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How Many Miles Do Semi Trucks Last? (& More Trucking FAQs)

Semi trucks and tankers are both significant investments. A new power unit costs at least $100,000, and very likely more, depending on the build. Online trucking […]

Semi trucks and tankers are both significant investments. A new power unit costs at least $100,000, and very likely more, depending on the build. Online trucking dealer Commercial Truck Trader sells new tanker trailers in the $70,000 range—and as we publish, a complete 2019 Freightliner fuel tanker truck was listed, with tax, at $227,109.

Before deciding to spend that much money, fleet owners need to know how many years of use they’ll get out of these assets. The best way to measure the lifespan of a moving vehicle is in terms of miles; after all, a truck sitting in a garage won’t break down as quickly as a working rig that’s on the highway every day of the year.

That suggests a key question for fleet owners: How many miles can you expect out of semi and tanker trucks? In this trucking FAQ, we’ll provide an answer to that question and more.

How many miles do semi trucks last?

Diesel engines are pretty tough; semi trucks commonly run for 700,000 miles or more—with no shortage of trucks hitting the million-mile mark! Of course, that all depends on usage and maintenance.

If you keep a truck lubed and serviced from day one to year 20, you stand a better chance of keeping it on the road for the long haul. But to figure out how many years of service a truck’s likely to provide, you also need to know how many miles your drivers will put onto the odometer. That leads us to our next question.

How many miles do truckers drive in one day?

An over-the-road truck driver may drive around 600 miles in a full day on the highway, but a more realistic expectation is probably closer to 400 to 500 miles per shift. Weekly, a lot of fleet owners plan for about 2,000 miles per week for every truck. Planning for a few weeks of downtime, that gets somewhere close to 100,000 miles per year. (For details on how we arrived at these figures, see our post about this exact question.)

If you take the expected lifespan of a truck, in miles, and compare it against the average miles that truck is driven in a year, you can figure out how long that vehicle is likely to last—another important question for trucking company owners.

What’s a semi truck’s lifespan in years?

To estimate the working life of a new power unit, plug some figures into this formula:

To calculate a semi truck’s lifespan:
Estimated maximum mileage / miles traveled per year = years of working life

So if you expect a truck to run for 700,000 miles and you plan to drive it 100,000 miles per year, you’ll probably get a good seven years of service from that asset (as long as you keep on top of scheduled maintenance). But even that is a conservative estimate. In fact, many trucks are out on the road 10 or 15 years after rolling off the production line—and particularly well-tended trucks may still haul loads after a good two decades of service.

Now, let’s shift from the cab to tanker trailers.

What’s the workable lifespan of a tanker trailer?

Like standard dry van trailers, tankers tend to last longer than the power unit (the truck itself). That’s not surprising; while there might be plenty of sensors and valves and other complex machinery on a tanker, there’s no engine. There are fewer mechanical parts to wear down.

But that doesn’t mean a tanker trailer is maintenance-free. Tanker owners are responsible for maintaining various components, including:

  • Lighting
  • Electrical systems
  • Suspension
  • Brakes
  • Tanks

If you follow all manufacturer recommendations for tanker maintenance, your tanker may last as long as it continues to pass Department of Transportation (DOT) inspections—10 or even 20 years down the road. For most cargo tanks, you must pass these inspections every year, although some types may require more or less frequent testing.

How many gallons of gas does a tanker truck hold?

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Association, a “tank vehicle” is any truck designed to carry multiple tanks with individual carrying capacities of 119 gallons each, and a total capacity of 1,000 gallons or more. But fuel tankers typically store far more liquid, with capacities of more than 9,000 gallons particularly common.

When should you replace semi trucks and tanker trailers?

As we’ve seen, well-maintained equipment may run for decades. But that doesn’t mean they should. Technically, as long as your trucks and trailers pass DOT inspections, you can continue to operate them. In practice, however, running an older truck will limit the jobs you can take. Shippers may require newer equipment; if your truck or tanker is too old, they’ll look elsewhere. Older trucks and trailers also cost you more in maintenance and unplanned downtime.

So rather than planning to run your equipment into the ground, plan to replace it periodically, on a predictable cycle. Whether you buy or lease, a quick look at leasing cycles can help identify the ideal length of time to hold onto a trucking asset.

How often do leasing companies replace cabs and trailers?

Lots of fleet owners would rather lease their equipment than own it outright. When you lease with a full service contract, you don’t have to worry as much about maintenance or upkeep—and the lease cycle replaces trucks and trailers well before they near the end of their service life.

While equipment replacement cycles will differ from one lease to the next, it’s common to lease trucks on a five- or six-year cycle, and trailers on a two- to-five year cycle. That means you’re getting a new cab and trailer every five years, give or take. These might not be brand-new units every time, but leasing companies ensure that they’re mechanically sound and ready for dependable travel.

Trucking companies that own their equipment may extend this cycle to get more value out of their investments, but that five-year rule is a good starting place for planning your business expenses. For the final item in this FAQ, let’s take a closer look at trucking expenses—and a dependable way to maintain the cash flow you need to keep up with the replacement cycle.

How do trucking companies maintain reliable cash flow?

Whether you lease or buy, you need steady cash flow to keep your equipment up to date. That can be a challenge even for the busiest trucking companies; shippers may pay on net-30 or even net-60 terms, so invoices can take weeks to turn into cash.

The solution is called factoring. A factoring company like Bobtail pays your invoices now, then collects from your clients. But Bobtail is also unique among factoring services, most of which require restrictive contracts.

Bobtail is no-contract factoring; you’re free to come and go as you please. We don’t charge hidden fees. And our mobile app makes it easier than ever to get funded; all you have to do is upload a bill of ladings and rate confirmation.

Use Bobtail dashboard to track how many miles do semi trucks last

When you know how many miles semi trucks and tankers last, you can make great plans for replacement—and with Bobtail, cash flow problems won’t get in the way. Ready to start factoring? Sign up for a free trial of Bobtail today.