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Best Semi Trucks for Owner-Operators

As an owner-operator choosing a semi truck, you’re not just concerned with how the sleeper mattress might smell, but how its driver assistance features could bring down insurance costs.

Truckers move about 70% of U.S. freight by weight, according to the American Trucking Association, which predicts the tonnage will increase by more than 25% by 2030. While it’s a growing business, you don’t want to pick the wrong semi truck.

To help you figure out what semi might best suit you, we compiled a list of the best semi trucks for owner-operators based on long haul versus short haul and the options each model offers.

Best semi trucks for the long haul

Whether you’re going across the state or country or border, here are some of the best semi trucks for owner-operators who do long-haul trucking.

As you shop, keep your possible destinations in mind and talk to a sales representative about meeting emissions requirements and the availability of service centers along your routes.

If financing a semi truck interests you, here are the ins and outs of commercial truck financing.

Volvo VNL 860 and 760

A luxury carmaker, Volvo also makes premium semi trucks. Some nice touches could go a long way when you’re spending so much time in your truck driving, sleeping and relaxing.

  • Sleeper options: The VNL 860 comes with a premium 77-inch, high-roof sleeper; the VNL 760 comes with a 70-inch, high-roof sleeper
  • Engine options: Both models offer the 425 horsepower Volvo D11, the 500 horsepower Volvo D13, the 500 horsepower Volvo D13TC (turbo compound making the engine more fuel-efficient) and the 565 horsepower Cummins X15
  • Noted features: Adaptive loading, reclining bunk, remote diagnostics
  • Driver assistance features: I-See predictive cruise control, forward collision warning, data camera, lane departure warning

Peterbilt 579

Owned by Paccar Co., Peterbilt and its sister company Kenworth offer plenty of configuration options so that you can pick what combination of features works best for you.

  • Sleeper options: An 85-inch UltraLoft, or ones that measure 80, 72, 58 or 44 inches
  • Engine options: The 650 horsepower Cummins ISX, the 510 horsepower Paccar MX-13 and the 430 horsepower Paccar MX-11
  • Noted features: Ergonomic dashboard, cabin soundproofing, fuel efficiency technology
  • Driver assistance features: Bendix Wingman Fusion, which includes lane departure warning, enhanced collision mitigation and in-lane object identification

Kenworth T680

Kenworth’s most advanced aerodynamic truck, the T680 has fuel-saving intelligence and an idle management system to help drivers spend less at the pump.

  • Sleeper options: A 76-inch high roof, 52-inch midroof or 40-inch flat top
  • Engine options: The 455 horsepower Paccar MX-13 and the 430 horsepower Paccar MX-11
  • Noted features: HD navigation, remote diagnostics
  • Driver assistance features: Adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, collision mitigation, side object detection

Mack Anthem

Mack Trucks, which is owned by Volvo, selected the bulldog as its mascot in in the 1930s. The implication was that its trucks were as sturdy as bulldogs. The Mack Anthem is no exception.

  • Sleeper options: The 48-inch flat top and 70-inch stand-up, both available with and without a full-height roof fairing
  • Engine options: The 505 horsepower MP8, the 445 horsepower MP8-TC and the 425 horsepower MP7
  • Noted features: Customizable dashboard, LED headlights, sleeper control panel.
  • Driver assistance features: Safety technology from Bendix Wingman Fusion that combines radar, camera, brakes and more for a comprehensive collision mitigation system.

Best semi trucks for the short haul

Short-haul trucking requirements, both local and regional, can vary drastically. The best semi truck for owner-operators who do short hauls depends on the classification of the truck, from severe to lightweight. Here are the best we found for each category.

If you’re thinking about getting more than one truck, there’s information on how to finance a commercial fleet.

International HX Series

A severe-duty, short-haul truck made for work such as construction, the International HX Series can pull more than its own weight. It has earned many positive reviews from drivers.

  • Engine options: The 475 horsepower International A26 and the 605 horsepower Cummins X15
  • Noted features: Standard air disc brakes, remote diagnostics, solid aluminum cab
  • Driver assistance features: None available at this time

Kenworth W990 and T680

Made for heavy-duty work, both the Kenworth W990 and T680 sit high and have multiple cab options. Depending on whether your short haul is local or regional, you could choose from day cabs to sleeper cabs.

Differences between the models include engine options (the W990 has the highest horsepower engine) and looks (the W990 has classic styling, while the T680 is more streamlined).

  • Engine options: The Kenworth W990 comes with a 510 horsepower Paccar MX-13, while the Kenworth T680 offers the 455 horsepower Paccar MX-13 and the 430 horsepower Paccar MX-11
  • Noted features: HD navigation, remote diagnostics
  • Driver assistance features: Predictive cruise control, lane departure warning, collision mitigation, side object detection

Freightliner M2 112

Freightliner designed the M2 112 as a medium-duty truck with great visibility to help drivers get around in busy environments. It offers three types of day-cab configurations: the regular day cab, an extended cab and a crew cab.

  • Engine options: The 470 horsepower Detroit DD13, the 380 horsepower Cummins L9 or the 320 horsepower Cummins Westport ISL G Natural Gas
  • Noted features: Sloped, aerodynamic hood, multiple exterior and interior grab handles, maximum 55-degree wheel cut for tight turns, remote diagnostics (standard with the Detroit DD13)
  • Driver assistance features: None offered at this time

Volvo VNR 300

Lightweight with a flat top and tight turn radius, the Volvo VNR 300 could serve well for hauling heavy bulk cargo, such as food or petroleum, in urban environments.

  • Engine options: The 425 horsepower Volvo D11 and the 500 horsepower Volvo D13
  • Noted features: Cab sound insulation, sloped hood
  • Driver assistance features: Lane departure warning, blind spot detection, forward collision alert, I-See predictive cruise control

How we chose the best semi trucks

We looked at more than 60 truck models from six well-known manufacturers — Freightliner, International, Kenworth, Mack, Peterbilt and Volvo — and evaluated them based on ability, features and driver forum reviews. We then broke down options by long haul or short haul. Sleeper cabs, engine options, unique offerings and driver assistance features were part of our criteria.

The bottom line on the best semi trucks for owner-operators

The best semi truck for you as an owner-operator will depend on what you’ll be hauling and where you’ll be hauling it.

Consider the distance, the weight and the type of cargo you’ll handle. Also, consider your own comfort.

If you plan to be on the road constantly, getting a bigger sleeper might better suited for rest breaks. After all, you’ll enjoy hitting the road more if you’re comfortable in the semi truck you’re driving.

 

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