Why I Tried Driving a Transport Truck

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, Al and I are looking at our retirement options even though we’re still about four years away from retiring.  We are seriously looking at selling the house and hitting the road fulltime.

One of the options we’ve been exploring is buying a 5th wheel trailer and a truck to haul it.  Most people who pull a 5th wheel use a 1-ton truck; however, there is a small group that are using converted transport trucks.  They have taken new or used transport trucks (Class 8, heavy-duty truck, HDT) with sleepers and converted the truck so it can be registered as a motorhome.  Only minor modifications are necessary and vary by province/state.  The advantages of it being registered as a motorhome are for licensing, insurance and driver’s licensing.

It seems the most common reason people want to use the HDT for pulling is for safety.  Among the people I’ve talked to, including Al, the feeling is that in the case of an emergency stop, a regular 1-ton does not have the braking capacity to stop both itself and the trailer since the trailer will outweigh the truck.  The transport does have the necessary braking capacity.  In the case of an emergency swerve, the 1-ton truck would not have weight to control the trailer.

The second most common reason is for the horsepower for pulling up hills.

Before I go any further, I should point out that Al has been trying to convince me for months that the HDT is the only way to go if we decide to buy a 5th wheel.  Logically, I understand his arguments, but I’ve believed the HDT is just way too big for me to consider driving.

In our research mode, we went to the East Coast HDT Rally at Deer Run RV Resort in Crossville, Tennessee.  There were approximately 80 rigs there.  Some old, some new.  A large number were carrying Smart Cars on the platform behind the sleeper on the truck.  The “Smarts” fit sideways nicely on the beds.

The rally is very well organized, and a full agenda is published so attendees can pick what sessions they want to attend.  Due to cold and snowy weather, a few of the sessions had to be rescheduled for later in the week.  However, we did learn a lot in the day and a bit we were there.

Some of the highlights of what was discussed at the sessions that we went to included:

  • A good used HDT can be purchased for as little as $20,000 US; a new HDT will cost somewhere around $165,000 US. The life of an HDT will be more than a million miles; a 1-ton won’t even come close to that mileage. You need to consider the cost of one HDT versus 2 or 3 or more 1-ton trucks.
  • The visibility from an HDT is much better than a 1-ton.
  • The HDT will have better seats, ride (air ride) and less noise but the pick-up truck will be better for passengers and overall length.
  • Besides the cost of the truck and 5th wheel, some other start-up costs need to be considered. Some examples are:
    • Hitch, jackalope, brake controllers, camera system;
    • Tools and spare parts;
    • Bed, drom box (dromedary), ramps, winch; and
    • Daily driver, motorcycle or quad.
  • Beds can be built for a little as a $1,000 US or purchased for as much as $30,000 US.
  • If you’re going to fulltime in the rig, the big-ticket items to budget for include:
    • Fuel,
    • Camping fees including memberships,
    • Household expenses (food, entertainment, etc.),
    • Insurance,
    • Maintenance, and
    • Utilities (including internet and cell phones).

As well as some very educational sessions at the rally, there was lots of time for talking to the other travellers.  One of the travellers that we met was Steve from Toronto.  Steve was kind enough to offer to take Al and me for a ride in his rig.  He “bob-tailed” (truck, no trailer) us through the park, down the road and out onto the highway.  Once we were back in the park, Steve offered to let me drive.  I refused at first but then decided to go for it.  I will admit that it was easier than I thought it would be.  Part of the reason is that the truck was a 3-pedal automatic; I had to use the clutch to stop and start, but I didn’t have to shift gears.  And, the visibility is much better than our pick-up or my SUV.

Another couple that we met were Karen & Dave Watts who have been full-timing since December.  They have started a vlog to chronical their travels.

If you have an HDT or are considering an HDT, I’d suggest you visit the rally to educate yourself and have a little fun doing it.  If you’re interested in RVs in general, watch for my upcoming blog on our tour of RV factories in the Elkhart, Indiana area.

Happy travels!



2 thoughts on “Why I Tried Driving a Transport Truck

  1. Hi Vanessa. I didn’t get to meet you at rally as we didn’t make the ECR, but my wife and I (early 40’s) sold our house and left for full timing in Aug 2017. I was looking at HDT’s before we even bought our 5th wheel and convinced my wife that was the route we needed to go and so happy with our decision.

    We found a 2000 Volvo 610 (mid rise sleeper) that had been in RV duty since 2004. When we bought our truck, it had only 480k original miles on it which is super low miles for an 18 year old truck. I actually was able to purchase my truck in the mid teens although I had to fly to CA and drive it back to GA. It was singled, but didn’t have any kind of bed on it. It’s also a 10spd manual which most people don’t want, but I enjoy shifting. We have put 11k miles on the truck in 9 months and love it. Our last weigh in, our trailer came in at 20k lbs.

    Due to lack of use in the last few years by the previous owner, we had to do catch up on some maintenance and chase down old and brittle air lines and rubber bits, plus new tires, but now that that is all taken care of, the truck is set to take care of us for a long time!

    Good luck in your search and I’m sure you’ll find a HDT that you’ll be very happy with!

    1. Thanks, Dan, for sharing your story. I hope we’re as lucky as you when we start to seriously look for a rig. Vanessa

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