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What Is a Tri-Axle Vehicle?

By Lori Kilchermann
Updated May 23, 2024
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A tri-axle vehicle refers to the number of driving axles the vehicle possesses, not including the steering axle. This type of axle configuration is commonly associated with large trucks and heavy equipment. The most common tri-axle arrangement consists of a tandem drive axle assembly with an air-lift third axle to allow for greater load weights to be transported on the roads. In this configuration, the lift axle can be either in front of or behind the tandem drive axles. Dump trucks, tow trucks and trucks that specialize in hauling heavy loads commonly use a tri-axle design. Other vehicles operating with three axles in the rear are wheeled-cranes, fire trucks and cement mixing trucks.

Weight restrictions placed upon public highways and roads call for a truck to displace only a specified amount of weight upon each of the truck's axles. This results in the addition of an extra axle on trucks expecting to be in excess of the restriction requirements. By using an air-lift axle in the tri-axle configuration, the driver can lift the extra tires off of the roadway when the truck is empty. This saves not only on tire wear, but also on fuel consumption. The lifting of the extra axle also allows the driver to negotiate tight turns easier than if required to slide the extra tires against the road while turning the truck.

While this is the reason for a heavy hauler to use a tri-axle design, there are other reasons to utilize this configuration. Trucks such as dump trucks that are regularly required to cross lawns and soft ground to deliver a load use a tri-axle to displace the weight over a greater area to prevent the sinking of the truck into the ground. Often, these trucks will be driven to the delivery site with the third axle in the raised position and lowered only when about to cross the soft ground.

The tri-axle configuration is also used on certain heavy capacity trailers. Much of the heavy equipment used on a construction and excavation site is unable to operate on public roads. This type of equipment requires a very high-capacity trailer to tow it to the work site. The tri-axle trailer functions on the same principal as the three-axle design on a truck by displacing the weight of the load out over more axles, thereby complying with posted weight restrictions on the roadways. The tri-axle design also allows the loaded trailers to be moved across soft ground.

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Discussion Comments
By anon225164 — On Oct 25, 2011

A tri axle truck is more likely to be driven to the jobsite with the lift axle down (as required by weight distribution laws for driving on public roadways) and then raised before driving onto the jobsite. Many lift axles can not be left down while driving in reverse. Those that can may at times be left down for the purpose of weight distribution on soft ground (or a driveway not designed for heavy tucks) but far, far more often it is lifted for the purpose of gaining traction on the drive axles.

In the vast majority of off road situations you are more likely to damage something, for example peeling the grass off a lawn, by leaving the axle down (the drive tires are far more likely to spin when the lift axle is down). If traction isn't an issue such as on relatively level and very dry ground, or especially on a driveway, then leaving the lift axle down can reduce risk of damage.

By tolleranza — On Jul 15, 2011

@Sinbad - Yeah, I have wondered the same about being a truck driver.

I know a little through conversation, and I know some people actually buy a tri axle truck and then contract themselves out to companies.

Another kind of neat way I have heard of doing truck driving is to take your spouse, so you are seeing the open road with your spouse!

By Sinbad — On Jul 14, 2011

I was just recently traveling and noticed on a sign at the toll booth that tri-axle vehicles have to pay more at toll booths. Thought that was interesting.

The sign also made me think about being a truck driver. How does one go about that? I've always wondered what it would be like to drive a tri axle semi all around the country. Seeing the open road, would be great, but I bet sitting for long periods of time like that would be hard!

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