While many medium-duty trucks rarely break away from the ‘burbs, there are some that do the long highway hauls just like their big brothers. Paul Matthei set off from Brisbane bound for Sydney via Tamworth and Dubbo to evaluate the performance of Hino’s all-new 500 Series Standard Cab in the wide-open spaces
It’s true the majority of medium-duty trucks are used in short-haul urban roles, but there are certain operations that require smaller trucks to do regional or even inter-capital runs that are normally the preserve of the semi-trailer and B-double sets.
While it’s obvious, due to their high load capacities that larger combinations have major efficiency advantages over smaller trucks for most long-distance hauls, for some specialist applications including racehorse transportation and certain time-sensitive courier work, the medium-duty truck is the only practical option.
Yet many medium-duty trucks of the past possessed inherent inadequacies when it came to long distance work. Many originated from the UK, where high horsepower was not high on the agenda, their subsequent performance on Australian highways was typically mediocre, at best. Early Japanese trucks weren’t that much better. Again, the requirement in Japan for high-performing medium-duty trucks is simply not on the radar, with most spending their lives working in and around crowded streets in major cities.
In Australia, the typical dearth of power and torque from medium-duty truck engines made life on the highway for the drivers of these vehicles akin to drudgery.
There’s nothing worse, from a driver’s perspective, than to be crawling up a long grade in low gear with a string of impatient car drivers following hard on their tail. It certainly created range anxiety of a different kind, often engendering a fanciful desire to chop a hole in the floor to push the accelerator down further and get that sucker going. It also heightened the chance of crashes due to frustrated car drivers attempting to overtake the truck in unsafe circumstances.
From my own medium-duty truck driving experience, it always intrigued me that a truck which performed quite well zipping around urban areas suddenly morphed into a slug when faced with the hills on a highway. This serves to prove how much extra grunt is needed to maintain reasonable momentum on big climbs in a loaded heavy vehicle compared to relatively flat running.
Because medium-duty trucks rarely break away from the ‘burbs, another notable deficiency of earlier medium-duty trucks doing long distance work could be found on steep descents where fade-prone drum brakes and decidedly lacklustre auxiliary braking efforts from the typical exhaust brake were a potentially disastrous combination if the driver failed to select low gear.
Often you could hear the change in engine note when the butterfly flap inside the exhaust system flipped around to block the flow, but in most cases whether this actually translated into any meaningful retardation at the rear wheels was debatable.
This meant that selecting low gear with the engine revving madly and regular dabs of the brake pedal were the order of the day on the very steep declines.