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Test Drive
Usable technology
Freightliner's rack and pinion steering isn't just bells and whistles – it helps the miles go by smoother

By Tim Barton
special to Land Line

It comes as no surprise to the thinking driver that technology can hurt you. It hurts when you consider the inevitable coming of electronic on-board recorders, for example, and of course the uses of the satellite, which helps plenty to make you money but also makes your every move transparent to your fleet and maybe even the feds.

But there is some technology that comes down the pike that nearly all can agree is only
useful – and for which there seem to be no unintended consequences to bite your donkey.

So it is with Freightliner’s new rack and pinion steering system.

It is a definite upgrade to the standard integral steering system now in general use. Along with anti-lock braking systems, electronic braking systems and air disc brakes, this new steering upgrade is likely to turn trucks into more drivable, safer and leaner experiences.

It became available on the Century Class S/T, Columbia, Coronado Classic and Classic XL in late 2006. Unlike air disc brakes, for example, its purchase has not significantly affected the total purchase price of a new Freightliner.

The rack and pinion hardware is quite different from the integral system.

The steering shaft is angled down much more steeply than the integral steering shaft, which stretches much farther toward the front and into the gearbox. The steering shaft is directly attached to the rack, which then attaches to the tie rod arms, making the use of a drag link and pitman arm unnecessary. Fewer moving parts make it easier for mechanics to access. It also translates into a 45-pound weight reduction.

For the driver, fewer linkages and joints provide a more positive feel, more accurate handling, and reduced steering lash, brake steer and roll steer. Bump steer is eliminated completely. Freightliner literature points out that the system needs “13 percent less physical power” and “far less mental concentration going down the highway.”

A short test drive through the streets of Louisville, KY, corroborated that. The Century had no slop in the steering wheel at all. Turning tight corners was easier because the truck went where it was told without the wheel play of integral systems.

The system does not decrease a truck’s wheel cut and requires less wheel turn and torque.
Quicker steering response and the lack of steering wheel play result in more control, making it likely that backing will also be more exact, a real plus at docks or in crowded truck stops where clearances among parked rigs are often very tight.

After a long day behind the wheel, the benefits of rack and pinion should become more obvious to drivers.

Steering wheel corrections, which account for a majority of the decisions a driver makes every moment he drives, are reduced and the entire experience becomes more car-like. You may not want to drive your car 2,500 miles a week. You can’t haul freight that’a way.

But, it doesn’t hurt to have some car in your truck. It helps the miles go smoother.

Tim Barton may be reached at