Heavy-Haul Kenworth T880 for Serious Loads

Oct. 24, 2014

Outside of a contract with the National Football League or the Ultimate Fighting Championships, is there any more manly (and nonviolent) job than operating a heavy-haul rig? You drive a burly multi-axle truck-tractor pulling a hefty lowboy trailer carrying a massive piece of machinery that had to be cranked up, eased aboard, and tied down. Combinations such as that can weigh more than 200,000 pounds and require a lane and a half of road space. I’m envious when I see a rig like that.

Kenworth T800 Specs

Tractor: Kenworth T880, conventional-daycab heavy-haul tractor, BBC 116.5 inches, GVW 84,500 lb., GCW 144,000 lb.
Engine: Paccar MX-13, 12.9 liters (788 cu. in.), 500 hp @ 2,100 rpm, 1,850 lb.-ft. @ 1,150 rpm
Transmission: Eaton Fuller FO18E318B 18-speed automated manual
Steer axle: 20,000-lb. Dana Spicer D2000 w/ twin Sheppard hydraulic power on 22,000-lb. taperleafs
Pusher axle: 20,000-pound Watson & Chalin SL2065
Rear axles: 46,000-lb. Dana Spicer D46-170HP w/ 4.10 ratio, on 46,000-lb. Kenworth Air Glide AG460 8-bag
Wheelbase: 244 in.
Tires & wheels: Alcoa polished aluminum discs with Goodyear G296 425/65R22.5 on front and Goodyear G182 RSD 11R24.5 rear
Brakes: Steer and tandem axles, Bendix air disc w/ 6-sensor/6-channel ABS and automatic traction control; lift axle, Bendix S-cam drum
Fuel tank: Single 130-gal. aluminum

Recently I got to test drive part of one: a heavy-haul version of the Kenworth T880 Series that was brand-new last year. Its gross vehicle weight rating alone exceeded the common 80,000-pound federal truck limit by 2.5 tons. Its specs included a beefy frame, pusher-type lift axle, strong steer and tandem axles, an 18-speed transmission, and—what’s this?—a 13-liter diesel. Tractors like this are supposed to have a 15- or 16-liter engine under the bonnet. And the gearbox was a self-shifter. Is that manly?

It was in this case. That engine was a Paccar MX-13 rated at 500 horsepower with torque to match, and the tranny still had real gears and I could feel the power pulse through them as it would’ve had there been a shift lever with range and splitter switches. I’ve come to look at these automated manual transmissions as man-servants who do a lot of the work for me. So this job, you could say, was for a gentleman trucker.

What was missing was a massive load. The lead photo is not of the rig I drove but one that Alan Fennimore, KW’s vocational marketing manager, put together for a demo in the desert Southwest. It shows what I’m talking about. He couldn’t arrange the same setup at the Chillicothe, Ohio, plant, where most T880s are made, and where I went to do this drive. So the red test tractor pulled a partly loaded van for a GCW of about 56,000 pounds—kinda puny—but it still hinted at how the vehicle performs, which was smoothly, quietly and effortlessly.

Yes, the Eaton UltraShift had a big hand in it, as it changed gears intelligently and unobtrusively while I just pressed the pedals and steered us along our prescribed course. Even with the 20,000-pound front axle and big duplex tires that normally limit turning ability, the tractor showed surprising agility in a couple of tight, right-hand turns that suddenly punctuated our otherwise easy cruise on highways north of the plant.

Fennimore rode shotgun, and we got to yakkin’ while breezing up four-lane U.S. 23 and whoa—we shot right by our turnoff for Ohio 361. But about a half-mile later I spotted a gravelly apron that connected to a crushed-stone road that doubled back toward that state route. I snapped on the blinkers and pressed firmly on the brake pedal, and the air discs on the front and tandem axles slowed us straight and true. The setback steer axle aids wheel cut and the T880’s turning radius was just short enough to make the double right turns without any backing up.

Whether on unpaved or paved roads, the T880’s Sheppard dual power steering was precise and the rig was easy to keep in a travel lane, which is not always the case with such steering gear. The autotranny was programmed to keep a lid on engine revs so the engine stayed unobtrusively quiet. The cab itself is nicely insulated, including triple door seals, so wind noise was low, and Fennimore and I could talk in conversational tones. 

Kenworth T880’s Paccar MX-13 Engine Is Made for Heavy Hauling

The Paccar MX-13 under the hood is getting more popular among customers of Kenworth and its sister company, Peterbilt, because it saves weight and the builders’ sales reps are really pushing it—it’s their own product, after all—and it’s proving to be reliable and economical. That it makes 500 horses and 1,850 lb.-ft. is testimony to the talent and persistence of engineers who’ve also made it and other diesels burn so cleanly that exhaust emissions can barely be measured anymore. The cleansing after-treatment devices are not without their problems in any series of diesels, but fleet maintenance managers say they’re getting better.

Even though we weren’t actually heavy-hauling, the T880 was capable of it, with a GCW rating—that’s with trailer and load—of 144,000 pounds. The MX-13 was housed under a moderate-length hood for a bumper-to-back-of-cab measurement of 116.5 inches. The engine can also be had with a longer hood and 122.6-inch BBC, which is standard for the bigger, optional Cummins ISX15. The standard T880 radiator is more than adequate to cool the engine for this level of heavy-haul service, Fennimore said. Eventually there’ll be a wide-hood version with a bigger radiator, as there now is with the T800, for extra-heavy, slow-speed duties.

Before we had departed, Fennimore walked me around the tractor and pointed out the beefy equipment I described earlier. The rear-view photo also shows the fifth wheel sitting on long slider racks. The frame had 10-3/4-inch-tall rails with full inserts, common when pusher axles are used and to take heavy fifth-wheel loads anticipated in this type of service. He said the one in the desert could handle 96,000 pounds more, with stronger frame rails and suspensions, among other things.

Heavy-hauling is among the many tasks for which the T880 has been designed and outfitted. It can now take on about 85 percent of the applications handled by the venerable T800, and more are on the way, he said. Though it only entered production in December, the new model with its wider, roomier and more comfortable cab is catching on fast, making converts of truckers long loyal to the “T8” that has been in production for 28 years. “A lot of guys still like the T800, but then they get into this and they look around and say, ‘Wow!’”

The T880 has already grabbed about half the orders formerly placed for the older model, but it will probably be five or six years before the popular T800 is totally phased out. A visit to the “Chilli” factory showed a lot of them on the assembly line and parked in the staging yard, waiting for transport to dealers and customers. The “T8” is still a fine, rugged truck that retains old-school interior design, particularly in its flat instrument panels, which some truckers prefer. Besides, the T8 is tried and true while the T880 is something new.

Kenworth T880 Dash Features

The T880’s dash is more automotive in style and houses a lot more electronics, including a large multifunction color screen to the right. It displays navigation maps and instructions and other techie stuff, but can also show virtual gauges to provide arcane info such as the temperature of the oil in the rear-rear drive axle. This takes less space on the dashboard than banks of electro-mechanical gauges, and here’s hoping that the screen, and the computers that feed info and graphics to it, last as long as the comfortable T880 as a whole is likely to. It’s easy to see why it’s catching on so fast with customers.