Here's What It's Like To (Poorly) Drive And Back Up An 18-Wheeler

If you like doing things in your life like eating food and owning objects, then chances are really, really good that you owe trucks a big thank you. Trucks very literally make our economy and modern lives possible, so we were happy to get a chance, thanks to our pals at Volvo Trucks, to really spend some quality truck-time with some quality trucks. Last time, we showed you how trucks were built; this time, we’re going to drive them.


Modern trucks with automatic transmissions are vastly easier to drive than the double-clutching, 18-gear monsters that most of us picture when we think of trucking. Those manuals are still around (thank the Truck-God, Optimus Prime, long may he reign) but new systems like Volvo’s I-Shift ‘automated manual transmission’ make driving a full-sized semi truck even possible for an untrained moron like myself.

Even with the transmission duties handled, driving a full-sized, fully-loaded truck is no picnic, unless your picnics involve wrangling a 70,000 pound box around moving traffic and tricky city obstacles.

The sheer scale of a truck makes driving one challenging, and even just my short stint behind the wheel gave me new respect for the men and women that ply our roads in these leviathans every single day.

I got to abuse a colossal dump truck and really push the limits of those air-suspended seats, as well as embarrassing myself by trying to back a trailer into a loading dock.

Driving a full-size big rig is something I’ve always wanted to do, and I’m glad I got the chance. Backing one into a dock is something I’m probably not going to miss, though.


Oh, and as a bonus, enjoy this strangely soothing video of human and robotic welders:

Why is that so hypnotic? Probably the sparks.

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus, 2020 Changli EV • Not-so-running: 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!:



If you think that was hard, try driving a food grade liquid trailer. Because of weight limitations, they can almost never be loaded full. That means every time you stop, start or turn, the load sloshes around. Now, consider if that load was half frozen orange juice. You stop suddenly. the load sloshes forward, attempting to overpower your brakes. And then the load sloshes backwards, trying to put you into the nose of the vehicle following you. This happens several times, before things settle down.

And then you have to start going again. And the load sloshes backwards every time you shift. Or you go around a corner, and the force is sideways.

Baffles, you say. No, there are no freaking baffles. Because the tank must be steam cleaned after virtually every trip, which involves guys in haz-mat like suits climbing into the tank to do this by hand.

Now, imagine driving a load like that to California, and then turning around and heading back to FL with grape juice. Or liquid yeast. Or, yes, more orange juice. Because ALL orange juice on the market is a blend of CA and FL juice, because CA juice is bitter and FL juice is sweet.

So, if you see one of those trucks going down the highway with big chrome tanks on the back and “food grade” stenciled on them somewhere, STAY THE HELL AWAY FROM THEM BECAUSE THEY ARE AN ACCIDENT WAITING TO HAPPEN!!

I did this for two years, possibly the longest two years of my life.