Newbies - Tips From the Trainer

Welcome! This is your personal online trainer. I will strive to provide insightful and 100% accurate information regarding questions you have about the first few months in the life of a new driver--from driving tips to industry policies. Get in on the action. Email your questions to me.

Q Are more and more trucks now automatic-shift trucks?


Yes, as a percentage there are more and more automatic-shift trucks in the industry. There definitely is not enough of them to warrant not learning how to drive a truck with a standard transmission. Auto shifts are great for a lot of reasons, but there just are not enough of them out there to make it a certainty that you'll never have to operate a standard truck transmission. It would possibly harm your chances of better employment as you get more experience.

Q What is the true art of downshifting and what is the 500 rpm rule?


The true art of downshifting is getting enough practice to pull of most of the downshifts you attempt. The good thing about downshifts is that they can all be made exactly the same way! Every downshift can be made at the same rpm and completed using the same technique as the last downshift. Downshifting is usually the hardest thing for the new driver to grasp and be able to do with any sort of confidence. Practice is the main thing that will aid the new driver in getting these shifts down to an art. Some of the best practice is "ramp work” for learning and completing numerous downshifts. You may or may not be at this stage in the training but most training schools include "ramp work” as their students get more comfortable in the trucks. Ramp work is done on freeways or larger highways where there are on- and off-ramps fairly close to one another. The instructor will simply have the student driver get off and on these ramps for miles. This helps the student to use all the controls and use them effectively. Downshifting at low speeds is sometimes harder to do than when you are at higher speeds. Ramp work at freeway speeds really helps the students use the brakes and the accelerator more effectively.

The "500 rpm rule” will change depending on the type of engine and transmission you use. We had trucks that had a "300 rpm rule.” Basically the "rule” means that there are a certain number of rpm between each gear in the transmission. We'll use your example. If you are in tenth gear and want to downshift to ninth gear, you drop your speed and rpm (using the brakes effectively) to a set rpm (we'll say 1,000 rpm for example). At 1,000 rpm, you quickly tap the clutch and move the shifter to neutral. You release the clutch and then quickly raise the rpm up 500 rpm to 1,500 rpm (hence the 500 rpm rule) and when the rpm is at 1,500, quickly tap the clutch and at the same instant, move the shift lever to ninth gear. The gear number really is irrelevant! You will use this rule shifting from any gear to the next lower gear! Another reason that the "rule” is important is for the process called "doubling down” or "skip shifting.” While downshifting, you can skip gears to save time and fuel. This takes a little more practice and usually a lot more steady and forceful use of the brakes! So if the 500 rpm rule means that each gear is 500 rpm "apart,” then to downshift two gears, you double that and to downshift two gears at the same time, you raise the rpm up 1,000 rpm (500rpm x 2 = 1,000 rpm)!


Your full name:

Your email address: (e.g.:

Ask The Trainer...

Due to the amount of questions we receive, we are unable to answer all of them individually. We will answer as many as possible in this column.

All submissions are subject to editorial review and may be edited or abbreviated to conform with space allocation, and other publishing guidelines. Unless noted in writing, by sending your submissions, you grant nonreversible permission to edit, reproduce, distribute, and publish your submission to meet guidelines or formats for publishing., Inc. reserves the right to not publish any submissions at their discretion.