What Happened To Cabover Semi Trucks In The United States?

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A cab-over truck is a semi-truck with the cab above the engine bay. A technician must lift the cab with a hydraulic system to get to the engine. They were popular in the United States until the 1970s but aren’t prevalent anymore.

Cabover

Cab-overs aren’t commonly used anymore in the United States for two reasons. First, there are no longer laws requiring trucks to be under 65 feet in total length. The other reason is that cab-overs are usually less comfortable than modern conventional semis, so they’re not the best for long-haul drivers.

Even though they aren’t common in the U.S. anymore, cab-overs are still the top choice for other countries. So what exactly happened to cab-overs in the United States? Read on to find out!

What Is A Cab-Over Semi-Truck?

A cab-over semi-truck is a vehicle where the cab sits above the engine bay. That creates the bulldog, squashed nose look. The cab can be flipped over, allowing the mechanic to access the engine bay.

I’ve owned several cabover semis in my early days of trucking and there were things I liked about them and certainly there were things about them that were challenging.

Why Were They Used?

There were several reasons why cab-overs were popular for so long. The first was the easy access to the engine. Once the cab is lifted up, the mechanic can see all components simultaneously.

The other benefit of a cab-over is maneuverability. Because they have shorter noses, they can move into tighter spaces. Their short wheelbase allows for a tighter turning radius. That’s why they’re often used as medium-duty vehicles like fire or delivery trucks. 

When Did Their Use Decline In The United States?

Cabover trucks were popular well into the 1970s in the US. However, their use has slowly declined over the years. They aren’t often used as long-haul trucks anymore. Now conventional trucks are the most popular.

cabover Semi

Why Did They See A Decline?

Several factors spelled disaster for the cab-over in the US. The first was the changing of trailer length laws in the 1970s. Previously, some laws prohibited both truck and trailer from being any longer than 65 feet. Cabovers took up less space and allowed more length for the trailer.

In 1976 the US changed the law to a 75-foot allowance. That extra 9 feet allowed operators to switch to modern cab styles. They didn’t have to worry about sacrificing trailer space for a longer wheelbase and a smoother ride.

Cab-overs are also notorious for being uncomfortable. The cabs are small and cramped. Because they’re above the engine bay, they can be loud and hot. Drivers also have to climb high to get in and out of the truck. Sleeper berths were also normally smaller than sleepers on conventional trucks.

The Rise Of Modern Semis

Modern semis were a better choice for many companies. The first is they had a bigger engine, so they were more powerful than their shorter counterparts. They could haul larger loads a longer distance. This made modern trucks more versatile and cost-effective.

The second reason is comfort. In the United States, the average truck driver drives 500 miles in one trip. But they can also be 1,500 miles or more. That’s a long time to spend in a tiny cabin. So larger trucks allow for a sleeper cab. 

More space in the cab has other benefits besides comfort. A larger cab means that two people can drive. Drivers are only allowed to go a certain amount of time per day. Having more than one driver means that they can switch back and forth to drive further distances.

Conventional Semi

A larger cab also creates more benefits to entice new drivers. For example, a person is more likely to drive a more comfortable truck. Plus, if they have a large sleeper cab, they could have a partner or pet travel the country with them. So this hopefully entices more people into the truck driving field.

Why Are They Still Popular In Other Countries?

Even though cab-overs are no longer common in the US for long-haul drivers, they’re still widespread in other countries. For example, they’re a very popular choice for European trucking companies. They have different names for them, though. The British call them lorries!

The reason they’re so popular is because of their maneuverability. Many cities over there have small streets, so they need to be able to get into small spaces. They also typically have smaller routes, so comfort isn’t as much of an issue.

Many countries across the pond also have laws that focus more on the trailer length than the US. So they can still benefit from the shorter-nosed cab-over. It allows them to carry longer loads while still maintaining maneuverability. 

Can You Still Use A Cabover Semi In The United Stated To Haul Freight?

Absolutely! Cabover semis are somewhat of a novelty and there are still truckers out there that restore older trucks and use them daily. In most cases the trucks are upgraded by stretching the wheelbase and even adding air ride suspension. When you see one of these trucks going down the interstate they definitely catch your eye and most drivers get a feeling of nostalgia.

Stretched Cabover

Conclusion

Unfortunately, the rise of commercial trucking companies and the increase in truck size spelled the end for cab-overs in the US. They didn’t need to have easy access to the engine bay. Plus, they prioritized comfort and strength over maneuverability.

Cab-overs are the best choice for truckers that need to prioritize maneuverability. They’re also an excellent choice for those who want to do their own maintenance. Cab-overs still have their uses but aren’t the best choice for most U.S. truckers anymore.

The Coloured Book of Cabovers
  • CAMPBELL, TED (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 103 Pages – 05/03/2018 (Publication Date) – Independently published (Publisher)
Harold Thornbro