Push in Canada for lift-axle rule harmonization

Feb. 1, 2007
A CANADIAN transportation official from Alberta lauded the recent liberalization of lift-axle regulations in the western provinces but called for harmonization

A CANADIAN transportation official from Alberta lauded the recent liberalization of lift-axle regulations in the western provinces but called for harmonization among all of the provinces.

Imants Krumins, transportation engineer for Alberta's infrastructure and transportation group, told attendees at the Canadian Transportation Equipment Association's Manufacturers Conference that each province currently approaches lift-axle regulation individually and “harmonization is desirable, for the industry and for governments.

“The main harmonization issues are around controls and status lights,” he said. “Specific rules around inspections and documentation should not inhibit interprovincial travel. Provinces should harmonize these requirements to facilitate the industry and vehicle mobility.”

He said lift axles are not specifically outlawed in Alberta but are prohibited by a technicality: “Legal tandem or tridem axle groups cannot have a lift axle in the down position. Axle groups featuring a lift axle are classed as a ‘quantum’ axle group and have a severe weight allowance penalty (tandem gets single-axle weights).

“The rationale is that conventional lift axles have been abused in the past,” he said. “We have a history in Alberta of operators for unknown reasons forgetting to put all axles down, even when they are loaded.

“Conventional lift axles have the potential to cause significant pavement and/or bridge damage.

Enforcement is difficult due to automatic controls (axles were sometimes lowered at weigh stations when enforcement was seen or expected) and lack of enforcement resources to patrol remote regions.”

He said, however, that there are benefits to lift axles:

  • Fuel savings to operator. “We did a small study in Alberta where we compared trucks with tridem axles and with two axles lifted and we showed an average of about 9% savings on fuel, which is quite substantial.”
  • Tire wear savings.
  • Less scrubbing on tight turns (tire and road benefits).
  • Reduced bouncing on rough roads.

“Our department philosophy is to welcome innovation, so when load-sensing lift axles were proposed, after a lot of discussion we developed a policy to allow them,” he said. “The basic idea was to get maximum benefits for operators and for ourselves while minimizing the risks.”

He said that can be accomplished by making sure that axles are lifted only under no-load conditions, users do not tamper with the system, and enforcement knows whether a vehicle meets the above criteria.

He compared lift-axle regulations in four western provinces:

• Legality

They're legal by regulation in British Columbia and by permit in Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan.

• Vehicle types

BC allows any, Alberta allows any trailer, Saskatchewan allows semi-trailers, and Manitoba allows Roads and Transportation Association of Canada (RTAC) vehicles (not truck tractors).

• Lift-axle type

BC specifies that it needs to be auto-sensing (except ready-mix trucks), Alberta and Saskatchewan allow any auto-sensing, and Manitoba allows any lift axles.

• Approval of systems

BC requires as per regulation (original trailer manufacturer or an installer working under a professional engineer to certify the work required), Alberta requires government-approved units only, Saskatchewan requires certification from a professional engineer that meets its required specifications, and Manitoba does not require approval.

• Controls

They are mandatory for BC and Alberta, mandatory (one for each lift axle) in Saskatchewan, and optional in Manitoba.

• Control location

BC and Alberta allow any location while Manitoba and Saskatchewan require them outside the cab and out of reach from the cab.

• Status light

BC requires it in-cab, Alberta and Saskatchewan require it to be visible to the driver, and Manitoba does not make it mandatory or controlled.

• Visual identifier

BC and Alberta require a unique logo, Saskatchewan requires a manufacturer's logo, and Manitoba does not mandate one.

• Documentation

BC does not require it, Alberta and Manitoba require a permit, and Saskatchewan requires an installation certificate, annual inspection report, and an installation certificate for any modifications.

Irv Dueck of Midland Manufacturing, a Manitoba company that manufactures a variety of dump trailers and dump bodies for the agriculture and construction industries, said trailer/component life can be enhanced by lift axles.

“Tires and brake drums can be rotated between the up and down axles to greatly increase tire and brake life,” he said. “Suspension components such as bushings and shock absorbers last longer. The trailer structure and, for that matter, the tractor, experiences a smoother ride with less trailer axles down. Less tires on the ground means less tires wearing out, means less tires in the landfill. Less tires on the road means less damage and wear to the roadway, especially when turning on asphalt road surfaces. Less tires on the road means easier pulling, which translates to better fuel efficiency. Less fuel being burned means less emission into the atmosphere, less pollution, and less damage to our ecology.”

He said operator-activated lift axles are subject to operator error/misuse and automatic lift axles have less chance of operator error. He said electric-over-air valving has a pressure-sensitive switch that activates the lift valve, while air-over-air valving has an air shuttle that is activated by pressure side to side.

“Based on Manitoba's regulations as they pertain to trailers, the control to raise, lower, or vary the load on an axle unit cannot be operated from the driver's compartment,” he said. “The vehicle and/or combination must meet RTAC specifications at all times. The axle group, in which the lift or flip is located, must be equally spaced. It's not valid on tractors. A permit must be issued to the owner or registered of the trailer, and a permit is valid for any trailer owned or registered to the permit holder.”

Chitta Bera, Haldex's OEM sales manager, presented the Integrated Lift Axle Control System III, a single control that is used for the lowering and lifting of one or more axles.

There are two versions: 

  • 90555293: Manual lift and lower using the control button; automatic lower; 3/8“ push in fittings.
  • 90555288 : Automatic lift and lower; operation is fully automated based on the load; lift is automatically lowered at a predefined pressure; 3/8" push in fittings.

“The body of the valve is a solid block of aluminum, so the valve can be mounted externally on the chassis,“ he said. “Knowing our Canadian weather conditions and salt applications, it would be advisable to mount the valve in a box where it's protected from environmental conditions.“

He said the advantages of the system include: only one component; plumbing and installation are reduced; there is a hands-on or hands-off control; and the suspension can be made compliant with Canadian lift-axle regulations.

About the Author

Rick Weber | Associate Editor

Rick Weber has been an associate editor for Trailer/Body Builders since February 2000. A national award-winning sportswriter, he covered the Miami Dolphins for the Fort Myers News-Press following service with publications in California and Australia. He is a graduate of Penn State University.