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Tractor Units vs Rigid Trucks: Types & Uses

In the world of haulage, the choice of which type of truck you use is one of the most important decisions that you are likely to make. For the most part, you will need to choose between tractor units and rigid trucks to find the type of vehicle that works the best within your business structure.

This will depend on the type of industry that you work in and what you are transporting. This is likely to be one of the biggest investments that you make within your business, so read on to help you decide which one you should opt for.

Tractor Unit (Articulated Truck)

Tractor units, also known as a semi-truck or tractor-trailer, the tractor unit is designed to pull semi-trailers. It typically has no cargo space but instead features a powerful engine and a fifth wheel for connecting to a trailer.


Tractor units are versatile and used for long-haul transportation of a wide variety of goods. They offer efficient fuel consumption and can carry large volumes of cargo.

Tractor units can be configured with different axle setups to optimize their performance and functionality for various transportation needs. Each axle configuration offers distinct advantages, and the choice depends on factors like payload capacity, road conditions, and regulatory requirements. Here’s an overview of common axle configurations and their respective uses:

4×2 Axle Configuration

Configuration: This setup has a single axle at the front and one drive axle at the rear.

Use: 4×2 configurations are often used for light to medium loads and long-haul transportation on well-maintained highways.

4×2 tractor units provide better fuel efficiency due to reduced rolling resistance and are suitable for maximizing cargo capacity with minimal weight.

6×2 Axle Configuration

Configuration: It features a single steering axle at the front, a non-driven tag or mid-lift axle at the rear/middle, and a drive axle.

Use: 6×2 setups strike a balance between payload capacity and fuel efficiency, making them suitable for regional and long-haul applications.

The liftable axle on a 6×2 tractor unit reduces tire wear and fuel consumption when not needed for heavy loads, providing cost savings and versatility.

6×4 Axle Configuration

Configuration: This configuration has a single steering axle at the front and two drive axles at the rear.

Use: Commonly used for heavy-duty and high-capacity applications, such as construction, logging, and bulk hauling.

The additional drive axle on a 6×4 tractor unit provides enhanced traction and weight distribution, making it ideal for off-road and rough terrain operations.

Rigid Trucks

A rigid truck, also known as a straight truck, is a single unit with both the cargo area and the driver’s compartment on the same chassis. They are used for regional and local deliveries, especially in urban areas where manoeuvrability is essential. Rigid trucks are well-suited for making multiple stops and navigating tight city streets because of their compact size. Rigid trucks come with a selection of different body types.

These various types of rigid truck cater to diverse transportation needs, offering the flexibility and specialization required for different industries and logistics operations. The choice of the right truck depends on the type of cargo, distance, terrain, and specific operational requirements.

Curtain-side Truck (Curtain-sider)

Curtain-side trucks are designed for transporting goods while providing easy access to the cargo area.

Use: Commonly used in retail, logistics and general freight transportation where quick loading/unloading is essential for job efficiency. The retractable curtains on this type of rigid truck combine easy load access with some elemental protection.

Box Truck

Box trucks are a type of rigid truck with an enclosed cargo area that resembles a large box. They come in various sizes.

Use: Ideal for transporting dry goods, furniture, appliances, and other items that need protection from the elements. The enclosed cargo space provides security and weather protection, making box trucks perfect for deliveries requiring a clean and dry environment.

Refrigerated Truck

Refrigerated trucks have insulated cargo compartments and cooling systems, allowing them to transport perishable goods like food and pharmaceuticals.

Use: These trucks are crucial for maintaining temperature-controlled environments during transit. Refrigerated trucks are essential for the safe transport of temperature-sensitive cargo, ensuring items arrive in optimal condition.

Tipper Truck

Tipper trucks are designed for transporting loose materials such as gravel, sand, or construction debris.

Use: Commonly found on construction sites and in mining operations, they are used to haul and unload bulk materials quickly. Tipper trucks can efficiently deposit their load by tilting the cargo bed, making them essential for heavy-duty hauling and construction work.

Tanker Truck

Tanker trucks are specially designed to transport liquids or gases, including fuels, chemicals, and food products.

Use: They are crucial for industries like petroleum, chemicals, and food processing, where the safe transportation of liquids is essential. Tanker trucks are designed with safety measures to prevent leaks and spills, ensuring the integrity of the cargo and environmental protection.

Flatbed Truck

Flatbed trucks have a flat, open cargo bed with no sides or roof, making them suitable for transporting oversized or irregularly shaped cargo.

Use: Often used for carrying construction materials, machinery, and large equipment. The versatility of flatbed trucks makes them ideal for transporting items that cannot fit inside enclosed trucks or require loading with cranes and other equipment. 

Gross Vehicle Weight Options (Rigids)

Rigid trucks come in different sizes and gross weight options. Gross vehicle weight (GVW) refers to the maximum legal weight a truck can be when fully loaded with cargo, fuel and driver. GVW is determined by factors such as axle configuration, wheel/tyre size, suspension and chassis. The most common gross vehicle weight options are 7.5 tonnes, 18 tonnes, 26 tonnes and 32 tonnes:

7.5 Tonne Rigid Truck

Capacity: A 7.5-tonne rigid truck has a gross vehicle weight (GVW) of 7.5 tons or 7,500 kilograms.

Use: These trucks are commonly used for local and regional deliveries in urban areas. They are suitable for transporting relatively small and lightweight cargo, making them ideal for courier services, small-scale logistics, and retail deliveries. 7.5 tonne box trucks are used for moving goods like appliances, furniture, and smaller construction materials.

18 Tonne Rigid Truck

Capacity: An 18-tonne rigid truck has a GVW of 18 tons or 18,000 kilograms.

Use: These trucks are versatile and find applications in a wide range of industries. They are commonly used for regional and short-haul transportation of medium-sized cargo loads. Industries that use 18-tonne trucks include construction, retail distribution, and agriculture. They can carry items like construction materials, agricultural products, and consumer goods.

26 Tonne Rigid Truck

Capacity: A 26-tonne rigid truck has a GVW of 26 tons or 26,000 kilograms.

Use: These trucks are heavy-duty workhorses used for demanding applications. They are commonly found in construction, mining, and agriculture for transporting bulk materials, heavy machinery, and oversized loads. 26-tonne trucks are also used for waste collection and disposal, especially in urban areas, as they can handle large volumes of refuse.

32 Tonne Rigid Truck

Capacity: A 32-tonne rigid truck has a GVW of 32 tons or 32,000 kilograms.

Use: These are among the largest rigid trucks and are designed for the most heavy-duty applications. They are used in construction for transporting massive construction equipment, materials like steel and concrete, and oversized loads. In the transportation of goods, they handle exceptionally heavy cargo loads over long distances, often on highways/motorways. They are also used for specialized tasks like transporting heavy machinery for industrial purposes.

Lighter vs Heavier Rigid Trucks

The choice between lighter and heavier gross weight rigid trucks depends on the specific needs of the job for which the vehicle is required. Lighter trucks offer advantages in terms of manoeuvrability and lower operating costs, making them suitable for urban deliveries and smaller cargo loads. Heavier trucks provide higher payload capacity and versatility, making them ideal for heavy-duty applications but may incur higher operational and regulatory costs. Operators should consider factors such as cargo type, distance, terrain, budget, and compliance with local regulations when deciding which trucks to use. Here’s an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of using rigid trucks with lighter and heavier gross weights.

Lighter Gross Weight Rigid Trucks

Lighter rigid trucks are more manoeuvrable and can navigate narrow city streets and tight spaces more easily. They are suitable for urban deliveries and operations that require frequent stops and turns. They also typically have better fuel efficiency, which leads to lower operating costs over time. This can be especially advantageous for businesses with budget constraints.

In addition to this, lighter trucks sometimes fall within standard driver’s license categories, reducing the need for specialized licenses and training for drivers. This, coupled with the fact that they experience less wear and tear on roads and infrastructure, which can be beneficial for urban areas with limited road maintenance budgets, means that lighter rigid truck can be excellent option for many businesses.

However, lighter trucks have limited payload capacity, making them unsuitable for transporting heavy or large-volume cargo efficiently meaning multiple trips may be required for larger loads. Additionally, they may not be suitable for certain industries or applications that require heavy-duty transportation, such as construction, mining, or long-distance logistics.

Heavier Gross Weight Rigid Trucks

Heavier rigid trucks can carry larger and heavier cargo loads, reducing the need for multiple trips and increasing overall efficiency. They’re also suitable for a wider range of applications, including construction, mining, long-distance transportation, and handling oversized or bulk cargo. In certain scenarios, the use of heavier trucks can result in cost savings due to reduced transportation time, fewer trips, and increased productivity. Not only this, but heavier trucks tend to have better stability and traction, making them suitable for off-road or challenging terrains.

Despite these advantages, heavier trucks generally consume more fuel, leading to higher operational costs which can be a significant drawback in regions where fuel prices are high. Heavier trucks tend to face more stringent regulatory requirements related to road usage, permits, and licensing, increasing administrative burdens and costs. Also, in many regions, driving heavier trucks requires specialized licenses and training, which can limit the pool of available drivers and increase labour costs.

Uploaded: 28 September 2023
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