4 FAQs About Shifting Gears in a Semi-Truck

A tractor-trailer’s crankshafts can have up to 18 gears to help the vehicle change speed while maintaining stability. For many potential drivers in CDL programs, shifting gears isn’t a seamless transition. However, with practice and help from our guide below, you’ll soon upshift and downshift like a seasoned professional.

What Should New Truck Drivers Know About Changing Gears?

How do truckers know when to shift up?

Each tractor-trailer has a different optimal RPM range, which the driver’s manual will clarify. While driving, watch the tachometer to measure the truck’s RPM and shift up once it reaches the best range.

Truckers are also trained in their CDL programs to use their speed to know when to shift up. Each gear is optimal for certain speeds. Over time, you’ll learn what gear will meet your MPH needs to ensure you remain on schedule.

How do you shift up?

You’ll need to release the accelerator, shift to neutral, and push down on the clutch at once. When complete, release the clutch and let the gears and engine slow to the revolutions per minute (RPM) needed to switch to the next gear. After achieving the correct RPM, push the clutch and shift the necessary higher gear simultaneously. Finally, disengage from the clutch while also pressing down on the accelerator again. These actions take time to master, which is why CDL program instructors provide lengthy practice sessions to truckers in training.

What special conditions require downshifting?

As a truck driver, you’ll experience different road conditions on hauls. In some of these situations, you’ll have to shift down to ensure your safety and the rig’s performance.

Before descending from the top of a hill, slow the truck and downshift to a lower gear. It will most likely be a gear lower than the one needed to climb the hill originally. The truck’s speed should be slow enough that you can control the descent without significant brake use. On downward slopes, heavy reliance on the brakes will cause them to overheat, wear down sooner, and lose their stopping power. By downshifting, the descent remains safe, and the truck’s components will continue to respond reliably.

You’ll also need to downshift before angling into a curve. Again, slow down to a safe speed before shifting. You’ll allocate a portion of the truck’s power for it to remain stable during the turn while also allowing you to speed up again once you’re through.

How do you shift down?

Release the accelerator before pressing the clutch and shifting into neutral simultaneously. Then, disengage the clutch, push the accelerator again and match the gear speed to the RPM needed when you’re in the lower gear. Once complete, push the clutch and switch to the lower gear at the same time. Release the clutch for a final time while also pressing down on the accelerator.

Our accredited CDL program provides the on-the-road training you need to become comfortable behind the wheel and make shifting gears second nature. To find out more about our financial aid options, call us at (330) 239-2229.

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