- Help & Guides
Believe it or not, tractor units are the most popular types of truck on the UK’s roads. This means that buyers of these trucks will always find a wide choice in the UK’s used truck market. At Truck Pages we try to give you the information you need to find the right tractor unit for you. There are only six manufacturers to consider, but each of these comes with their own weaknesses and strengths – be it upfront price, dealer network, suitability for the role and availability. In addition to the brand of tractor unit there are three major areas to consider: i) Power output needed ii) Axle configuration iii) Cab dimensions. We go into more detail on each of these areas – check out the ‘More Tractor Units Info’ tab below. In our ‘Latest Tractor Unit News’ tab you can read about which brands have been bought and why the operators chose the truck they did – vital research for any truck buyer.
This totally depends on what weight you will be operating at, the distances, payload requirements and typical terrain. There is no point in paying over the odds on a higher horsepower tractor unit just for the sake if it. That said, if you don’t really need a 460hp model, but that is what is available in large quantities in the market, then why not opt for the higher power? There is no reason why not to if the 460hp makes sound financial sense - but make sure that the higher output is from the same sized engine. If you are changing from an eleven litre to a fourteen litre for the higher power it may have a negative impact on fuel economy, but it will definitely have an impact on payload – vital for those short haul bulk jobs, such as fuel and bulk tipping work. In general, the more important the payload, the smaller swept volume engine should pay operating dividends. As far as the terrain is concerned when specifying the best power output, for most UK routes, 420 to 460hp trucks are more than enough when operating at 44 tonnes gross train weight. For trucks that do have to go abroad or spend a lot of time on the UK’s hilliest routes, then an upgrade to a 500hp may seem suitable. As far as the top power 600hp plus trucks in the UK – then it should be for heavy haulage operation or huge egos (a.k.a. flagship trucks).
In general, UK operators tend to opt for a 6x2 truck. Looking at sales statistics, there are more than seven ties the number of 6x2 tractor units sold in the UK than 4x2 units. This is because the gross train weight when used with a tri-axle trailer is 44 tonnes for a 6x2 and just 40 tonnes for a 4x2. Nearly all of these trucks have a mid-lift or rear lift axle which means that it is lifted out of use when not fully loaded over the 40 tonnes. So, if your operation could run at maximum weights, then it has to be a 6x2. However, if you are a rare UK operator that spends most of the time on the continent, then a 4x2 will be more sensible as only the UK has the extra four tonne allowance meaning the extra axle on a 6x2 would be a waste of space as you could only operate at 40 tonnes regardless. Other 4x2 tractor unit operators will be high volume, low weight operations (think feather pillows and polystyrene). There are some niche axle configurations for tractor units, but these are highly specialist. A 6x4 double drive tractor unit may be of benefit to you if you are operating locally and need additional traction on building sites – but you will lose payload and add cost to the truck, so make sure that it is really required. These 6x4 trucks are usually used with double reduction hubs on heavy haulage work. It is in this realm that you will find 8x4 tractor units as well. Sometimes the extra axle may be because the tractor unit is fitted with a particularly heavy crane as well. So, to summarise – if you will never have the need to run over 40 tonnes or, if you are mainly running abroad, then choose a 4x2, otherwise a 6x2 should be your choice of tractor unit.
The answer isn’t ‘how tall are you?’ Everyone would like to have the most room possible in their working environment but there is a trade-off between the size of the cab and its weight/cost. For example, there is no point having a high roof sleeper cab with a flat floor on local tipping operations or for delivering fuel to petrol stations. In these payload intensive operations every kilo counts and 100 kilos for a taller cab would reap little benefit. Bear in mind that this is important not just for the differing size cabs within a manufacturer’s specific model range, but it may be the case that a totally different model may suit better. Look at DAF Trucks as an example. Sure, you can have a Super Space Cab XF (or XG+ nowadays) but you have to carry all of that cab around. Opt for the smaller CF (Soon to be XD) cab – especially the day cab – and you could be saving hundreds of kilos and drive a truck that is narrower and easier to drive locally. On the other hand, if you mean to attract drivers and they often have nights out in the cab, then the largest, most luxurious cabs make most sense. Think Topline, MegaSpace, Super Space Globetrotter XL and you won’t go far wrong.
Whilst nearly every truck manufacturer has a tractor unit range, it is historically the Scania R-Series that has topped the shopping list for UK tractor unit operators – especially the Scania V8. More recently, Scania has introduced the S-Series which will no doubt take over at the top of the list. The Volvo FH – especially the Globetrotter/Globetrotter XL is a desirable truck which has started to see some competition with the improved Mercedes Actros in recent years since the launch of the Euro 6 versions. Sitting centre stage are the DAF XF trucks – excellent value but are some put off by the ageing cab design, despite DAF’s efforts at modernising the 1990’s cab? Joining DAF is MAN with their TGX and TGS range of tractor units with the less favourable brands in the UK of Iveco's Stralis and Renault Truck's Range T bringing up the rear. These days this is less about the actual trucks themselves – nobody makes a bad truck these days – it is more about the reputation of the brand earned over the years. The transport industry has a very long memory!
Using Truckpages you can find all kinds of tractor units for sale from all manufacturers and all cab types. From a 4×2 day cab urban artic to a High Roof 150 tonne heavy haulage tractor unit and everything in between. All makes, models and years are available – including Scania R and S Series, Mercedes Actros and DAF XF. Tractor Units are the workhorse of the UK transport industry. They have been the biggest sellers in the UK for decades. Unlike Continental Europe where there is a penchant for drawbar outfits, the UK has a love of the ‘big rig’. To the uninitiated, a tractor unit is the front part of an articulated vehicle and semi-trailer combination. In the UK these trucks can carry a maximum train weight of 44 tonnes if they have three axles (more on this below…). Most truck manufacturers have a range of tractor units – we list them all for sale here at Truckpages.
The most commonly found tractor units for sale on these pages are from UK market leader DAF followed by Mercedes which is closely followed by Scania. Of the remaining manufacturers, Volvo Trucks has the most used tractor units on this site, followed by MAN, Iveco and Renault.
However, MAN come out on top in the specialist ‘Pet Regs’ tractor unit segment.
All tractor units are not the same. Firstly, there is the size of the cab. From a small day cabbed tractor unit for local distribution to a small sleeper cab for occasional nights out, to a double sleeper, medium roof to a flat floor, high roof sleeper for long distance and international work that has up to 2.25 metres standing room – as much as a house!
You can also get tractor units designed for heavy haulage. These giants can tow up to 150 tonnes gross train weight under a special license.
A specially equipped tractor unit is required to tow a tanker with flammables on bard. These must meet ADR regulations – more commonly in the UK these are called ‘Pet Regs’ tractor units.
More popular on the continent, you can get ‘low rider’ tractor units that have extra small wheels and tyres which tow an overheight trailer. As the bridges in the UK are higher than in mainland Europe, we see these less often here.
Traditionally a shunter can be an old tractor unit that is no longer reliable enough to be sent out on the road, so it stays in the yard, untaxed, to move trailers around.
Increasingly companies are using specialist shunters – especially at ports when unaccompanied trailers are often sent meaning that these trucks with hydraulically lifting fifth wheels can more trailers around quickly without the need to retract the trailer legs.
In bygone days and if you travel widely on the Continent, then 4×2 tractor units is all you would see. These are basically trucks with just two axles. The lack of a third axle means that they can legally carry just 40 tonnes when using a three-axle trailer in the UK.
In the UK these trucks are used only when the vehicle always carries such light, but bulky materials that they are physically full before they get to anywhere near their 40-tonne limit. Picture a truck full of polystyrene blocks, for example.
In days gone by, many supermarkets specified these 4×2 tractor units – they are physically a little smaller and cost less in road tax than the tree-axled counterparts. They were known in the used truck industry as ‘Supermarket Trolleys’ and were not very popular.
The problem is that these 4×2 tractor units are typically less desirable in the UK’s second-hand truck market. For this reason, an operator may opt for a 6×2 tractor unit, (see below) as they are easier to sell on their second life.
Many canny truck dealers will take these 4×2 tractor units and stretch the chassis, removing the fifth wheel (the hitch on the back that allows the truck to connect to the semi-trailer) and will fit a rigid body – perhaps a beavertail or crane body. This means that the operator will have a powerful truck for their application.
The other destination for these tractor units is overseas. Many trucks are exported to African countries where they drive on the left side of the road – therefore needing well-maintained right-hand drive used tractor units from the UK.
With three axles to spread the load, a 6×2 – or three-axle – tractor unit is able to carry up to the legal limit of 44 tonnes gross trail weight in the UK. There is still only one axle that does the driving in this example (the ‘6’ meaning six points of contact to the ground and the ‘2’ meaning the number of these that are powered and drive the truck forward.
Sure, the trucks are slightly heavier with the extra axle – let’s say an extra 1 tonne to 1500kgs, but this is more than compensated for by the additional 4 tonnes payload allowance.
These trucks should be better for the UK’s roads, as more axles means a better spread of weight. With a three-axle semi-trailer in both examples, the weight across each axle of a 6×2 tractor unit is lower than that of a 4×2.
There are a number of options how to add the extra axle. Check out DAF’s graphic which explains these.
You can have the axle placed before the drive axle, in the middle of the truck (Mid-axle) or it can go afterwards (rear axle). When not required (in other words when operating empty or only part-loaded, many of these axles are designed to lift up. This means that they are not in contact with the road and not getting worn out unnecessarily. These are called, somewhat unsurprisingly, ‘lift axles’. In the adverts for used tractor units in Truckpages you will see written ‘Mid-Lift’ or ‘Rear-Lift’.
These are less common sights on the UK’s roads. They are similar to a 6×2 tractor unit, but the third axle is also driven. This makes the axle heavier, as it has an extra set of wheels and tyres plus a central differential and propshaft all adding to the weight.
The only reason to specify a 6×4 tractor unit is for added traction – in the case of building site operation – collecting excavators and loaders from construction sites. It would be very rare to see a 6×4 tractor unit with a lift axle – but not impossible.
The other use for the 6×4 tractor unit is in heavy haulage mode. These are trucks that have been designed specifically to be able to carry more than the 44 tonnes GTW. Some of these trucks can manage as much as 250 tonnes, but these would require more axles again!
These are specialist trucks, normally seen in heavy haulage operation or decked out in military guise. If you see these trucks for sale in the used market, they will be expensive, as they are very expensive to buy new.
Here's one for the vintage truck shows! This 2 series Scania 142M will be a labour of love for someone. On french plates, the 4x2 tractor unit will be heading through the regular Prees Truck & Trailer sale on Saturday 9th December 2023, starting at 9.00am. There's bound to be a lot of interest in this truck - you can see all of the inventory for the sale right here at truckpages. Remember too that we have a classic trucks section available here online at all times. Click Image to Read Click to Read Page Turn Magazine Click Image to…
Veterans into Logistics, a charity which specialises in helping former military personnel to re-train for a career in the logistics sector, has replaced its ageing fleet of three HGV driver training vehicles with modern Volvo trucks. The new vehicles comprise an FH 460 LNG Globetrotter 6x2 tractor unit donated by Volvo Trucks UK & Ireland, along with a tandem-axle box van trailer donated by Asda. At the same time a grant from the Veterans’ Foundation has enabled the purchase of a second identical tractor unit and trailer, plus a diesel-powered 18-tonne Volvo FL 250 4x2 rigid. Veterans into Logistics will…
This modern-looking line up on this week's front cover comes courtesy of Malcolm Harrison who is due to auction over 40 Scania and Volvo tractor units in the forthcoming Lomas Distribution fleet renewal auction on Saturday 18th November, starting at 9am. These late Scania tractor units are R500 and 500S models and are joined by powder tanker trailers, tippers, tipping trailers plus curtainside rigids and trailers. See the advert on page 20 for more details. Click Image to Read Click to Read Page Turn Magazine Click Image to Read Use the form at the bottom of the page to add…
From no Renault Tucks to a complete fleet of sixteen inside five years is a good indication of the working relationship Cannock-based, Pallet Network Solutions (UK) Limited, has with their local Renault Trucks dealer, Allports Group. The company is renewing and expanding their fleet and, as a result, has added a new Renault Trucks T520 High 6x2 tractor unit wrapped in an eye-catching livery to celebrate its 10th Anniversary. The company specialises in trunking and shunting solutions, working independently but in partnership with leading pallet networks and large end accounts providing the expertise and resources to navigate complex hub environments.…
DAF Trucks has said it is ‘right behind’ the recent announcement of funding from the UK Government and Innovate UK for the Zero Emission HGV and Infrastructure Demonstrator programme. DAF XD Electric and XF Electric tractor units will form part of a 370-vehicle fleet comprised primarily of battery electric, plus some hydrogen-fuelled, trucks, rolled-out through four consortia made up of numerous stakeholders, each with responsibility to demonstrate higher weight / longer-distance zero emission operations and associated infrastructure. The three consortia into which DAF Trucks will deliver XD and XF Electric models are headed-up by Gridserve, Project Zero Emission North and…