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What Is a City Tractor?

Lori Kilchermann
Lori Kilchermann

A city tractor is the name given to semi type-trucks used within the city limits to haul goods from one location to another, such as in deliveries. The basic city tractor is not much different from the units used for long-haul type missions, however, there are some aspects of the two that are very different. Axle styles and steering boxes are two of the most noticeable components in the drive train of the trucks that differ from each other. The cab type and style is perhaps the most obvious detail that easily distinguishes the city tractor from the typical long-haul version.

In order to negotiate tight city corners and turns, the city tractor uses a single rear axle. This axle allows the truck to turn very sharp without binding the rear suspension. The steering box of the city tractor is also designed to negotiate these tight turns by commonly turning the front wheels much faster and tighter than a long-haul tractor. Not seen by the naked eye or to the casual observer, the transmission in the city truck is often geared much lower to allow faster starts from red lights and to allow the driver to maintain proper flow with the speed of other vehicle traffic in the city.

City tractors are very similar to the trucks used in long-haul trucking.
City tractors are very similar to the trucks used in long-haul trucking.

The long-haul trucker is often away from home for extended stays, so the long-haul truck or road tractor requires a built-in bed, or sleeper unit, as they are officially called. The city tractor driver is usually home every day or night, so this truck does not require a sleeper unit. By eliminating the sleeper, the city tractor is much shorter than the long-haul version, which allows the truck to be built on a shorter chassis. The shorter chassis is also responsible for the short turning radius of this truck.

Another difference in the city tractor can be found in the type of transmission that is installed in the truck. As the city truck is often making several stops on a single route, many city drivers prefer an automatic transmission over the typical manual gearbox. By including an automatic transmission in the truck, the clutch is not prematurely worn out and the driver's clutch leg is not subject to as much abuse as a similarly-equipped manual gearbox-type tractor. Fuel tanks on the city tractor are also commonly smaller than those found on a road tractor due to the city trucks' lack of driving miles or kilometers per day and close proximity to fuel stations.

Discussion Comments


I thought maybe a city tractor was something similar to the John Deere tractor I use to mow my lawn.

We have several acres to mow and having a tractor like this makes it much quicker. We use the tractor for a lot of other things around our property too.

In the winter, you can put a blade on it and use it to plow the snow in the driveway. Once I got used to handling this, I really enjoy it a lot better than the smaller mower I used to have.

I don't think I would feel comfortable driving a real city tractor though. I look for big open parking spaces when I am just trying to park the van.

I am amazed at some of the places the city tractors can get in and out of. The wide turns they have to make and tight corners would make me really nervous.


I had no idea what the term city tractor meant. My neighbor has spent most of his years making a living driving some kind of truck.

For many years he was a semi driver and was gone for long stretches at a time. He no longer does that, but now drives a truck delivering bread to stores.

The truck he drives for this job is smaller than the semi, and would be considered a city tractor. With all the stops he has to make and some tight places to get in and out of, having a single rear axle makes it a lot easier.


@kylee07drg – I recently started driving a small delivery truck for a restaurant, and I can tell you that after years of driving a big rig, it is a relief. I once had a close call with a tornado while driving the eighteen-wheeler down a highway in Oklahoma, and I have never come so close to tipping over as I did that day.

It might seem to be easier to tip over, since it is tall yet short. However, this shape actually resists the wind better than a long rectangle can.

Oh, I have had days when the city tractor shook in a storm, but it didn't feel nearly as ominous and near flipping over as the big truck did. If I had to drive one or the other through a big storm, I would go with the city tractor in a heartbeat.


Most of the city tractors that I have seen are very tall but short. They fit under overpasses just fine, but I wonder if their height makes them top heavy.

Does anyone know how easy it would be to flip over a city tractor in an accident? It just seems like they could tip over more easily than a longer truck.

I saw one driving down the street in front of my workplace one day during a strong windstorm. I could actually see the bed of the tractor wobbling back and forth. I wondered how worried the driver was about turning over in the middle of the street, but I'm not sure if this is a real possibility or just an assumption of mine.


I work in a flower shop, and we have a guy who drives a city tractor to deliver orders of flowers. The truck isn't very big, but it is big enough to haul around loads of bouquets and vases.

He has driven a big truck before, and he says he greatly prefers driving the city tractor. It is so nice to be able to make left turns without worrying about hitting someone at a traffic light or causing them to have to back up to let him through.

About the only issue he has is curbside parking. The streets in our town are rather narrow, and some are only one-way. He has a lot of angry drivers whipping around him when he is parked in front of a business or home for a delivery.

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    • City tractors are very similar to the trucks used in long-haul trucking.
      By: torugo
      City tractors are very similar to the trucks used in long-haul trucking.