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For more details on "prime mover", see ballast tractor.
Oshkosh M1070 8×8 military tractor unit
Peterbilt 386 cab style commercial 6×4 tractor unit

A tractor unit (prime mover or traction unit) is a characteristically heavy-duty towing engine that provides motive power for hauling a towed or trailered load. These fall into two categories: very heavy-duty typically off-road capable, often 6×6, military and commercial tractor units, including ballast tractors, and heavy and medium duty military and commercial rear-wheel drive "semi tractors" used for hauling semi-trailers.

Tractor units typically have large displacement diesel engines for power, durability, and economy; several axles; and a multi-ratio transmission (10, 13, or 18 gears) for maximum flexibility in gearing.

The tractor-trailer combination distributes a load across multiple axles while being more maneuverable than an equivalently sized rigid truck. The most common trailer attachment system is a fifth wheel coupling, allowing rapid shift between trailers performing different functions, such as a bulk tipper and box trailer. Trailers containing differing cargos can be rapidly swapped between tractors, eliminating downtime while a trailer is unloaded or loaded.

Drawbar couplings are also found, particularly in dedicated exceptionally heavy-duty ballast tractors.



A Leyland T45 cab-over 4×2 tractor unit

There have been three common cab configurations used in tractors, two are still widely used. The conventional has an engine and hood over the front axle in front of the cab, as in most automobiles. This style is almost universal in North America. The cab over engine or cab forward has a flat nose cab with the driver sitting in front of the front axle. Widely used in the EU and Japan, this style has the advantages of good vision, maneuverability, and allows maximum trailer length relative to overall length. In the North America this type of cab can be useful in straight trucks, but now has little advantage in tractors and is rarely used. A North American style cab over engine, now largely obsolete, had a flat nose cab located higher over the engine, with the driver sitting above the front axle. This allowed a sleeper compartment in a short tractor, and maximum wheelbase relative overall length, important for bridge formula weight restrictions. With the loosening of length restrictions in 1982 this style had limited applications, and is no longer manufactured for the U.S. market. This style is still however popular in Australasia where length restrictions still apply on many roads and it is used to maximise the capacity of both single trailer and B double configurations, and American companies Freightliner and Kenworth still manufacture trucks in this style for this market. In Australia both styles of cab over engine truck as well as conventionals are in common use. [1][2][3][4][5][6]


An 8×8 Oshkosh M1070 Heavy Equipment Transporter tractor unit pulling a lowboy style trailer

A tractor unit can have many axles depending on axle load legislation. The most common varieties are those of 4×2, 6×2 and 6×4 types[a]. However, some manufacturers offer 6×6, 8×6, 8×8, 10×8, and 10×10 axle configurations. A 6×4 has three axles, with two of the axles driven. 6×4 units are more common in long distance haulage in larger countries such as the USA and Australia. In Europe, the 4×2 and 6×2 variants are more commonplace.

Tractors with three axles or more can have more than one steering axle, which can also be driven. Most 6×2 units allow the undriven rear axle to be raised when lightly loaded, or running without a trailer, to save tyre wear, and increase traction. The 6×6 units have three axles, all driven, and 8×6 units have four axles, with either the rear three driven and the front axle not or the front and rear-most two axles powered and an unpowered lifting bogey axle to spread the load when needed. The 8×8 units also have four axles, but with all of them driven, and 10×8 units have five axles with the rear four usually driven and the front axle for steering. All five axles of 10×10 units are driven. The front two axles are usually both steer axles. The axle configurations are usually based on axle load legislation, and maximum gross vehicle weight ratings (BDM).

Heavier versions of tractor units, such as those used in heavy haulage and road trains, tend to have four or more axles, with more than two axles driven. In certain countries (such as Switzerland), a certain amount of weight must be spread over driven axles, which lead to heavier varieties having six-wheel drive, otherwise another tractor unit would have to be used. Heavy haulage variants of tractor-units are often turned into a ballast tractor by fitting temporary ballast, which may require special permitting.[1][2][7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Freight Management and Operations: Bridge Formula Weights". U.S. Department of Transportation. Retrieved 25 June 2013. 
  2. ^ a b "Freight Management and Operations: Size Regulations". U.S. Department of Transportation. Retrieved 25 Jun 2013. 
  3. ^ "International Trucks (U.S.)". Navistar, Inc. 2013. Retrieved 25 June 2013. 
  4. ^ "Mack Trucks (U.S.)". Mack Trucks, Inc. 2013. Retrieved 25 June 2013. 
  5. ^ "Mercedes-Benz Truck (Germany)". Daimler AG. 2013. Retrieved 25 June 2013. 
  6. ^ "Volvo Trucks (Worldwide)". AB Volvo. Retrieved 25 June 2013. 
  7. ^ "Guidelines on Maximum Weights…Criteria (EU)" (PDF). Road Safety Authority. 2013. Retrieved 25 June 2013. 


  1. ^ Total wheels X driven wheels, with 2 wheels per axle regardless of single or dual tires.

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tractor_unit — Please support Wikipedia.
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2104 news items

KHL Group

KHL Group
Thu, 28 Jan 2016 03:31:44 -0800

An FH16-650 double-drive 6x4 tractor unit from Volvo, plated for Special Types General Order (STGO) operation at up to 100 tonnes gross combination weight (GCW), has entered service with Stockport, UK-based machinery and plant haulage transport ...


Wed, 03 Feb 2016 14:34:02 -0800

Alan Edwards was wearing a wig - like the one worn by the Pirates Of The Caribbean character - for a bet when he took the container from the Freightliner depot in Manchester. Edwards, 48, arrived at the terminal on July 17, 2013, wearing the wig and ...

Rotherham Advertiser

Rotherham Advertiser
Wed, 03 Feb 2016 04:11:15 -0800

Hellaby-based South Yorkshire Safer Roads Partnership said any irresponsible HGV drivers using their mobile phones, not wearing seatbelts or even flouting the Tachograph rules, should be aware that what seems to be an ordinary HGV tractor unit driving ...

Milton Independent

Milton Independent
Wed, 27 Jan 2016 06:26:15 -0800

Police received a report of a tractor unit with no taillights in the area. Officer Porter checked but could not locate it. 1/18, 9:21 a.m., Domestic Disturbance, Rita Way An assault victim called police to report a domestic incident. Officer Porter ...


Times of India
Mon, 28 Dec 2015 17:19:34 -0800

CHANDIGARH: Public sector undertaking (PSU) Hindustan Machine Tools (HMT) unit, which was synonymous with Pinjore near Chandigarh, is headed for closure 53 years after its inception. Haryana had asked the Centre in August to transfer surplus land of ...
Trailer/Body Builders
Thu, 21 Jan 2016 07:00:00 -0800

The tractor unit market soared ahead by nearly 36% in 2015, with Mercedes-Benz finishing on top ahead of Scania. A record number of 6x2s made up the vast majority of registrations in the sector. The buoyant tractor unit market results contrasted with ...

North East Times (press release)

North East Times (press release)
Mon, 01 Feb 2016 03:26:15 -0800

... Operators Licensing under the 1968 Transport Act. Previous regulation around licence grades that restricted mileage, operating area or only carrying your own goods had been lifted and as long as a driver had funds to purchase a £6,500 tractor unit ...


Fri, 29 Jan 2016 07:22:30 -0800

With a length of 16.5m (with tractor unit), 2.5m (expanded 4.1m) width, 4m height and a weight of 37t, OB-10 works with maximum dimensions and optimised weight. Because of the protruding expansion, Broadcast Solutions focused especially on chassis ...

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