How to Drive a Truck

Step by step
How to Drive a Truck

Driving a truck is a lot more complicated than you think, and to obtain a truck driver’s license is a very demanding task. This article will take you through the very basics of operating the complex gear shift patterns, the general operation, and give you a general idea on how to drive a truck.

Understanding the Gear Shift

colorful gears

This changes drastically depending on the type and size of the truck you are driving, but for the purposes of this article, we will focus on the semi truck style. The gear shift operates in a similar way to a manual gear shift on a standard automobile, only much more complicated with a combination of 18 different gears to choose from. There are two switches which control air-actuated gears, and they are as follows.

  • The range switch. This needs to be set to “low” for gears Lo (similar to first gear in a standard automobile) through to 4 and set to “high” for gears 5 through to 8.
  • The high/low splitter - this is used to select between the high and low settings on each gear. 

There are nine different gears (1-8 and “Lo”) which each have a high and low setting which compile all 18 gears. 

Practice Changing Gears

big truck

Before you even turn on your truck, practice the shift pattern so that you are familiar with it. Most gear sticks will have a diagram that explains the pattern to you. Shifting from gears 1-4 is fairly easy, but don’t forget that 5th gear is back in the same position as 1st gear when accelerating up. 

Start the Truck

semi truck auto

Push the clutch to the floor and turn the key. Select Lo in the low position, as this is your starting gear, and then slowly release the clutch. Almost immediately after you start moving, you will have to shift up to Lo in the high position. 

Move into 1st Gear

truck mountains

This requires a movement called “double clutching” as you can’t split between low and high while in neutral. Do this by pushing the clutch about halfway down and switch the splitter back to L. Pull the gear shift into neutral and then release the clutch. Straight after this, you will have to push the clutch down again and to shift the stick into 1st gear on the low setting. This is a difficult thing to do that will require a lot of practice to get used to.


trucks intersection traffic

Repeat the previous step until you are at the high setting in 4th gear. To keep accelerating through the gears, you will have to select the Hi setting before switching to 5th gear. You should switch gears when you are around 1400 to 1800 rpm, and don’t forget to downshift when you are slowing down. 

If you are serious about becoming a truck driver, ensure you find yourself a good training programme and complete this under supervision until you are ready to take your truck driving license. 

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