Truck Driver Training – Ultimate Guide

You have just gone out and gotten your beginners Class A/1 license and you have decided on your truck driver training school. You have enrolled to your school and as you get ready to start your driver training wondering, “What have I gotten myself into?” It’s a normal question to ask for most truckers getting started.

truck driving lesson

Truck Driver Training

In Classroom Training

Air Brake Endorsement Course

The beginning of training will be spent in class doing your air brake endorsement course, where you will learn how to do a practical test in which you have to show that you know how to properly measure the adjustments of your brakes.

You will also have to show that you can do this when you do your road test to get your full license at the end of your course.

The course will show you how the air brake system works, but it’s important to learn what the size of the brake chamber of the vehicle you will be driving and what the allowed travel of the stroke will be. Depending on the size of the brake chamber the allowable distance of the brake stroke is different.

At the end of the course you will write the ministry mandated examination test. In Ontario you must get 16 out of 20 questions correct to pass. Most other jurisdictions have the same requirements for passing their air brake endorsement test.

After you have passed the air brake endorsement test and have the endorsement on your license, the real fun starts.

Videos

You will stay in class learning about trip planning, proper pre-trip inspections, defensive driving and there will be lots of videos to be watched. Most of them will be safety videos, mixed in with defensive driving and proper driving and shifting techniques.

You will also learn Hours of Service for both the United States and Canada. You will also learn the rules and regulations for both the US and Canada as well as your overall and axle weights. You will most likely have homework or studying to do at night on those given topics as you will have plenty of knowledge tests that you will have to do to show that you are learning what they are teaching you.

In Truck Training

truck without trailer

After you do the early classroom work it will now be time to move out of the classroom and onto the yard at your school. You will most likely meet your in truck instructor.

Get Familiar with the Truck

You will then be shown how to do a proper pre trip inspection. You will also have a chance to get familiar with the truck, you will then spend some time on working on doing pre-trip inspections on the truck, by the end of the course you will have your pre-trip inspections memorized as they are the most important task that you will learn during the duration of the school. Your first time behind the wheel will most likely driving around the yard without a trailer learning about the shifting pattern.

Learn to Drive Shift

Learning the shifting process of the truck is the hardest thing to learn if you haven’t had experience with driving manual transmission vehicles. There are several different transmissions that are in trucks, there are ten speeds, super ten speed, thirteen speed and eighteen speed transmissions.

Many of the big companies however are starting to go to automatic transmissions in their trucks, but firms that haven’t gone the automatic route are most likely to have ten speed transmissions in their trucks as they are the easiest for drivers to get the hang of and become familiar with them.

Your instructor won’t push you to do more than you feel comfortable with especially learning the shifting patterns and the art of double clutching, which can be tricky.

One tip, when it comes to double clutching count 1-2-3 as you push the clutch in, take the truck out of gear, push the clutch back in and shift to the next gear.

On the Road Training

Red truck without trailer

Once you’ve gotten the hang of driving shift, you’ll get a chance to get on the road with the truck.

You won’t have a trailer with you as you learn how to navigate the road in a truck – the focus will be on your up shifting and down shifting in traffic.  You will learn the ability to control the truck with your shifting and not always relying on your brakes to slow down. You will spend the next little while getting comfortable driving in traffic and stopping and starting the truck.

Couple to the Trailer

Once your comfortable driving without a trailer, you get to learn how to couple to the trailer.

There are two ways of coupling the trailer – the real world way that everyone does in the industry, or the way that you are taught during school, which is the way that the Provincial examiner will expect you to do it during your road test at the end of the course.

Reversing the Truck

You will spend some time in the yard learning how to back the trailer up, both in a straight line and into an alley dock situation.

Backing up a trailer is one of the hardest skills to master, it will seem at times that it might be impossible, but with patience and practice it’s a skill that you can learn to master.

It is a good idea to ask your instructor about blindside backing. It’s not necessarily taught during your schooling, but once you get out in the real world there are some places that you will encounter you will need to blindside to get into the dock.

Once you feel comfortable with a trailer you will get to head out on the road, at first it will be mastering the city streets then onto the country roads and then onto learning highway driving where the big focus is on entering and exiting the highway, using your downshifting on an off-ramp and upshifting on an on ramp to merge on the highway at highway speed.

You will spend time getting more and more comfortable on the road, and closer to the end of the course chances are that your instructor will be taking you along possible routes that you may encounter during your road test.

The Road Test

driving test

As the Road Test Nears

As your road test date gets closer your instructor will spend more truck time on certain things that he/she thinks you need to work on for your road test. Be sure to ask your instructor for an honest assessment of your progress and what you can improve on. If your school has an old yard beater that you can practice with take full advantage of it.

During the last stage of your training, chances are your in-truck sessions will mock that of what you will face during your road test.

At some point during your school, if they offer it, and most do, there is a day where you spend at skid school. It’s a really neat experience and the lessons you learn will serve you well during your time as a truck driver.

D-Day

Make sure to get lots of rest the night before, and stay relaxed. If you stay calm and stay focused on the task at hand you will do just fine. Once you pass your test you will have completely graduated truck driving school.

If by chance you don’t pass your road test, most schools will let you work on what you failed on,  and when you are able to reschedule your road test they will let you use your equipment, the only cost to you will be the cost of the ministry retest.

Getting Hired as a Truck Driver

salary

Once you have your full blown Class A/1 it’s time to get hired at top trucking firms.

There is a chance that you can get hired on by a small trucking company and go through minimal training, but due to insurance requirements that are seemingly tougher on the smaller firms, this is much harder to do.

Another option is to find larger companies that are known as training companies. These are more common in the U.S than in Canada, but they will hire you right out of school and in some cases some of those companies will pre hire you pending your successful completion of your schooling.

If you end up with a large organization they will do what they call either finishing training or training. You will start out like any other new driver at the company as you will have to complete orientation where you’re required to take a drug test, and possibly a company paid physical.

You will also be required to pass a company road test.

If your route involves crossing the border, it’s a good idea apply for a FAST card – it’s a requirement for most companies and it will save you from having to carry a passport when you cross the border.

To get a FAST card will cost $50 and the application is done online. The application process can be completed in a month. In fact most companies will cover the cost of the FAST card renewal when the time comes after five years.

Once you complete the orientation then you get assigned a trainer. At some companies you might only have one trainer and at other companies you may go through a process where you have two or three trainers.

Most company training takes roughly six weeks.

During those six weeks you will learn some real world experience. During training, a key focus is proper trip planning.

When you are assigned a load they will teach you how to properly plan out your trip. For example, you get dispatched on a trip from Toronto to Halifax – you will learn to take the total mileage of the trip and then you divide that number with an average speed, usually 45 mph is the average number that most companies use.

With that knowledge it will tell you roughly how many driving hours it will take to get to your destination. Based on that, you can figure out what time you should arrive at your destination.

mountain truck

Depending on where your company goes, there is a chance that you will encounter driving west where you need to safely navigate mountain passes, and learn how to get down the mountain without using all of your brakes.

Make sure you pay attention to your trainer when it comes to learning about running the mountains, especially in the winter time when you have to chain up to go up a mountain pass. It’s important to learn to put on your chains properly. It will save you from an expensive tow bill and perhaps a fine from the DOT.

You will also have to show your knowledge of your vehicle weights as you will possibly haul loads that are upwards of 45 000 pounds, and chances are you will have to show your skill to make the axle weights legal so that you can go down the road.

If your weight is too heavy on your drive axles you need to move your trailer tandems forward, if the weight on the trailer tandems is too heavy you will need to move trailer tandems back, but you will get plenty of experience during your training to learn and show that you understand your knowledge on the subject.

After you have gone through your allotted training time with your on the road trainer you will most likely go through one final road test to show your skills and ability to your company, once you have passed that you will be assigned your own truck and be on your own going up and down the highway delivering freight.