PORTLAND, ORE. – When long-time Freightliner Trucks customer Joe Samford, vice president of maintenance for Epes Carriers, Inc. in Greensboro, NC, found out that rack and pinion steering was available on Freightliner Trucks, he requested a small test group be integrated into the fleet. Since then he has been pleased with its performance and driver acceptance.
“Our drivers are very complimentary of rack and pinion steering because the response time is quicker and the system corrects for road crown. The absence of a steering gear also saves weight and makes access for scheduled maintenance much easier,” said Samford. “Based on our positive test results, we intend to add additional units to our existing fleet of 30.”
Freightliner Trucks is the first heavy-duty truck manufacturer to offer rack and pinion steering, a component that until now has been used only in automobiles and light trucks. Offering several benefits that result in optimal performance and maneuverability, including a 45-pound weight reduction, rack and pinion steering is available on Freightliner Coronado®, Columbia®, Century Class® S/T and Classic™/Classic XL™ trucks.
“With benefits like reduced maintenance, increased driver comfort, less driver fatigue and improved engine access, rack and pinion steering is an ideal component for operators who want to Run SmartSM,” said Jonathan Randall, director of product marketing for Freightliner Trucks. “As an industry leader, we strive to offer innovative business solutions that positively impact performance and efficiency.”
The idea for offering rack and pinion steering on Class 8 trucks originated when Freightliner Trucks engineers were working with Pikes Peak International Hill Climb record holder Mike Ryan. The Freightliner Century Class S/T driver is one of almost 150 drivers who annually ascend Pikes Peak in a race to the top. Engineers spec’d Ryan’s truck with rack and pinion steering due to its light weight, steering precision, and durability – critical elements needed for the Hill Climb.
Once engineers saw how well rack and pinion steering performed on the tough terrain, they determined that all heavy-duty trucks could also benefit from its features. Added Randall, “Rack and pinion’s accurate and responsive steering, as well as its light weight, makes it an ideal component for on-highway trucks that need to increase payload and maneuver through traffic.”
John Reid, maintenance director at Lenoir, N.C.-based Caldwell Freight Lines, is running 15 trucks with rack and pinion steering, and he’s received consistently positive feedback.
“My drivers love the new steering system. They say that it cuts sharper with better straight-line stability, rides smoother, doesn’t cause “bump steering,” and overall creates a more direct steering feel,” said Reid. “Personally, I like it because it helps even out tire wear, reducing replacement costs.”
Reduced tire replacement isn’t the only maintenance benefit. Because rack and pinion steering is mounted to the front axle, the system temperature remains cooler, therefore improving the durability of seals and hoses. Plus, by moving the steering gear and universal shaft from the left frame front, engine access is easier than ever.
Maintenance hasn’t been an issue for Samford at Epes.
“We haven’t had a problem with the rack and pinion steering since we’ve had it,” added Samford. “We’ll certainly continue to add Freightliner trucks with the system to our fleet.”
Freightliner Trucks is a division of Freightliner LLC, headquartered in Portland, Oregon, and is the leading heavy-duty truck manufacturer in North America. Freightliner LLC produces and markets Class 3-8 trucks and is a company of DaimlerChrysler, the world's leading commercial vehicle manufacturer.