© 2002-2013 John Mayer. All rights reserved.
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In this Section:
Finding The Truck
Which Class 8 to Convert
Deciphering Volvo Models
Autoshift and Automated
The Air System
Singling Your Truck
Solving Vibration Problems
Evaluating a Potential
First Things to Do
On Your New Truck
Hauling a smart Car
On Your Truck
This section discusses our trucks, and the factors we considered when
selecting from the many available trucks. Although we ended up buying
our first truck - a Volvo 610 - through Larry Zeigler, we considered all our options before
accepting one of the trucks Larry acquired. It took us over a year to
find our truck, and we spent a year before that researching our options.
We were pretty particular, and as it turned out, some of the things we
thought we wanted on the truck we dropped when we bought from Larry.
During this process Larry offered free and willing advice to us. Ten
years later I still find his advice was “right on” in every
respect. Some of the tradeoff’s you have to make are personal
choices/preferences; such as wheelbase. Only YOU can decide on these,
but you need to understand your present and future requirements well in
order to make an informed decision. Your truck will last a long time, so
choose accordingly. Near the end of this section is a link to salesmen
you might consider, and some other helpful info. Also, check the
Resource Listing section for various sources of parts, places to have
your truck painted, etc. Obviously, much of the info that follows is our
opinion. I try to present the logic we used to reach our conclusions.
Your preferences may differ. There are a large number of pictures of our
Volvo 610 being converted to
a single axle here:
610 Volvo conversion. A photo album of our 780 bed build and
other 780 projects is
One note on bed building: since
smart cars have
become popular additions to HDTs for local transportation I would think
building a body that was not large enough to add a smart. Even if you are
not interested in a smart, it will enhance the resale value of your
truck greatly, and you may change your mind in the future.
There is a great deal of reference information on the
Resource Guide (web site). Including lots of pictures of different
trucks. It is well worth a look.
To answer some of the common questions that people have about using
an HDT as an RV Hauler check out
A Note About Owning and Driving an RV Hauler Semi- Truck.
Finding the Truck
Some people have the skills, desire, location and
knowledge to find and convert a truck to an RV hauler on their own. Most people do not.
If you have the skills and location to do this work yourself you can
probably skip this section. If you don't have the confidence to find and
check out a truck on your own you may want to buy a "turnkey"
conversion. You have two choices: buy an existing truck that is
converted for RV use and that is for sale, or have a truck converted
specifically for RV use by a truck conversion company. Both
are good options.
The Escapees HDT forum always has a number of
trucks listed for sale. Most of these have been used in RV service for a
number of years. They have conveniences added to them for RV use. And
they can be a good buy, if someone is "moving on" and getting out of the
RV lifestyle or converting to a motorhome.
There are not many truck conversion companies
that convert HDTs. There are more companies that convert MDTs, but most
of them will not touch a used HDT. For a "turnkey" product - where you
simply specify the type of truck you want and the characteristics of the
conversion (wheelbase, singled, etc.) there is only one company I would
recommend. That is RV
Haulers in Calgary Canada. Gregg and Kerry Shields convert (mainly)
Volvo tractors for use as RV haulers. They find the truck, check it out
before purchase, perform any mechanical upgrades/fixes required to make
it a reliable RV hauler, single it to your specifications (short, long
or mid), detail the truck, put on an ET hitch and Jackalopee wiring
converter, cut the frame rails to proper length, clean up the frame, and
do any other customizations you want. While Gregg does not currently
build hauler bodies, the truck is completely prepped for a hauler
body to be added. For a hauler body I highly recommend Larry
Herrin, in Kilgore, Texas.
While I have the skills and knowledge to find an
appropriate truck and "job shop" out the work of converting an HDT to an
RV hauler, I chose to use Gregg for the acquisition and conversion of
our 2009 Volvo 780. It greatly shortened the time required to get a
functioning truck, and Gregg is incredibly conscientious on the
mechanical aspects of the selection and conversion process. He shares my
philosophy of preemptive maintenance, and replaces all marginal or
suspect parts that he finds during conversion. This results in a
far more reliable truck. In my opinion, one of the things that
differentiates RV Haulers from other conversion companies is the amount
of time and effort Gregg puts into the mechanical aspects of the
conversion. He makes sure that the truck is mechanically sound, and has
mechanics on staff to perform any work required to make the truck as
reliable as possible. He also has an excellent relationship with the
local Volvo dealer for things that he can not do "in house" - like
reprogramming the ECU or the lighting and traction control systems.
The fact that Gregg is in Canada and I had to
import the truck did not prove to be an issue. Gregg prepared all the
paper work and the border crossing was a "non-event". It took all of
twenty minutes. Working with Gregg was indeed a pleasure. During the
process of finding and converting the truck we spoke almost daily, using
email or Skype. The communication process was superb - I never
"wondered" about what was going on, and I was involved in all the
decisions along the way. Gregg uses video and pictures extensively, so
you always have a good "feel" for where the conversion process is. If
you would like to see a series of about 30 short videos documenting the
conversion of our Volvo 780 take a look at the
There is a link to the video series on the home page.
I can not stress enough how important good
communication is during the conversion process. You are paying a premium
for someone else to do the work - so it is incredibly important that you
be aware of, and involved in, the decisions that have to be made during
the conversion process. There will ALWAYS be surprises when doing a
conversion on a truck, and as the owner you want to be both aware of the
issues, and involved in the decision process. Gregg excels at keeping
you involved and aware of what stage the project is in. He also is
keenly aware of how long it takes to do the conversion properly, and he
gets the job done. Believe me, grass does not grow under Gregg's feet.
The trucks Gregg finds for conversion are
typically in Canada. That is not a problem, and in some ways is an
advantage. For example, trucks in Canada often have auxiliary heaters in
them. My truck has a Webasto heater (that heats the truck without the
engine running). They also tend to more commonly have APU's in them as
compared to US trucks. Gregg finds his trucks from both dealers and
owner operators. Many of his trucks are owner-operator trucks. These
trucks tend to be very well taken care of, and also outfitted to a
higher level of amenities and options than other trucks. Before
purchasing a truck, Gregg inspects them very carefully - he is very
particular about the condition of the truck, and he only buys
non-smoking trucks. So you are starting with a great truck, and the
conversion and build-out process only improves things.
Gregg will deliver the truck to you in the US (or
Canada) if that is convenient for you. He also now pre-clears customs
for trucks coming to the USA. In my case he prepared all the paperwork
and it was a simple matter to clear customs - now he actually takes the
truck through customs for you prior to your picking the truck up. Thus,
you do not have to do customs when bringing your new truck home. Simply
drive across the border as you normally would. This is a great
service, and eases peoples "nervousness" about truck importation.
Gregg and Kerry own an RV and use an HDT to pull
it. So he understands very well how important reliability is in the tow
vehicle, and he also understands the RV lifestyle and what is important
to an RVer. For example, he only uses the best hitch available - an
ET hitch. When
considering an HDT conversion, if you are not doing it yourself, you
will be well served by giving Gregg a call. If you have any
questions about the process, or using RV Haulers for your truck
conversion, feel free to contact me.
Which Class 8 to Convert
We obviously selected a Volvo, but that does not mean other class 8’s
are not as good. As with RV’s there are tradeoffs in every model.
Personally, we wanted an aero sleeper, but others find a sleeper to be
too big and a waste of space. Some buyers convert the sleeper to
passenger seating. This is certainly doable. You can add windows to the back
and sides if your truck does not have them (try
Peninsula Glass for a great
selection of high-quality RV-style windows). You can also add a
jackknife couch in place of the bed (and still retain the storage
compartments). If you want to be able to drop the couch into a bed then
you will have to remove the storage cabinets in some trucks (definitely
in a Volvo 630/670). We chose to leave our interior intact since we
sometimes use the Volvo for short overnight trips instead of hauling the
5er. We also like having a fridge/microwave in the truck, which would be
difficult in a Volvo 610 if you added a jackknife couch. You can see
some pictures of Volvo's with windows and couches added at
Powerhouse Coach. Look in
the "Toters" section.
There are two primary tradeoffs that will drive all other choices
when considering which tractor to convert. These are length of cab, and
height of cab. Full height tractors are easy to find (full-height
tractors are about 13’ tall) and much easier to find with an automated
than mid-height tractors like a Volvo 630. Mid height tractors have the
advantage of being easier to drive off the interstate/National
Network. There is less
tendency to hit tree limbs, or to have to deviate because of low
overpasses. There is only one popular mid-height aero tractor and that
is the Volvo 630. Other manufacturers make mid height units but they are
harder to find. (You can find more mid-height conventional tractors
- those with the long nose - but we prefer an aero sleeper.) Full height
tractors do have additional storage in the extra vertical space. Most of
the full-height tractors are also longer than the mid height tractors.
The length of the tractor (wheelbase and cab length) is probably the
most critical measure. Your wheelbase will be driven by the BBC (Bumper
to Back of Cab) measurement. Basically, longer sleepers have longer
BBCs. So the Volvo 630, with its 61-inch sleeper, will be much shorter
to the back of the cab than a Volvo 780, with its 77-inch sleeper. The
longer the BBC is, the longer the minimum wheelbase. So, you need to
decide how long of a wheelbase you can tolerate. Anything over around
210” is going to be significantly harder to drive around town and park
than shorter ones. I’ve kind of chosen 210” arbitrarily, but it is based
on my experience driving our truck (182”) and longer wheelbase MDTs and
course, you really need to consider what kind of deck cargo you will be
carrying. If you don’t intend to carry anything on the deck, then stay
on the short side. Our 182” will carry a single motorcycle or ATV. On a Volvo 630
a 182” wheelbase is about as short as you
can go. If you look in the section describing our body you will find the
spreadsheet we used to play with different wheelbases and body layouts.
It has a truck body calculator for Volvo 630, 780 and Kenworth T2000.
This should help you decide what wheelbase truck to buy.
What you give up with the shorter cab trucks is the nice large
sleeper. The Volvo 630 is certainly livable, but a Volvo 780 has a lot
of extra room and storage, as does the T2000, with its 75” condo. As an
example of the length tradeoffs, consider a T2000 compared to our 182”
wheelbase Volvo 610. Our truck body is 9’ long (behind the vertical cab
fairing). There is a box in between the cab fairings that is 14”. To put
the same body on a T2000 (9’ body behind the vertical cab fairings) you
end up with a 204” wheelbase, assuming you can find the 230” wheelbase
tractor to start with. (Subtract 26” from the tandem wheelbase to get
the single axle wheelbase.) Most T2000 wheelbases (unconverted) are in
the 232-240” range. So you will have at least 22” more wheelbase. But
you will have 14” more condo space, if that is important to you. Note
that our deck is the shortest that is usable for carrying much of
anything, so your deck might have to be longer than our 9’.
Deciphering Volvo Models
Some history of Volvo models, and evolution can be found
Here is how Volvo model names work:
VNM = 112" 'bumper to cab'
VNL = 123" "long hood"
VHD = construction truck
VT = new muscle hood model
42T = 4x2 Tractor
64T = 6x4 (tandem drive axle) Tractor
1997-2001 models Gen 1 models
420 = 42" nominal sleeper length, flat roof cab
610 = 61" sleeper, midroof cab.
660 = 61" sleeper, raised roof cab (upper side windows)
770 = 77" sleeper, great dinette, raised roof cab (upper side windows +
lower side windows)
Oct-2002+ Gen 2 models
VN models with new emissions:
VNL models have new headlights, new grille, tank fairings
VNM models have old headlights but new grille
200, 300, 800 = day cabs
420 became 430 42" sleeper
610 became 630 61" sleeper
660 became 670 61" sleeper
770 became 780 77" sleeper
engines, Volvo D12 and Cummins ISX only
VT muscle hood, D16 Cat engine - 625 HP 2250 torque
880 = VT hood with 780 cab
Also since mid 2005 you can get a Volvo D16 in the VNL models in several different HP/Torque ratings.
VNL64T730 (780 sized sleeper with a mid roof 630 roofline). Mid year
From late 2007 onward the I-Shift
transmission was available. It is virtually impossible to find before
For our first truck our candidates for conversion were the Volvo 610, Volvo 770, Pete
387, and Kenworth T2000. All are full height tractors with large condos,
except the 610. We did not consider a Volvo 660 because it has the condo
of a 610, with the height of a 770. For us, the worst characteristics of
each. We also did not consider any Freightliner product. We have many
friends with MDT FL's and they have nothing but problems. Danielle's
friends in the heavy trucking industry recommended staying away from
Freightliner unless cost was a significant factor. Your opinion may vary
on this point. (Update: the newer M2 FL's are pretty nice trucks, and if
I was building new I would consider them. Also, the Cascadia has proven
to be a very good truck.)
At the time we were looking for a truck it was to be our daily
driver, so we discarded the Volvo 770 and Pete 387 because of their height. They
are just taller than we wanted for every day driving. They are fine on
major highways, but on secondary roads, and especially in some
campgrounds, they are taller than is convenient. Even with our 10’10”
Volvo 610 we have to be observant. Most of our time is spent in every
day driving, not while towing, so it was more important to have a
tractor that was good around town.
T2000 usually has a cab extender (airfoil) in place to match standard
freight trailers. If this is removed, the height of the T2000 is 11’ 6”.
Only 8” higher than a Volvo 610 (at 10’10”). That is pushing it, but
acceptable in our view. In the picture to the left, our Volvo 610 is on
the far left, in the middle is a T2000 with the cab fairing removed, and
on the far right is a T2000 with the cab fairing in place.
The T2000 has a 75” condo, and a 50” setback front axle. Its
BBC is 184”. With a suitable body, the minimum wheelbase of a T2000 is
in the 204-208” range (assuming you want to carry a motorcycle). Along
with the longer wheelbase, the T2000 only has a 45-degree wheel cut; the
Volvo’s have a 50-degree wheel cut. The combination of these two factors
means that a T2000 will be a much harder vehicle to live with on a daily
basis. Our limited experience with T2's also led us to the conclusion
they are noisier than Volvo's, and the driving position (especially for
short people like Danielle) is not as comfortable as the Volvo. The
driving position does vary somewhat based on the installed seats, and
the availability of telescopic steering (this is an option in T2's and
standard in Volvo's). In favor of the T2000 is its very nice 75” condo,
and its looks. We consider it one of the best looking tractors on the
market. It is also fairly easy to find one with an autoshift
transmission. If you are looking at a Pete 387, be aware that from 2005
on they have a wheel cut of 55 degrees (with the 12002 front axles) -
better than a Volvo. Prior to that you were stuck with the 45 degree
wheel cut in a Pete.
Back in 2003, all these considerations led us to a Volvo 610 as the
right tractor for us. The final deciding factor was the Volvo had a
driver’s side air bag, the engine was designed to dive below the cab in
an accident, and the dash was designed to be crashworthy. While we would
to have a larger condo, the 61” condo is fine, even for overnight
trips. Despite the negatives of the T2, it is a fine truck, and we would
consider owning one in the future. It would have to have telescopic
An in-depth analysis that came to a different conclusion, ending with
the purchase of a Volvo 770, can be found at the website of
Mark and Dale Bruss.
2011 Update: If choosing today we would choose a 780 first, and
then a Pete 387. Since our truck is no longer our only transport, the
taller cab height is not a factor. The extra space inside is an
important consideration, since we do use our truck as a mini-motorhome
on occasion. We prefer the 780 over the 387 because of the dinette, and
the extra cabinet storage in the 780. But the Pete looks better in our
2012 Update: In fact, we did choose a 2009 Volvo 780
as our second truck. For the reasons noted above.
Our First Truck -
1999 Volvo 610
In 2003 we purchased a 1999 610. It had a Cummins ISM (upgraded M-11)
with 400 hp and 1450 lb./ft. of torque. One of our “must-haves” was an autoshift transmission – more about that later. We have a 182” wb, after
conversion. The frame was cut at 39” behind the rubber of the rear tire
(see the body-building section for our recommendations on this). We
added Accuride aluminum wheels on the fronts and outer rears. We had the
truck dyno’ed, DOT inspected, an overhead (tune-up) done, all fluids
changed, and synthetic added to the transmission and rear. We also had
Cummins do an engine inspection and bought the extended warranty that
they offered (200,000 miles/2 years).
We had the tank fairings added to the truck. This is an expensive and
time-consuming operation. Figure on a minimum of $2000 to add these
(yes, you read that right). If you want tank fairings, make sure they
are already on the truck - adding them is not really practical.
I did not have the converter do any additional electrical work, or add any
appliances. I'm very particular about electrical modifications and the
“draw” of appliances, so chose to do those myself. You can see what I
did in the Truck
Improvements portion of this website. I did have the shore power connector
added because I was picking the truck up in
Kansas City and driving directly to Livingston, TX to register as a
motor home. I did this without having all the appliances in. If required
to go through an inspection in order to obtain the motorhome
designation, I wanted to be able to go to Wal-Mart, buy the appliances,
and then complete the registration process for a motor home. Having
shore power already in would make this much easier if I needed to do it
“on the road”. As it turns out, it was not necessary; I registered as a
motorhome without any inspection. I added the appliances later.
Back in 2003 our requirement for an engine was Cummins, Detroit, Cat in that order
and at least 400 hp/1450 torque. Variable hp engines were fine, as long
as they met these minimum requirements. As it turns out, 400 hp is
sufficient to pull a heavy RV. I would buy another 400 hp engine, but I
would prefer a 430-ish/1550-1650 torque. The extra torque would be handy sometimes
in the big hills of the west.
When looking, I was more familiar with Cummins engines, so that was
our preference, but at this point I would take any of the big three. At
the current time, most Volvo trucks have Volvo engines in them.
Originally, in 2003, I said I would not buy a Volvo engine. Not that I thought
that there was anything wrong with them, in fact they have a good
reputation; it is just that I thought they would be harder to get worked
on by “experienced” mechanics than the others. I've since changed my
view on this and would buy a Volvo engine (and in fact, did buy one on
our 2009 780), assuming the truck met my
other requirements. The experience of others with the Volvo engines has
been good, in the service area.
We have routine service (oil change, fuel filter, lube, etc.) done at
Speedco, primarily. It is easy in and out, we can run through with the
5er attached, if required, and they are consistent in price and service
level. They also don’t object to you standing and watching them; in fact
they insist on you watching them torque the oil drain plug. I always get
an oil test done. It is relatively cheap, and lets you know if anything
is starting to go in the engine or cooling system. Once a year or so,
when I am in a Volvo dealer for Volvo-specific work I have them do just
a lube. That way I have a better chance of getting all the lube points
done. You would think a Volvo service person would know where they are
(perhaps wishful thinking).
So far (after over 10 years), we have had no engine-specific problems
with the Volvo 610.
A note about the "big block" engines (like the ISX/ N14 Cummins
or the Volvo D16).
These engines are heavy. When used in a bobtail tractor, with a good
fuel load onboard, you could overload the front axle (typically 12k
lbs.). To counter this problem, Volvo, at least, moved the fuel tanks
rearward on some versions of their trucks. This interferes with having a
body with forward storage compartments (just forward of the axle), since
there is at least one fuel tank positioned back in this area. You see
this most often on 780's but it can be on 630's with the ISX/N-14 (or
any "big block"). You need to be aware of this when converting to RV use
- you want as much weight on the rear body as is practical to "unload"
the front axle and better distribute weight. Many people add weight (up
to 1500 lbs., in some cases) behind the rear axle in the form of plates.
I think this is a good idea if you have a front axle close to overload.
Remember, you use the tractor "bobtail" more than hauling. If you are
having a hauler bed built, then you can move the tanks forward to regain
some of the space lost to the tanks. The body will more than balance out
the front axle loading.
The B50 rating of an engine is an indication of when half the engines
will need overhaul. So a B50 of 500,000 miles means half the engines
that reach 500K miles will have needed an overhaul. The following table
gives statistics for the most popular engines. If you buy a used truck
that has an engine near the B50 then you should factor in the cost for
an overhaul into the price, in my opinion. Any engine close to the B50
you might consider replacing the rod and main bearings and having a look
at the engine while doing that. Cost to replace rod and main bearings on
most engines is in the $1400-$1600 range. It is cheap insurance for a
higher mile engine.
Line-haul Hp/Torque range
Sump Capacity (quarts)
Engine idle time is another piece of data to look at. The ECM report
or drivers display will show total idle time. Industry experts report
that Class 7 or Class 8 OTR trucks (Over The Road) will average 1,800 to
2,600 hours per truck annually. If used in expedited freight then it
will typically be higher, because of extended layover times in
The air systems, and associated parts, are quite different from a
regular truck. The braking system depends on a reliable, and clean, air
supply. When selecting a truck you need to make sure the air system is
in good working order, with no major leaks. All trucks will leak down
over time, when left sitting. “Normal” behavior falls in the range of
dropping air to 75psi (the alarm point) in a 24 hr period. When checking
a truck for acquisition, I personally would not accept a drop of more
than 5 psi (more or less) in a 2 hr period. If it is leaking down that
fast you need to discover why. The leak could be anywhere, and it might
be hard to find. Some of the component parts of the air system are very
expensive to replace, so you need to find out why it is leaking.
On all modern trucks there are three air tanks; a “wet tank” that the
air compressor supplies with filtered and dry air (you hope), and a tank
and associated lines for the primary brakes (rear) and secondary brakes
(front). The wet tank needs to be checked and drained on a periodic
basis. It might contain water (through condensation) or a small amount
of oil. You don’t want this oil and water to get into the braking
system. If the air dryer desiccant filter is working properly, the
amount of oil/water in the wet tank will be minimal. Our truck NEVER has
any moisture or oil in the wet tank. When used in commerce, the driver
is required to check once a day. I generally check once a week, and have
never found anything. Some trucks have automatic drains on them, but
they should still be checked manually on a periodic basis.
When looking at a truck I would be suspicious of lots of water/oil,
but it is in the normal range to have some. Depending on how much it has
been driven once the dealer acquired it there might be significant
condensation. You know the salespeople are not draining the tank.
Using air brakes is a little different than hydraulic brakes. With
air brakes, there is a lag between pushing the pedal and brake take-up.
This is because the air in the lines takes time to activate the brakes
(about .5 second, according to CDL manuals). There is also no direct
feedback through the foot pedal; what you feel is the resistance of a
spring, not hydraulic modulation. Some trucks have an application air
gauge, where you can see how hard you are applying the brakes. This is
really only useful for long grade descents, so you can tell if your
brakes are fading. It is not real usable for normal stops.
We restricted our choices to trucks with an autoshift transmission.
At the time, that was the only automated transmission widely available
in a class 8 tractor. Starting in 2002 you could also find fully
automated transmissions - also called 2-pedal transmissions. These
operate much like an autoshift, but eliminate the clutch pedal entirely
and give that function over to the computer. They are still not an
automatic transmission like in a car - they have no torque converter.
They automate the shifting and clutch work that a driver would normally
perform with computer controls.
Depending on the year and make of truck you may see: Autoshift,
Freedomline, Ultrashift or I- Shift transmissions. All but the Autoshift
are 2-pedal transmissions with no clutch pedal, and no clutching required. An autoshift is a
3-pedal transmission that requires clutching at start (and stopping if
you don't use neutral) - after that it performs all up/down shifts on
its own, under computer control. Autoshifts can be 10-speed (the most
common) or 18-speed (pretty rare and probably not best for RV use). On all of the automated transmissions
you can use some form of "manual mode" to perform the shifting yourself.
You use buttons on the transmission stalk or panel, or sometimes (with
Freightliners) a form of
paddle on the steering wheel or steering column stalk to control the
shifting in manual mode - it varies by transmission type, truck make,
and year. In all cases with the automated transmissions the
computer will not allow you to perform a shift that is "harmful" - even
under manual control. This is an advantage in a used truck - you know it
has not been abused by the driver.
There are two forms of the autoshift commonly available: Generation 1 and
Generation 2 (usually abbreviated Gen1 and Gen2 in ads). They both
operate in a similar fashion, and both require use of the clutch for
starting and stopping. The computer software is different between them,
as is the control mechanism. In a generation 1, the transmission
electronics are housed in a console that is mounted to the floor next to
the drivers seat. The mechanical control lever at the top of the console
permits shifting into the automated modes mechanically with the lever,
or if in "Hold" you can shift between the gears with an electronic
shift, controlled by buttons on the stalk.
the Generation 2 Autoshift control pad is virtually indistinguishable
from the Ultrashift pad. Generation 2 Autoshifts moved the transmission electronics from the
console next to the driver onto the transmission case. This allowed the
control panel to be made totally electronic with membrane-type buttons
(like your microwave typically has) and to be located outside of a
floor-mounted console. In a Volvo, this control pad is almost always
mounted to the side of the seat on a swing-arm. On some other trucks
this pad is mounted inside the dash. It still allows for the same type
of operation as the gen 1 autoshift - you can manually shift the
transmission with the membrane pad. One difference a driver might notice
between Gen1 and Gen2 transmissions its that a Gen1 can be programmed to
allow starts in any gear up to and including 5. Gen2 transmission
software only allows starts in up to 3rd gear. Freightliner has a
proprietary version of the Autoshift that uses a stalk on the steering
column. See the picture to the left. This is a very nice setup.
There is now a generation III autoshift available that uses either a
touch pad shift control, or the "cobra head" lever shift control - both
mounted in the dash someplace. It still has a clutch pedal.
There is no inherent advantage to one generation of autoshift over
the another. They all operate in a similar fashion. Some may feel that
the generation 1 ability to start in 5th gear is an advantage. Others
may feel that the touch pad of the Generation 2 mounted on the seat or
dash is an advantage. It boils down to personal preference, in my
All autoshift generations are sensitive to dirt and corrosion in the
plugs and sensors mounted to the transmissions. If you start having
issues with an autoshift then the first thing to do is to pull all the
connectors and clean them with electronic cleaner.
Eaton Fuller, the maker of the Autoshift, also makes the fully
automated transmission called the Ultrashift. In HDT's the Ultrashift is
available in 10-speed, 13-speed, and a rarely seen 18-speed. This transmission has no clutch
pedal, although it does use a conventional clutch under computer
control. It is not an automatic transmission, it is simply fully
automated. There is no torque converter or other paraphernalia that you
normally find in a cars "automatic" transmission. There are, however,
models that have a "Park" position, although these are not seen in
linehaul applications. Park models can not be shifted manually.
Ultrashift came out as a Gen2 in 2004 and moved to generation 3 in
2005. The Ultrashift trans does not "skip shift" by itself in
older models. It always
goes through all its gears, even under a light load. Newer models
(PLUS) WILL skip shift and have additional features such as Hill Holding
and Auto Neutral. The Ultrashift
console can be mounted seat-side, as shown in the left picture (typical
on a Volvo), or mounted onto the dash as shown on a Pete 387. Notice
that the console looks identical to the Gen2 Autoshift.
Ultrashift video 1;
Ultrashift video 2.
The Freedomline transmission, from ZF-Meritor, first appeared in Peterbuilt 387's in 2001, and in T2000's and Volvo's in 2002. It a
2-pedal transmission with an air actuated clutch with a separate air
tank. It is available in a 12-speed and handles up to 1650 lb-ft of
torque. It has an aluminum transmission case, so it is lighter than the
other automated transmissions. The shift console is typically
mounted to the driver's seat and can swing up. The Freedomline will
"skip shift" on its own - that is, if it detects a light load it will
skip gears when upshifting. ZF-Meritor got into a series of lawsuits
with Eaton and no longer sells transmissions in the United States
market. If you are looking at a truck with a Freedomline consider that
in the future it MAY be the case that knowledgeable service technicians
and parts will be less available for a transmission that is no longer
imported. Given an equal truck I'd probably not choose the Freedomline.
The I-Shift fully automated transmission is a 12-speed paired only with Volvo engines. It is Volvo's proprietary transmission, and
was introduced globally in 2002 - it is widely used in Europe. Like the Freedomline it has an air
actuated clutch with its own air chamber. It is said that one of the
major benefits of the I-Shift over the other automated transmissions is
a smoother clutch, resulting in better launch control in low speed
situations - like backing to a trailer or loading dock. I can tell you
from personal experience that this is true.
I-Shift is seat mounted with some additional controls on the steering
wheel itself. There are two models of gear selectors -
both are foldable for sleeper access. The Basic gear selector allows
selection of manual hold for the current gear, but no other gear
selection in manual. The Premium gear selector (shown to the left) allows manual mode to
fully change gears up and down. It also has the performance and economy
modes which the basic selector does not. Volvo has some unique features
in this transmission, like eco-roll and a kick-down feature on the
pedal. The I-Shift will "skip shift" and has a hill hold feature
Starting in 2014 all Volvo tractors will come standard with an I-Shift.
They are that good.
A competitive analysis (from Volvo) that compares an I-Shift to the
Ultrashift Plus (the newer Ultrashift) can be downloaded
I Shift video 1;
Shift video 2; (Note: these You Tube links may be broken....I
can not control YouTube.)
Detroit DT-12 Automated Transmission
This transmission from Daimler
AG, the parent company of Daimler Trucks North America and Detroit Inc,
is a 12-speed fully automated transmission. It is similar to what has
been used in Europe for years and is available in two torque
specifications: 2050 and 1650. You can find an article I wrote on it
My personal preference in transmissions (2013) is: I-Shift,
Ultrashift, Autoshift. At the present time I would not buy a Freedomline,
since they are no longer available in the US, and I have other good
choices in transmissions. There is nothing really wrong with a
Freedomline - but since I have other choices why buy something no longer
Singling Your Truck
Most RV haulers have one of the rear tandem axles removed. This
process is called “singling”, or “singling-out” the truck. There is no
real requirement for a second rear axle in an RV application. The amount
of weight carried when hauling an RV is not enough to justify tandem
axles. If carrying a car other than a smart, in addition to pulling the 5th wheel, it is
probably best to leave the tandems in place. It will give you better
weight distribution front-to-rear.
In order to determine if singling the truck is appropriate you have
to fully understand your cargo carrying requirements. If you intend to
carry a lot of weight, or a lot of weight in the forward (drom box)
position then singling is probably not a good idea. The reason is that
you will likely overload your front axle. Especially if you have a large
displacement engine. Before singling you need to weigh the front axle
and determine how close you are to the limits. This will help in
determining the rear axle position to use. Using the rear (rear)
position will result in more weight shift to the front. Using the front
(rear) will reduce this, but you will still get weight shift to the
front. If you intend to carry any car other than a Smart, then you
probably need to remain tandem. Same with other heavy deck cargo in a
forward drom box. This is likely to overload the front axle. Another
consideration is the type of bed you are adding to the rear. If adding a
hauler body (with side compartments) then you may decide to move the
fuel tanks to the forward position. This will shift weight to the front
axle - some of which will be compensated for by the weight of the hauler
body, or by any weight you add to the rear of the body - behind the axle
position - to act as a cantilever force. It is all a delicate balancing
act (pun intended).
If you are just hauling your RV, with maybe a motorcycle or ATV on
deck, and the typical tool boxes and "stuff" that people carry, then you
are unlikely to overload the front axle if singling to the front (rear)
location. This is especially true when pulling the trailer, since the
hitch location is likely behind the axle centerline and the trailer pin
weight is unloading the front axle. The point is - you need to know and
understand your long-term intentions on use of the truck. Otherwise you
may find yourself unable to do some of the things you want. You can't
just throw things together without risking disappointment later.
The axle position chosen to position the
remaining rear axle (forward position, or rear position, or other) is
based on your cargo carrying needs. If you need a large deck – say to
carry two motorcycles – then you will probably consider the rearward
position - "singled long". Otherwise, to maximize maneuvering and
shorten the overall length of the truck, most people choose to move the
rear axle into the front axle position - "singled short". It is unusual
to create a new axle position that is different from the original
locations. It is a somewhat expensive
process to re-drill the frame for a new position, so it is not usually
done. However, with the recent popularity of carrying smart cars
piggyback, many people, including myself, single "mid". This better
balances the appearance of the truck.
Pro’s of Singling
• Better Fuel mileage.
• Less length – less parking space required.
• Tighter turning radius.
• Less wear and tear on parts, fewer u-joints to go bad, one less
• Fewer brake parts to maintain and replace.
• Fewer air lines to develop leaks.
• Fewer air bags to go bad and need replacing.
• More room for tool boxes built into a bed.
• Perhaps less costly to build a hauler bed.
• Fewer Aluminum wheels to keep polished.
• Fewer tires to check air pressure each day.
• Less PressurePro sensors to buy.
• Higher resale value/easier sale as RV hauler.
• Easier to insure and register in some cases (depending on
insurance company, and state of registration).
Cons of Singling
• Less weight carrying capacity.
• Costs about $2000.
• Aggravation of ensuring the driveline angles are correct.
• Potential complications with the ABS and
traction control systems, which can be a pain to
• Can not use as commercial vehicle in most cases.
• Less brakes - although braking might be
more effective because of tire contact area vs weight on tire patch.
• (Maybe) less traction. Will vary based on circumstances.
• Shorter “bobbed” tail may not look as good to some.
The cost of singling a truck will vary, based on local conditions and
the market for axles and tire/wheel sets. In some cases people have
traded the axle and tires/wheels for the work, with no out of pocket
costs. However, this is unusual – in most cases you will have to pay to
have the truck singled. Prices vary widely, but range from $800 to
$2000, with the parts taken as trade. The typical price in 2013, and what you
should strive for, is about $1500-$2000. For that price, you should take the
best of the 8 tires and wheels – the rest will be traded for the work.
Any good axle/frame shop, and some dealers, can single the truck for
you. Ask at your local dealership and they can refer you.
The proper way to single the truck is to utilize the rear axle. It is
the main drive axle and is designed for constant service. It is either
left in place, or moved forward to replace the most forward of the
tandem axles. A new drive shaft needs to be fabricated, and possibly a
new carrier bearing. Sometimes a truck is singled using the front axle
by just leaving it in place. The rear axle is simply removed. This
requires engaging the power divider at all times, and leaving an exposed
yoke at the rear. This yoke was the termination point for the rear drive
axle. It is designed to be loaded, and running it unloaded can cause
issues - you will most likely have early seal failure as well as other
problems. The front (rear) axle is not designed to be used as the primary drive
axle, it is designed to be engaged in low speed, slippery conditions - not to be run at highway speeds. At the 2006 HDT Rally the service
manager, a group of mechanics and Kenny Doonan (the owner of Doonan
Truck, the Wichita Peterbuilt dealer) all advised against singling the
truck using the front axle. Other sources advise against it as well.
Personally, I would not buy a truck that is singled this way. Other
people have differing opinions, but bear in mind, this is not within the
design parameters of the truck. It does work, however. An excellent
write-up on correcting a "front axle singling job" is on the website of
Mark Shelley - "DIYGuy". His 770 was singled by just dropping the rear
axle. It caused him many problems and a lot of work and expense to
correct. Figure on a minimum of $4000 to fix this - after the fact. Look
On a Volvo the process of singling the truck is fairly
straightforward. The suspension and axles are totally independent in
operation - there is no tie between the two axles. Typically, the rear axle is moved forward into the front axle
position. No new holes have to be drilled - the suspension and axle move
intact. One major issue with all axle relocations is the driveline
angle. The original driveline angles must be maintained, or you will
likely have vibration problems, and potentially driveline failure –
usually a u-joint. On a Volvo, there are shims on the original front
axle that establish the driveline angle. These must be removed from the
original front axle, and moved to the rear axle when it is moved
forward. They are inserted between two saddles that are attached to the
axle with U bolts. In most cases this will establish the proper
driveline angle, but it must be measured to ensure it is within
specifications. In some situations additional shims must be added. Make
sure this is done, or you could have vibration issues or even u-joint
failure in severe cases. If your truck has not had this done, and is
operating OK (with no vibrations), then I would not worry about it. The
most likely outcome will be early u-joint failure, so just keep an eye
on things during yearly preventive maintenance inspections.
All trucks now come with ABS brakes. There are two brake systems
commonly used: Wabco and Bendix. The Bendix three axle ABS can be
reprogrammed to ignore the removed axle. This is a simple job – any shop
can easily do it. The Wabco system can not be reprogrammed and must be
switched out to a 2-axle system (cost is about $650-$700 with
aftermarket parts, plus 1-2 hours
labor). Make sure your ABS is properly set up for the single rear axle.
To identify which system you have, you need to find the ABS controller.
It is generally under the cab, near the transmission. Verify that any
shop work is done correctly. It has happened that the bulb has been
removed from the ABS fault light on the dash to "fix" the ABS. Turn your
key on and verify the ABS bulb is still there, and that it does not come
on once the truck is running.
Here is the method Dan Freedman used on his Volvo 780 with the Wabco
ABS. It may or may not work with
your truck - these things do change over time.
The way that didn't actually work, though I hoped it would
It was suggested that the unit might be reprogrammed, as per
the manual, Unfortunately, the reprogramming is only for the
presence/absence of stability control, not for the presence/absence
of an axle. The manual states this clearly, but the terminology only
makes sense if you already understand all the acronyms.
The way that would have worked but would have been expensive
Several people have reported installing a new ECU that is set up
for a 2 axle truck. As far as I know, this really seems to work.
Unfortunately, the part lists for $1700 and is about $1000 even from
"discounted" suppliers. Some were available on eBay for $399, but as
far as I know, these were not the "correct" part number, although
they did apparently make the ABS work again.
The way that seems to work and doesn't require buying anything!
This is the method I've now used. My
truck's ABS seems to me to be working perfectly now, as is the
cruise control and engine brake. The ABS light functions properly,
and I have no "messages" in the computer. The solution I used was as
1) After removing the middle axle, took its two ABS sensors and
mounted them on the rear axle's wheels. Apparently there was space
for two such sensors on each wheel, 180 degrees opposed to each
2) Hooked the ECU back up to the remounted ABS sensors.
3) Hooked the ECU back up to the (now useless) ABS valves that used
to drive the middle axle.
4) Didn't need to hook up any air to the middle axle ABS valves.
5) Smiled when it all seemed to work properly!
In other words, the ECU is still hooked up to all the parts it used
to be hooked up to. But the sensors that used to be on the middle
axle are now upside-down on the remaining drive axle. And the valves
that used to drive the now-removed axle's ABS are left on the frame
and still hooked up to the ECU (but they don't need to be hooked up
to air). So the ECU sees all the sensors and valves that it wants.
And its efforts to try and unlock the "phantom" axle don't actually
do anything, because the valves it uses for that aren't connected to
Singling a Volvo
with VEST and other Traction Control Features
VEST (Volvo Enhanced Stability Control) with a Bendix ABS-6 with added
ESP (Electronic Stability Control) with traction control between the 2
drive axles. All of this is talking to the engine ECM and the I-Shift
transmission ECM. When one removes an axle all heck breaks loose.
The symtoms are that the ABS light is lit and the DID has multiple
1. The MeritorWabci ECU's can't be reprogrammed. If you have a 6S6M
truck and drop an axle you need to find a used 4S4M ECU. Otherwise the
fault lamp WILL stay on all the time.
2. The Bendxi ECU's can be reconfigured for different axle sets. Any
dealer can do that. poof! lamp out (assuming non-VEST).
3. If your truck is a Volvo with VEST, or a Mack with RSA, you don't
look for a scrapyard ECU - in fact, it's a waste of time, because the
system includes a VIN check. Well, you can find a scrapyard non-VEST ECU
and plug and chug, but I will never recommend defeating a safety system.
4. If you have singled or wheelbase modded a Volvo with VEST, you need
to have the dealer reprogram the unit. Notwithstanding the various
explanations above, The service ABS ECU (for VEST) is a blank and is
reprogrammed frequently at the dealership to a VIN specific setting. You
have to have the dealer call Volvo action service and explain the
changes. If your existing ECU works, it can be reprogrammed. If you
don't do this, you will get either an active ABS lamp and/or active TCS
5. The VN's with the ABS ECU inside the cab have the ECU mounted on a
plate supported with 4 screws in the sides (2per) Remove the screws, the
plate drops down for access. Obviously you have to remove some of the
storage stuff/plastic covers on the bottom of the dash.
This is not just an ABS problem but rather more a
stability controller issue.
Newer Volvo's come with the Bendix ABS-6 controller. This is standard
fair in the newer trucks. Purportedly, stability control will be
required after 2012. This controller has an internal ECM for the ABS and
another for the Stability Control. This controller is reprogrammable for
just one rear axle. However, when the tech flashed the Bendix with his
computer it would not accept the programming to drop the front axle.
Bendix was less than helpful and said just buy a new controller without
the stability control.
Solution - nowhere does it say so but we finally discovered the Bendix
program will allow you to drop the rear axle - but not the front one. So
drop whatever axle you wish but take the speed sensor plugs from the
front axle position, lengthen them as necessary and plug them into the
remaining axle (same plug). It will now accept the programming for the
ABS and stability control for just one drive axle.
You must also delete the axle temperature sensor for the dropped axle or
you will get errors. The Volvo programmer will not let you delete the
front axle temperature sensor but it will let you delete the back axle
temperature sensor. Again - lengthen the front axle sensor wire as
necessary - plug it into the remaining axle (same plug) - tell it to
delete the back axle temperature sensor and all is well.
Volvo Lighting Controller
The Volvo ECM monitors, among other things, the
current in the tail lights, brake lights and license plate lights. If
you replace all the regular bulbs with led's, the ECM sees this as an
open circuit and kills that circuit. Add three more regular tail light
on each side like we did and it sees to much current and shuts down the
Solution - #1. Leave one regular light in each circuit and add as many
led's as you like. The ECM will see that one light in each circuit and
think all is well. The added led's will never draw enough additional
amps to hit the upper limit for that circuit.
Solution #2 - The tech can remove the lower limit for amperage on each
circuit. The ECM then will not shut down the circuit when it thinks it
is an open. If you want to use all led's, you must make this programming
change in each circuit. The tech cannot remove or change the upper limit
so multiple regular lights on a circuit will still fault the ECM into a
shutdown of the circuit for exceeding the upper limit.
Kenworth trucks, with the AG suspension, may prove more difficult to
single. Most of the AG suspensions have a running beam that ties the
suspension elements together between the front and rear axle sets. In
particular, the AG 200 can not be singled. The
AG 380 suspension is an exception – they are totally independent. Some
people single Kenworth's by completely removing the AG suspension and
substituting a “conventional” suspension. The AG 380 suspension is
identical to the Peterbuilt Flex-Air suspension. On Pete's the Flex Air
suspension and the Low Air Leaf can both be singled, since they have
totally independent components. The Low Air has a real long air leaf
spring instead of elliptical springs so the forward position of the
frame brackets may interfere with toolbox positioning if building a
- Make sure the driveline angle is maintained.
- On a Volvo, make sure the U bolts are torqued properly – 550 lb/ft
is the usual amount. If not, your axle will shift, introducing
vibration. Same on other trucks, but the setting may differ.
- Consider replacing the brake cans. They are cheap and now is the
time to do it.
- Make sure that the ABS is moved, and reprogrammed, if required.
Establish up-front that the ABS is required to be properly installed
and working. In trucks with 2-axle ABS the ECM may throw codes
because of the missing ABS, even if the ABS that is present is
working. Only you can decide if this is acceptable.
- Specify that the driveshaft is to be balanced. In many cases the
driveshaft on HDT's is not balanced unless it is specified (hard to
believe, but true).
- Do not just drop the rear axle and run with the power divider
- On a T2000 or other Kenworth, consider replacing the suspension
with a “conventional” suspension. Or negotiate the singling as part
of the sale.
- Have a 4-wheel alignment done after singling.
Solving Vibration Problems
If you just singled the truck and have vibration problems look first
to the driveline angles. You must verify they are to spec. Also, verify
that the axle is not shifting at its attachment point. This will happen
if the U bolts are not torqued to specifications, and is fairly common. After that, look at
- Drive shaft balance.
- U Joints, and U joint orientation.
- Drive shaft phasing. See the driveline manual elsewhere on this
site for further info.
- Carrier bearing.
- Tire balance. The only sure way to balance tires is on the truck.
Find someone who does it that way. Removing the wheel and balancing
will not result is an exact balance on an HDT.
- Tire trueness. Tires on most trucks are not round. Check for
trueness, and have the tires trued if out of round.
- Wheel bearings.
Probably as important as the truck itself is the dealership and
salesman you use. Unless you have a lot of heavy truck experience you
are somewhat at the mercy of the salespeople. Hundreds of trucks have
been bought by posters on the HDT section of the Escapees forum. The
best sales people are in this PDF
file. Check the
Heavy Haulers RV
Resource Guide for additional info.
Central Carolina Trucks will also convert the tractor for you - if they
sell it to you. Many other truck dealers will not.
"Trade terms", is industry jargon for what a dealer would expect a
trucks condition to be if acquiring it from another dealer. You often
see this in advertisements. You can see a definition of trade terms in
Terms For Heavy Duty Trucks and
Trade Terms for
Tractors. The best advice is that you have to make sure the deal is
right, and the truck is right. You can not depend on sales people to
represent your interests. They need to sell the truck
Evaluating a Potential
Prior to purchase you should either inspect the truck yourself, or
have it inspected by a mechanic or inspection company. Try
Truck Remark or
National Truck Protection for inspection companies.
You can perform a decent inspection yourself on many of the trucks
systems and components. At a minimum you must have a dyno done. This
will tell you the blowby numbers, which gives you the most basic
condition of the engine. The dyno will also give you the horsepower at
the rear wheels. Compare this to the rated hp – it should be 80% of the
rated power, more or less. Much less than 80% and I would not buy the
truck unless it was priced such that in in-frame could be done and still
have a decent price for the truck. Another test that can be done is a
coolant compression test. This is done under load and checks for air in
the coolant system. There should be none. If there are bubbles in the
coolant, it is most likely a bad head gasket.
Typical blowby limits are:
- 12 inches water column for Cummins
- 3 inches WC for Cat
- 4 inches WC for Detroit
- 4 inches WC for Mack
Sometimes the dyno will report blowby in psi. Look up the conversion
formula from psi to water column on the Internet.
Make sure the truck has a current DOT inspection. This will not catch
everything, but at least blatant safety items are covered. A dyno and
DOT are normal pre-purchase events. Walk from any deal that does not
allow them. If there is a VIS Check facility in the area, it is highly
recommended. It will check brake and suspension operation. It catches
things that a DOT can not catch. As an example, new kingpins can be over
$1200 – a VIS will catch this – nothing else will. You will almost
always have to cover the cost of the dyno and VIS. Sometimes you can
negotiate a pass/fail deal with the seller – but not usually.
Have the ECM data dumped (printed out). Check the ECM miles against
the odometer miles. They should be close – or there should be a good
explanation. Check the engine serial number against the actual number.
Check the average speed driven. Check if the truck was governed to a
limited speed. Check for any fault codes. You are looking for anomalies,
and things that do not make sense. There should be no charge to dump the
On the exterior, pop the hood and check for fiberglass repairs on the
inside. You are likely to find some – make sure they are reinforced
good, and that they are not cracking. Note if the bumpers and any bumper
extensions are damaged – they often are. You can negotiate for new
bumpers, later. You will often find minor fiberglass “crazing” – it is
not a real problem, but something to note for negotiations. Check the
vertical cab fairings – they often have damage at the tops. Check the
vertical cab fairing brackets – they should be in decent shape. On a
Volvo look at the tubular brace that ties the fairings to the back of
the cab. These are often rusted through. Make sure the doors close
correctly, and without an extreme amount of effort. Ensure that the tow
hooks (two of them on a Volvo) are in their places in the drivers
compartments. Verify the fire extinguisher is present and charged and
that the warning triangles are there.
Check the engine over for leaks and for general external condition –
look at the belts and hoses. If you have coolant test strips, check the
DCA level and pH of the coolant if it is not extended-use coolant. When
having the engine checked it is best to be there when they hook up with
the laptop so you can see the inactive fault codes before they clear
them. Go through the engine, transmission, ABS, gauges, etc. If the
engine is a C12 make sure it has had all the updates done. If it is a
Cummins engine start it right after the key is turned on. Don't give the
fuel transfer pump a chance to pump all the bubbles out and you'll know
if you have air leaking troubles – this will cause rough running.
If it is a T2000 or Pete 387 try to test drive it in at least a 15mph
crosswind. Do the doors leak air? Does it have the secondary seal? Push
on the corners of all the sleeper panels. Are they still bonded? Play
with the wipers. Do they park in the right spot every time? Or are they
erratic? ($300 part) If it is a T2, does it have the complex reflector
headlights? Have them installed if not (huge improvement). Also tell
them you want the drivers mirror glass with
temperature display (it is a simple install) If it has the AG200
suspension have them check the pins & bushings for play. Check for
composite front springs (they are rare but are a KW highway tractor
option). Have they been beat up with highway debris? Do they have any
deep gouges or feathered areas? How are the sleeper side fairings? Are
they bent or beat up? ($600 range each piece). Check the clutch rod heim
joints and bell crank for wear. Make sure the clutch pedal has about 1"
of free play.
Make sure the radiator ground wire is connected and not torn up.
Listen to the fan hub at high idle. Does it rattle and sound rough? How
much friction material is left? Check the sleeper leveling valve rod. Is
it worn out with loose joints? If it has a cab or sleeper mounted
tailpipe listen to it real close during the test drive. Is the drone
acceptable to you? Or are you going to want to rip it off and run it
over 10 times at the first truck stop you see?
Take a look at the batteries if the box is accessible. In almost all
trucks, there are four of them. They should be clean and the terminals
in good condition. Other than that, you won’t be able to tell much.
Make sure the rear tires have the same tread pattern and wear level.
Note if they are virgins, or retreads. Note the tread depth – you want
50%. Note the condition of aluminum wheels. It is not likely they will
be polished, but check them for deep scratches and curb damage. Wheels
can be sanded to get out deep scratches – note for negotiations. The
frame will be rusty in most cases, but note how bad it is. Sometimes it
has been sandblasted and painted. Note the quality of the job – there
should be no flakey rust left. If the hitch is an air slider, the rails
can be used in mounting an RV air hitch on a plate. A regular hitch may
require additional bracing to mount the RV air hitch.
Crawl under the truck and look for loose wires, and oil. There will
almost always be some oil and grease. That is normal. Look for leaks
around gaskets. Check for air leaks where you can (make sure the air is
up on the truck). Check the condition of the headlights. If the covers
are “milky” they need replacing, or polishing. Generally, they need
replacing. Check that the headlight high beam switch is operable (the
truck needs to be running, with the park brake off). This often goes on
Volvos. Also verify that the daytime running lights work correctly, and
that the other running lights and turn signals are operable. You would
be surprised what does not work – even with a current DOT.
On the inside, turn the key on and make sure all the diagnostic
lights are functional – especially the ABS light. Sometimes bulbs are
removed to mask problems. Once the truck is running all lights should
extinguish. There is no acceptable explanation for a fault light
remaining on – it needs to be fixed. Make sure that the instruments all
work. They should not constantly jump around. Depending on the
instruments you may not be able to verify correct operation – for
example, rear axle temps can only be verified if you drive the truck
some. Check that all switches are functional (to the extent you can
without driving). In particular, verify that heat and air works properly
– don’t forget the sleeper controls. Verify that the instrument lights
work and adjust up/down. Make sure any powered windows and mirrors work
smoothly. The drivers display should work once the truck is running. Go
through every screen and verify the LCD display is not damaged, and note
the status of the screen. If there is a Road Relay (or comparable
display) in the truck, do the same with it. These two displays are very
expensive to replace. Check the radio and CD player for correct
operation. Make sure all the speakers work (on Volvos, sometimes the
ceiling speakers are not connected – this is normal). Verify the wipers
work, that the intermittent feature works, and that the washer works.
Check that the seat air controls work, and that the seats maintain their
settings. Examine the seats for condition of material and foam
condition. Seats can be rebuilt, or easily replaced. Figure on spending
$2-300 to rebuild a seat, and $800+ to replace a seat. This is typically
negotiated as part of a sale. Same with the mattress – they are almost
always replaced as part of the sale. Check that all interior lights
work. If there is a TV, verify it is functional. Verify the refrigerator
is operable (check for a dash switch), and that any inverter works. Make
sure any doors on cabinets work, and that the latches are functional.
Doors often break and are just sitting there. If there is an upper bunk,
Before starting the truck, check the level of the air system. If it
has at least 60psi, bleed the three tanks first (you may need pliers).
If it has no air in the system, you will have to air it up first. Check
for water and oil. A little is within the normal range, but a lot
indicates a bad air dryer, a saturated desiccant cartridge, or another
air system problem. A truck with a good air dryer will normally have no
fluids in the air system. Air system problems can be expensive and
aggravating to resolve. Start the truck and air it up. It should build
air at a good rate, and fairly evenly in the primary and secondary
systems. Perform an air brake test (if you do not know how to do this,
consult a CDL manual, or look elsewhere on this website). Shut the truck
off with full air (120-130 psi). Verify that the truck holds air – crawl
around and check for obvious leaks. Check the air system again after an
hour or so. It should not have bled down more than about 5 psi (at the
most). If it has, you need to figure out why.
If you have a CDL they will let you drive the truck (and you probably
do not need to read this). If you do not have a CDL they may not –
sometimes they will. If you do not know how to drive a manual, or have
never driven an HDT before, now is probably NOT the time to learn. Have
the salesman drive it. If they do not let you drive it, go for a ride
with the salesman. If they will not let the truck be driven, walk away -
FAST. Check the alignment – on a decent road the truck should track true
with your hands off the wheel for 10 seconds or more. There should be no
vibration in the driveline, and the wheel balance should be true. Find a
place without traffic and check the braking. The truck should stop fast
and true from various speeds – sometimes it will pull a little, but it
should not pull a lot. On an autoshift truck, ensure the truck operates
properly in “Hold”. Verify what gear you can start out with in an
autoshift. If the truck is not programmed to start in a higher gear than
“2” you can have that changed (in a Gen 1, up to “5”; in a Gen 2, up to
3). Check the
clutch brake operation – the clutch brake should engage within a half second or
so of fully depressing the clutch (at a stop). Otherwise it may need
adjustment or replacement. Obviously, the truck should accelerate
smoothly without misses or surges. Verify the cruise control works.
Verify the Jake works in all positions.
Everything is negotiable. You may not be able to get the price down,
but you may be able to get lots of work done for that price. If you are
buying from a dealer then you can get lots of work done as part of the
deal. If buying from a broker (without repair facilities), you may not
be able to get any work done, but you can negotiate price, based on
needed work. Do not sign the delivery papers or take delivery until ALL
the work is done. You will find it difficult or impossible to get work
done if you "bring it back later". A deposit is normal and expected. Make sure it is
refundable without penalty. Get this in writing. Things to negotiate:
- Parts and accessories you want at dealer cost. They will likely
restrict this to stuff specified at time of sale. All future parts
and service at fleet rates. Clarify what that rate is on labor.
- New rubber for free, or at reduced cost. The tread on the front
should match – if not they should correct for free. The treads on
the rear should match – if not, correct for free. I would negotiate
for new virgins on the back at asking price, or at reduced price for
the tires as part of the deal.
- For sure, there should be a new mattress.
- New seats at dealer cost, or reduced cost. Sometimes included in
- Complete service – all fluids changed. Synthetic in rear and
trans. Oil changed. Filters changed, including the air filter and
cab filter. Spare
fuel filter(s) included.
- If you don’t know when the last overhead was, negotiate a rate for
an overhead. If the truck runs rough require an overhead as part of
the deal and walk if they can not fix the rough condition.
- Body work for asking price, or a reduced rate. The bumper should
be in good shape, or negotiate a price now. If you want to upgrade
the bumper you may be able to get dealer cost. Now is the time.
- If in doubt about the batteries, negotiate to replace them. There
should be four batteries – if not, have them add one and negotiate
to upgrade the others to new ones at the same time.
- Alignment should be included if needed. Same on tire balance.
It is common not to balance the rear tires, but if there is
vibration it should be done.
- Negotiate with the dealer to reset the ECM parameters as part of
the deal. Almost all dealers will do this.
First Things to Do On
Your New Truck
So you got your new
truck home. If you bought it from a dealer or broker then you likely
have no idea what maintenance items have been done to it, and when. The
best thing to do, in my opinion, is to perform all the routine
maintenance at the beginning, so you know where you stand with the
truck. Yes, it is dumping more money into it, but you probably intend to
keep the truck for a long time. Skimping here may bite you down the
road. Of course, if you can, get the dealer to do some or all of this
stuff as part of the purchase price. Some dealers are open to this, and
some are not. If the dealer you buy from is going to charge you for
this, then I would consider having it done at my local dealer. This will
help you establish a relationship with your dealer.
Here is what I would
do to any new truck:
Have an overhead run.
Change the fluids – oil and
filter, fuel filters (primary and secondary).
Lube the entire truck.
Change the transmission fluid.
If an autoshift, make sure it is synthetic.
Change the fluid in the rear.
I’d add synthetic, but that is your choice.
Change the desiccant canister
in the air dryer.
Change the air filter and the
Test the coolant and DCA
levels. I’d seriously consider flushing the system at this point,
but if it looks and tests well you can consider putting this off.
Change the coolant filter if you have one.
Take a careful look at the
power steering fluid. If you have any whine in the steering than
have it flushed.
Check the front hubs for oil
level. Consider having it replaced.
On a Volvo, check the
headlights to see if they are “hazed”. You might as well replace
them if they are – polishing them does not usually work for more
than 6 months or so. If you clearcoat them after polishing it will
The U-joints should have been
checked during inspection. Check them again for looseness, and lube
them. Lube the carrier bearing if you have one. Do these two things
yourself, even if you normally have the truck lubed.
On a VN Series Volvo consider
replacing the drag link. These fail without ANY warning on 1998-2005
model Volvo's. Such a failure may involve you in an accident.
If you are close or over the B50 specification for your engine, I
would consider having the rod and main bearings replaced. It may
not need it, but it is relatively cheap insurance at $1400-$1600.
And it gives the mechanic an opportunity to look the engine
internals over some. I know it would make ME feel better.
This will get you
Hauling a smart Car On
Since smart cars have been available in the United States people have
been piggybacking them on RV haulers. This section will document our
conversion of a truck for smart hauling. Although we currently double
tow a Jeep Wrangler for offroad use, the reality is that we only need or
use that vehicle out West. The rest of the year a smart would be an
ideal second vehicle, and would mean we could stop towing doubles -
which I do not like.
We have purchased our smart. You can see
pictures of it here.
You can see a photo album of out Volvo 780 smart deck build
here. There are extensive comments on the pictures.
Here is a list of parts we used on our smart deck build.