Bottom Line
Modern Trucking Techniques
Preserving sanity

By Paul Abelson
senior technical editor


Life happens where you live it and being a trucker, that means in your truck.

It’s your bedroom, office, kitchen, entertainment center, closet and mission control just to name a few. Your cab and sleeper must accommodate life 24 hours a day, seven days a week for months on end.

Even if you’re not replacing your truck, that doesn’t mean you have to drive yourself crazy trying to live with the cramped spaces, inadequate storage and lack of creature comforts. It doesn’t mean you have to implement feng shui to its fullest potential, either.

What you can do is invest wisely in interior upgrades that provide a level of harmony, which loosely translates into saving you a lot of headache and grief. It can be as simple as having new cabinets to stash your laptop and paperwork so you’re not tripping over them while trying to get dressed every day.

Before deciding to update your cab and sleeper, give your truck a through mechanical inspection. Once you determine you’re good to go for long enough to make your investment worthwhile, plan your upgrades. You can pick from several options and customize for your individual wants and needs.

The bottom line

For many, the seat is the most important item in the entire truck. Drivers spend virtually all of their working time in it, so it should be more than just a place to plunk your bottom. Years ago, a premium seat had button-tufted vinyl upholstery and extra foam in its cushions.

In the past two decades, we’ve learned a great deal about ergonomics. Today, you can get wide seats, narrow seats, soft seats and firm seats. Select one that fits and supports your body, not just one that seems comfortable when you sit in it in the dealership. Make sure you get adjustable lumbar support.

If you’re looking for a super-premium seat, consider these. Comfort Ride has a unique suspension that virtually eliminates bottoming out. Some models are available with vibrators that massage you to help circulation while driving. Since the seats were first introduced, other manufacturers have incorporated massage features. National Seating offers the BackCycler. This optional device uses air to inflate and deflate a lumbar support, providing continuous spinal motion. It reduces pressure on discs, improves circulation, and reduces strain on muscles and ligaments.

Kickin’ the can

Indoor plumbing is important for a variety of reasons, especially for the increasing number of women driving today. Having a portable toilet inside is also convenient for older guys who have to drain their radiator up to four times during the night. Compare that to waking up, dressing and going inside the truck stop or rest area building. Portable toilets can be hand-pumped or electric-powered, with fresh water and waste capacities from 2.5 gallons on up. If you’re good with tools, you can build a slide-out compartment under your bunk.

A drawer is a good place for a sink and water tank. A slide-out, 9-inch round bowl with a 10-gallon supply tank takes only 12-inches of vertical space. Being in a drawer, the sink leaves valuable counter space above it. The sink can be powered with a 12-volt demand system  for both heating and pumping the water.

Make more room

Edwin Eash, president of Indiana Custom Trucks, is full of ideas when it comes to improving cab comfort. Best known for its large custom sleepers, the company got its start modifying factory sleepers. It wasn’t until the second year that the company built its first complete sleeper.

According to Eash, cabinetry is a popular modification. Most OEM sleepers have hanging lockers and bins for storage. But not everyone needs space for pressed uniforms or bulky winter jackets. 

Space is lost toward the top of the lockers. Often a coat hook will suffice, leaving room for drawers with marine hardware catches. Drawers offer more usable storage than either closets or bins, and the marine-grade hardware keeps the drawers closed in the event of a sudden stop or an unexpected lane change.

Eash gets inspiration from the marine industry.

 “Boats have the same dilemma we do, so there’s a lot we can learn from that industry,” he said. “They need to put a maximum of stuff into a minimum space.”

Converting cabinets to drawers decreases volume but increases utility. Drawers are a more convenient storage.

Added floor space can be found by converting the bunk to fold up against the rear wall. Floor space occupied by a 42-inch bunk can be reduced to less than a foot for mattress and frame. The added 30 inches is huge, especially for team drivers.

Home comforts

The ultimate battery upgrade is to use an ultracapacitor for starting and three or four deep cycle batteries for hotel loads. That way, batteries can provide longer engine-off service. An ultracapacitor can deliver a high current surge quickly for starting and can be recharged in seconds, even from a deeply discharged battery bank.

Quite a few 12-volt DC devices are available at truck stops, but those that run on household current (110V AC) are more efficient and generally less expensive. To power them, a good inverter is a necessity. Don’t buy on price alone. Get one that produces a “pure sine wave.” Those that output a “modified sine wave” will damage sensitive electronic devices like microwaves, televisions, DVD players and computers. But if all you plan on doing is brewing coffee and cooking on a hot plate, a less costly unit will suffice.

When installing an inverter, calculate the total distance to and from the battery terminals. Make sure you get cable heavy enough to carry the full amperage load to prevent cab fires. The maximum load is the total amperage each device draws at 110 volts, multiplied by 10 to account for the 12-volt source, plus 30 percent to account for internal inefficiencies in the inverter and heat losses in the cables. Make sure the circuit is appropriately fused.

If you have a 12-volt refrigerator, keep it. It is quite efficient, and there’s no need to overload the inverter.

Television sets have undergone a revolution in recent years. The old 13-inch tube-type TVs took up a great deal of shelf space, usually two square feet or more for a 13-inch screen. Today’s flat screen 17-inch or 20-inch sets take up less space and weigh only a few pounds. Some solo drivers hang them on closet doors, so they can swing to any angle for viewing as long as the truck is stationary. Some teams have them on wall brackets, completely freeing counter space.

With anti-idling laws in a growing number of locations, conserving battery power becomes more important. LED interior dome lighting is now available from both Grote and Truck-Lite. LEDs reduce current draw and produce better quality light. Boating catalogs are also good sources for interior lighting.

Odds and ends

Whether driven by batteries or a generator, heat, ventilating and air conditioning equipment always works better with improved insulation. Many cabs have minimal insulation. Some have none. Many drivers take their new truck to a home center for some fiberglass batting.

A few years ago, I met a driver who came close to developing a permanent heart disability from carbon monoxide. Her maintenance department couldn’t find the leaking exhaust flex pipe, which allowed the carbon monoxide into her cab. A carbon monoxide detector mounted in the sleeper is inexpensive insurance.

What else can you do to improve the interior of your truck? The only limit is your imagination. LL

Paul Abelson can be reached at