Lift Axle Considerations

April 2010, - Feature

by Tom Berg, Senior Editor, Senior Contributing Editor - Also by this author

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State laws are the biggest factor governing use or non-use of auxiliary lift axles on trucks and trailers.

Pusher axles and the

Many states have patterned their weight limits after the federal Formula B law, which encourages spreading truck poundage over multiple axles with certain minimum distances among them. This "bridge formula" concept, which protects bridge spans and road pavement, necessitates auxiliary lift axles; so do certain "axle-weight" laws still on the books in some states.

Because most of these trucks stay in their home states, operators adhere to those state laws in setting up their equipment. Truckers who regularly cross from one state to another must equip their vehicles for the higher limit but sometimes load for the lower limit. Owners and truck sales people know what works in their jurisdictions and spec trucks accordingly.

There might be new ways to meet a law and get even more payload capacity, but users and dealers tend to stick with the tried and true. If a few operators try a new idea and it works, giving them a competitive advantage, others in the area will also adopt it.

But there are a lot of technical considerations in choosing lift-axle types and models.

All about lift axles

By definition, lift axles are non-powered, and are installed ahead of or behind the driving tandem axles on a straight truck or tractor. If it's ahead of the tandem, a lift axle is called a "pusher." If it's behind, it's a "tag." Such axles can also be installed ahead of or behind a trailer's tandem. And a lift axle is occasionally applied to a single-rear-axle straight truck.

Lift axle suspensions use air bags to carry weight, and either air bags or steel springs to raise the axle when it's not needed. If two sets of air bags are used, one set is inflated while the other is deflated. If steel springs raise the axle, the weight-bearing air bags must first be deflated to allow the springs to retract the axle. All this is controlled by the driver, using electric switches or air valves close at hand.

Lift axles are also known as "cheater axles," because unscrupulous truckers raise them or reduce air pressure on them while running loaded. They think they're saving tire money, but weight that's supposed to be borne by the extra axles are now concentrated on those whose wheels are still on the ground, putting abnormal wear on both the components and pavement. States like Georgia discourage this by requiring controls to be mounted outside the cab, or avoid enforcement issues altogether by disregarding the liftables. Thus a truck could have a dozen lift axles, but its allowable gross weight is limited to what can legally be carried on its steer and drive axles, and those extra axles are useless.

A non-steerable lift axle needs to be raised prior to turning a tight corner, or its tires will plow asphalt and scrub concrete, and will scuff tire tread and impose high lateral stress on wheels and chassis components. In that case the controls must be in the cab. Authorities in some states allow this, even though the truck is technically overloaded on its remaining axles when the lift axle is up.

Authorities in an increasing number of states want the auxiliary axles to stay on the pavement during cornering. The solution is the steerable lift axle. This type caster steers only when moving forward, so raises automatically when the driver shifts the truck into reverse. Reverse-steering axles, whose geometry automatically shifts from forward to reverse and back again as the driver shifts gears, are also available, but they are more complex and expensive.

Bridge formula states are where we see the most auxiliary axles on trucks and sometimes trailers. On dump trucks, all the lift axles are usually pushers, but some dumpers have a tag axle. Tags sometimes increase the distance between a truck's steer axle and its rearmost axle - also called the "outer bridge" - whereas pusher axles don't. If all other things on the truck are equal, Formula B (or similar formulas) will always allow a truck with a tag axle to carry more than one with a pusher axle.

A truck's outer-bridge dimension and distance between certain axle groups are among the factors determining its allowable gross weight, and the longer the better. The Formula B Table (printed in every Rand McNally Motor Carrier's Road Atlas and available online) lists allowable weights by numbers of axles. Straight trucks have shorter outer-bridge dimensions than tractor-trailers, but using two, three or even four lift axles compensates. This is why it takes six or seven axles to carry what a semi can legally handle with only five axles.

A tag axle mounted under the rear of a truck body shortens a truck's wheelbase and makes it more maneuverable. But that tag must be down when a dump bed is raised to give the vehicle proper stability. Some tag axles are made for this but some are not.

Stingers and other options

Another type of rear lift axle is the "stinger" or Boost-A-Load (a trade name), which is common on concrete mixer trucks in many states. When deployed, it stretches the outer bridge by 15 or so feet, boosting the truck's legal payload by 5 tons or more in bridge-formula states. And it raises high and out of the way for offloading (inspiring another nickname, "flying tag"). The stinger can also work on dump trucks, and this concept has caught on in the West.

Early stingers had one supporting arm and later models have two, with one on either side of a truck, and these are what work best on dumpers. A stinger is used either alone (as in California, which gives no credit for pushers but allows stingers) or is combined with two or three pusher axles (as in Arizona, which has a liberal weight law based on the B Formula).

Truckers in Ohio tried stingers in the 1990s but rejected them for various reasons: outward off-tracking during tight turns, problems with an early product's reliability, and misuse (including using the axle's supporting arm as a tow hook for stuck trucks). Instead, dump truckers in the Buckeye State now use three and sometimes four pusher axles, making for a long-wheelbase truck that's awkward to turn around.

That's why some operators in Ohio and elsewhere prefer a more maneuverable tractor-trailer, though the short semitrailer will have two pusher axles to compensate for a resultingly short outer bridge dimension. In the Northwest and Great Plains, bridge-formula laws and operator preference result in long truck-trailer combinations. Usually both vehicles have one or two pusher axles; gross weights can exceed 100,000 pounds.

There are places with very liberal laws that make lift axles needless. Coal trucks in Kentucky and elsewhere in the Appalachian Mountains are legendary for their 100,000- to 120,000-pound gross weights on extra-heavy-duty 10-wheelers, though that's primarily off-road. On pavement, New York City winks at 90,000-pound-plus 10-wheel trucks. And Texas allows 40,000 pounds on a concrete mixer's tandem but only 34,000 on a dump truck's drives. Guess which industry did a better job of lobbying Lone Star lawmakers.

Ride height's important

Under-frame pushers and tags are used in a variety of truck applications, and vary in capacity from 7,000 to 20,000 pounds each. The frame must be strong enough to take extra weight and stress imposed by the added axles, and the axles themselves must be spec'd with several considerations in mind. Among them are the height of the truck's frame, amount of lift needed for off-road travel, and the tire/wheel size. Hendrickson International, a major supplier of lift axles, recommends this procedure for deciding which axle to choose:

1. Measure the distance from the ground to the bottom of the frame where the lift axle is being installed. For proper suspension travel and lifting performance, it's best to measure when a vehicle is loaded. However...

2. If the vehicle is empty, identify


  1. 1. dave waldron [ May 02, 2013 @ 02:29PM ]

    My company what's us to start using the pusher axle when ever we put on a container. I work to a garbage company .and I do thnks

  2. 2. Harvey Stamper [ August 22, 2013 @ 07:03PM ]

    Registering truck tractor do you count the drop axle also when counting your axles

  3. 3. Tom Johnson [ November 05, 2013 @ 02:01AM ]

    Is it true that beginning in jan.2014 all dump trucks in New York State must have a steerable pusher axle

  4. 4. john gasiecki [ July 15, 2014 @ 10:35AM ]

    Is the law still going into effect for new York state? or did it get pushed down the road again??

  5. 5. Tony Pepitone [ August 25, 2014 @ 07:41AM ]

    We got a over weight ticket for one of our trucks the driver had the pusher axil down they told him to pull over to the side and park the trk when they came back to weight him the axil was up and he was overweight does the axil come down by itself?? we need help on this

  6. 6. Mchael Brinkerhoff [ August 27, 2014 @ 11:23AM ]

    In regards to Tony Pepitone . . . . Pusher axles usually only have service brakes (no spring brake) so for safety reasons (run away truck) the pusher will raise when the parking brake is set. On some tractors, you can apply the tractors spring brakes, but release the trailer spring brakes to allow the pusher to lower. Hope this helps.

  7. 7. Brandon Covault [ December 24, 2014 @ 07:05AM ]

    I am a District Sales Manager for Reyco Granning Suspensions that specializes in Tag and Pusher axles. If you should need answers, quotes etc please email me or call at 765-427-9677

  8. 8. jairo murillo [ September 25, 2015 @ 06:49PM ]

    i looking third little axle for trailer

  9. 9. Ben [ November 02, 2015 @ 08:20PM ]

    Whats the minimun wheel base to install a lift axle on kenworth semi truck? Thanx

  10. 10. Joe"Chad" Chadwell [ March 15, 2016 @ 11:49AM ]

    Ben, there are several considerations for spacing on your truck Feel free to reach out to me and I can walk you through it.

  11. 11. karthick U [ July 04, 2016 @ 11:02PM ]

    why lift axle are lifted when take reverse on vehicle.

  12. 12. Michael West [ August 23, 2016 @ 08:36PM ]

    Steerable Lift axles need to be lifted in reverse due the caster, steerable axles have a 3-5 deg tilt back so the know where to track in the forward direction. If not lifted the axle will steer to left or right almost immediately.

  13. 13. Jennifer [ April 27, 2017 @ 06:57AM ]

    Why would my lift axle randomly come up when I'm drivinig Down the road or I take a turn? The lift axle button is In the down position. It's like they have a mind of their own

  14. 14. Kenneth Plyler [ August 13, 2017 @ 03:51AM ]

    I m trying to build a 7 axle flat bed straight truck that will handle 46k axle being a trailing axle.I need a weight and balance drawing.s.Can it be done?I feel sure it can.22ft bed obn this truck or more.This will be a expeditor.I know it works on dump trucks help


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