Best Semi-Truck Brands for Truck Drivers in 2021

Written by Kendall Horn

April 10, 2021

Finding a high-quality semi-truck can be difficult in today’s market. That said, to be successful as an owner-operator, you need a piece of equipment that can handle the wear and tear of the road. The best heavy-duty trucks keep you on the road and out of the shop.

Consequently, this post will discuss the best semi-truck brands on the market so that you can buy the right truck for your business. 

If you’ve already found a truck and want to learn about financing, check out our equipment financing guide.

1. Freightliner

The Freightliner Cascadia, one of the best 18 wheelers

Freightliner was founded in 1942 by Leland James. The company started making some of the best semi trucks on the market shortly thereafter. In fact, Freightliner made the first truck with an all-aluminum cab. Aluminum is lighter and less expensive than the steel that companies used to make truck cabs at the time. 

Freightliner’s success has only continued since its inception. Freightliner is the top semi-truck brand in North America, selling more than 70,000 Class 8 trucks annually and holding just under a 40% market share

Freightliner’s Class 8 truck line is the Cascadia. Depending on the engine, the Cascadia has between 350 and 605 horsepower and up to 2050 lb of torque. 

Freightliner also has an electric truck called the eCascadia. The eCascadia has a 250-mile range and can charge 80% in 90 minutes. Its short-range means it isn’t a viable long-haul vehicle but is an excellent option for short hauls.

As great as Freightliners are, they do have their downsides. One, they tend to have lower resale value because there are so many on the market. Secondly, getting repairs or maintenance on a Freightliner can be a hassle, with long wait times to get work done at a Freightliner dealer.

2. Kenworth

The Kenworth W990, one of the best semi trucks

Kenworth was founded in 1923 by Harry Kent and Edgar Worthington. The company began in Seattle and is currently headquartered in Kirkland, WA. PACCAR, an international truck manufacturer, owns Kenworth and Peterbilt.

Kenworth is the second-largest semi-truck brand in the US, with approximately 16% of the market share

Kenworth has more Class 8 trucks in its lineup than Freightliner, even though it sells fewer trucks. These models are the T680, T680 Next gen, W990, and the W900L. 

Most Kenworth drivers prefer the Cummins engine over other engine options. Kenworth trucks are more expensive than other brands but have lower operating and maintenance costs. 

If you ask truck drivers, “What’s the most reliable semi truck?” a lot of them will likely answer Kenworth.

3. Peterbilt

A black Peterbilt Model 389

Peterbilt got its start in the trucking industry in 1939 when T.A. Peterman set out to build the best semi-truck possible. 

Peterbilt and Kenworth have a very similar market share, with Peterbilt selling approximately 28,000 class 8 trucks in 2020, just two thousand less than Kenworth. The two semi truck brands owned by PACCAR have a similar market share.

Peterbilt has two non-electric Class 8 truck models, the Model 389 and the Model 579. Both are high-quality models, but they do differ. The Model 389 has a classic look, while the Model 579 goes for a more modern look that makes significant aerodynamics improvements. The Model 579 also has predictive cruise control, which improves fuel efficiency.

Finally, the Model 579 has the largest mattress of any truck in the industry, allowing drivers to sleep comfortably.

4. Volvo

The Volvo VNL

Volvo began producing cars in 1927 in Sweden. Since then, Volvo has expanded into trucks, buses, construction equipment, and more. In other words, making great 18 wheeler trucks is just a portion of what Volvo does.  

Volvo has a smaller share of the American market than the other companies on this list but is still one of the best semi-truck brands out there. Volvo is most popular in Europe, where it makes 40% of its net revenue.

Volvo’s Class 8 trucks are in its VNL line. There are five trucks in the VNL line, with four being sleepers and one of them being a day-cab.

In 2019 Volvo began implementing dynamic steering into its vehicles. Dynamic steering uses sensors in coordination with an electric motor to provide additional torque to the steering column. This added torque causes the steering wheel to return to neutral with ease. Dynamic steering also prevents crosswinds from moving the steering wheel. Features like dynamic steering are why Volvo makes some of the best semi-trucks in the world.

Some truckers prefer Volvos because they’re generally lighter and smaller, making them easier to drive. That said, repairs for Volvos tend to be more expensive than other brands.

5. Mack

A black Mack Anthem

Mack is the oldest truck brand on our list; they started producing trucks in 1900! Volvo purchased Mack in 2000 and has kept the brand relevant in today’s market.

Mack produces three different models of Class 8 trucks: the Anthem, Pinnacle, and Granite. 

Mack offers a unique service called GuardDog Connect. GuardDog Connect continuously monitors a trucks’ fault codes, alerting Mack’s support team if a problem is detected. From there, the Mack team diagnoses the issue and determines the best course of action.

GuardDog Connect helps drivers avoid unexpected downtime and spend more time on the road.  

Because Volvo owns Mack, it has a feature similar to Volvo’s Dynamic Steering called Command Steer.

6. International

International RH Series

International was founded in 1986 and is the successor company to an American manufacturer called Harvester International.

The company has been shrinking in recent years but is still a significant player in the US semi-truck market. 

International has two semi-truck lines, the Lonestar and the LT Series, which you can purchase as a day cab or sleeper. 

International’s Prostar truck with the Maxxforce engine has been plagued with serious breakdown issues. This is largely why the company has struggled recently. That said, International makes solid trucks; you just have to avoid purchasing a Prostar with a Maxxforce engine.

International has a program called the Diamond Edge Certification. International created this certification and gives it to dealerships that meet the highest standards of customer service. Dealerships with a Diamond Edge certification have a faster turnaround, better parts inventory, and more rapid diagnostics than non-certified dealerships. 

Fortunately, International has a tool to find the closest Diamond Edge certified dealer

7. Western Star

A red Western Star 5700

Western Star was founded in 1967 and purchased by Freightliner in 2000. Due to its small size, there aren’t a ton of Western Star dealers. Nevertheless, because Freightliner owns Western Star, you can typically service Western Star trucks at Freightliner dealerships. 

The 4700, 4800, 4900, and 5700XE are Western Star’s Class 8 truck lineups.

Western Star trucks have a reputation for their toughness and durability. Their longevity makes them popular among those that work in industries such as logging. 

Western Star trucks also come with the WABCO Onguard collision mitigation system. WABCO is a radar safety system that detects moving or stationary objects ahead of the truck. Suppose a driver approaches an object at a dangerous speed. WABCO will alert the driver and apply active braking (if the driver doesn’t take action) to prevent or mitigate a potential collision. 

In Conclusion

The top semi truck brands each have their positives and negatives.  If you’ve already found the truck you need or will be purchasing a semi truck soon and need commercial financing, contact us at Fleet Lending Solutions or apply today!

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