nature of the beast! You can help lessen this by turning a little bit in the opposite direction of your turn before you start your big turn. Doing this is very common, but it is a leading reason why cars and such will try to cut past you on the inside of your turn. This is also why truck often have big warning signs on their backs that say "CAUTION! This Vehicle Makes Wide Turns!" with a helpful diagram...

Also, and this advice probably won't be popular but too bad, when you are driving a truck you are BIG. Use that size to your advantage. Move slowly, steadily, and above all, predictably, but don't get trapped into thinking that you can't move. Odds are good that if you signal your turn carefully, and then just start moving slowly, people will give you room. They don't *really* want to get crushed, they just aren't thinking about it! I currently drive a 15' cube truck on a pretty regular basis (that's bed length, not vehicle) and just finished running a 24 footer around downtown yesterday. I had to take my half out of the middle occassionally and sit in the middle of the intersection until the light changed against me to make my tricky turns, but the truck was completely untouched, even with some tricky maneuvering. The extra time it took to be careful was nothing on the time it would have taken if I had rushed and done something stupid!
posted by schwap23 at 4:37 PM on June 9, 2006

A warning: when you get back into a sporty car, it will seem terrifyingly small and fast!
posted by Carol Anne at 5:31 AM on June 10, 2006

And this thing with the rear wheels riding up on the curve on turns -- just last week, a 6 year old kid's legs were crushed when a semi cut the corner at Bay and Douglas in town here, the rear wheels rode up on the sidewalk and pulled him under. The cops showed the news team how the curbs on that corner were black with rubber from semis riding over them.

So, not sending bad vibes or anything -- I really applaud your wanting to become the best, safest driver: the stakes are high.
posted by Rumple at 11:04 AM on June 10, 2006

Heh. I should relicense the sports car and give it a shot, just to see how different it is than the Subie and the moving truck! :-)

Good answers, all: thanks much! Hopefully I'll be able to avoid running over the six year olds. (Honestly, the accident Rumple describes is partly responsible for my asking; I clipped a corner the other day and felt a little ill about "what if...")

I'm going to have to insist that my boss give me a day of paid playtime in a big empty lot.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:47 AM on June 11, 2006

FFF...this is for work? If so, you might want to check into whether you are legally allowed to drive a commercial delivery truck with only a regular license. Also, I would be concerned about your personal liability for an accident. Is your boss insuring you specificially for driving a delivery truck while on the job? I've done delivery work from my car for two different jobs, and both time my employer had to provide me with specialized insurance. In the case when I was driving irregularly, they did it for each trip I made (like once every 2 months). This would be something you want to figure out.
posted by mrmojoflying at 10:02 AM on June 11, 2006

I'll be sure to enquire!
posted by five fresh fish at 3:17 PM on June 11, 2006

mrmojoflying writes "If so, you might want to check into whether you are legally allowed to drive a commercial delivery truck with only a regular license."

In BC anyone with an unrestricted class 5 license (IE: everyone with a normal licence to drive a car) can drive any single rear axle vehicle. You need a rider for air brakes if the vehicle is equipped with them but otherwise it's wide open. The only other restriction would be special licencing required for dangerous goods.
posted by Mitheral at 5:10 PM on June 15, 2006

Thx, Mitheral.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:17 PM on June 15, 2006

FWIW, I didn't run over any corners the other day. Learning to think of the rear wheels as a pivot point really helped. I also learned to use the (small convex) side mirrors better, now that I noticed I can actually see the rear wheels with them.

Still wanna hack up a webcam and small LCD display, though. It'd make backing up accurately so much easier. :-)
posted by five fresh fish at 10:22 AM on June 18, 2006

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