Driving with a heavy load isn’t for the faint of heart. Many diesel trucks can haul over 10,000 pounds, but all that extra weight will change the way your vehicle handles on the road. When fully loaded, a typical commercial truck (such as a big rig or dump truck) can weigh at least 25 times as much as a typical car.
If you are planning on getting behind the wheel of a big rig or need to haul heavy loads across long distances, use these driving tips to stay safe.
Common Causes of Truck Accidents
It’s important to be aware of the risks that come with long-distance hauling. Driving a big truck can be a daunting task even though you’re just sitting behind the wheel for hours at a time.
Studies show most truck accidents are caused by:
- Driver Error and Fatigue
Most accidents come down to driver error. Many trucking companies run strict schedules that force workers to drive for long stretches without stopping. This can lead to fatigue and drowsiness, which can impact your judgment behind the wheel.
You will need more time to respond to changes in the road when driving with a full load. The added weight increases stopping distance, while making it harder to control the vehicle.
- Poor Vehicle Maintenance
Many accidents are also caused by mechanical failures, which is why it’s important to maintain your vehicle. Driving with a heavy load only increases your risk of injury when riding in a poorly maintained vehicle. If your tire suddenly goes flat or your brakes aren’t working, the truck will need more time to come to a stop. The extra weight also forces your vehicle to work harder than normal. You will put additional pressure on various parts and components, including the engine, so be sure to replace your diesel parts on a regular basis.
- Improper Loading
You can also get into an accident if you fail to load your vehicle properly. Try to distribute the weight as much as possible without overloading your vehicle. Pay attention to your towing capacity. You should never exceed your vehicle’s limits for any reason, even if it’s just a short trip. If the load isn’t secure, your cargo could come loose and suddenly shift weight to one side or cause one of the doors to fly open.
Use these safety tips for commercial truck drivers from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) for additional information.
How a Heavy Load Affects Your Vehicle
Your vehicle will feel a bit different after filling it up with a heavy load. The first thing you’re bound to notice is how long it takes for your vehicle to respond. You will need more power and acceleration to move your truck from rest. You will also need more time and braking power to bring your vehicle to a stop. You will also need more time to turn when traveling with extra weight.
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Expect to burn through more fuel as well. You will need to fill up the tank more often than you would when traveling in a traditional vehicle. Get a feel for your new fuel economy to better anticipate the needs of your vehicle, so you don’t wind up stranded without fuel.
Hauling Safety Tips
- Before You Depart
No amount of driving can save you if you take off in a faulty vehicle or with an unbalanced load. Before you get depart, spend some time making sure you have taken every precaution to protect yourself behind the wheel. The load should be properly secured inside your truck, so the weight doesn’t shift during transit.
- Vehicle Maintenance
Don’t wait to maintain your truck until you are halfway through with your trip. You also won’t be able to make repairs on your truck while it’s carrying a load, so be sure to inspect your vehicle before hitting the road.
Ensure that your vehicle is working properly by testing various parts and components. Keep a safety log to track how your vehicle performs over time. Include any changes in performance, such as strange sounds, problems when starting, or a noticeable drop in fuel efficiency. Keep track of when your vehicle needs to be repaired according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Hauling makes your engine run hotter, which puts additional pressure on your aftercooling system. Many diesel trucks use EGR coolers to reduce the temperature of the exhaust gas, which lowers NOx emissions. If this system malfunctions, your vehicle will consume more fuel and the added heat will damage your engine over time. Replace your EGR coolers often to keep the exhaust gas from overheating.
Your turbocharger will also feel the heat when you’re hauling a heavy load. The turbo increases the flow of gas into the combustion chamber to increase engine power. If the turbo is engaged while you are hauling, your variable geometry turbo will need to go into overtime.
The VGT actuator on the Power Stroke 6.0L diesel engine has been known to fail. Consider turning the turbo off while towing, if you have the option, and replace your 6.0 VGT actuator to improve turbo performance.
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- Watch Your Driving
Timing is everything when you are behind the wheel of a big rig. Give yourself plenty of time to brake and accelerate and use caution when turning.
Slow and steady wins the race. Your vehicle will need more time to change speeds, so try to be consistent with your mph. Maintaining the same speed can also help the load’s impact on the engine.
Keep everything within reach while driving. You should be able to check your route, drink some water, and grab any necessary documents without taking your eyes off the wheel. Keep everything in the same place to stay focused on your route.
Make sure your vehicle complies with the latest towing regulations. You will need a commercial driver’s license (CDL) if you are hauling for work. Be ready for inspection if you get pulled over or if your truck needs to be weighed.
Safety should be your first priority when hauling a heavy load. Keep these tips in mind to make sure you reach your destination intact.