Road test: Scania R540

Scania R540

In the midst of the covid pandemic, we put a Scania R540 to work delivering goods to a nation that, for some reason, seems to hate the trucks they rely on so much…

On Twitter, a thread is posted about the building of a truckstop on a brownfield site in Kent, an area in desperate need of truck parking. Click on the story and it’s an ugly disused office block that’s to be bulldozed. Located on an industrial estate, nowhere near any residential properties, it is the perfect location for a truckstop.

Yet something strange happens: members of the public, green fanatics, even illiterate councillors hundreds of miles away in Wales pop up. Triggered by the headline which promises sanctuary for 100 lorries and their tired drivers, this proposed development is not acceptable.

Why? What’s their problem?

Later that day, a lorry driver is getting into bed in the hope he can force his mind and body to go to sleep for a few hours as he’s been told he’s got a 2am start time. That’ll mean the alarm going off at 1am. It was a surprise, he’s not prepared, and knows that maybe if he’s lucky he’ll doze off for a couple hours. If not, well, it’ll be a long and tiring night into morning.

To top things off, there’s a weather warning in force with snow and ice, followed by vicious gale force winds. Hopefully the trailer will be heavy so the journey south will be less stressful.

“Can’t you just leave it a while and go later?” his girlfriend asks. They haven’t been seeing each other that long and she’s not got a clue about how haulage works. How the country runs. How everyone always has everything they want, whenever they need it.

Sorry babe. It doesn’t matter if it’s an amber, or a yellow weather warning, rain or snow. The trucks go out pretty much no matter what. You just get on with it. It’s a challenge, just don’t think about it too deeply.

He surprises himself and gets four hours sleep in and feels pretty decent as he chucks his bag into the Scania R540 and hauls himself behind the driver seat at 1.30am. Good news is the trailer is fully loaded and ready in the yard; bad news is that it has four drops.

Roaster alert

Sandra on Twitter is disgusted at the prospect of this truckstop, which is only 10 miles from where she lives. Trucks are dirty, smelly and dangerous. She doesn’t like them; they scare her on the motorway when they pass her in her 20-year-old diesel Megane – for some reason they keep speeding up and overtaking her. It’s awful that beautiful countryside will be torn up and concreted over.

When she was furloughed for eight months during the pandemic (epic sun tan babez), she did all her shopping online, receiving all her supermarket groceries at her door. Amazon provided loads of stuff, including garden furniture. It all just came on a van. Why on earth can’t things just go in vans instead of lorries?

Simeon is equally disgusted with the truckstop. There’s a climate emergency and fossil-fuel-burning lorries are to blame, and this truckstop is due to Brexit which is the worst thing to happen, ever. He’s never been to Kent before, but he’s signing the petition and sharing it, while tucking into some natural yogurt from Greece and strawberries that were grown in Morocco, tapping away on his laptop made in China.

He works from home now, where he has been safe and comfortable and independent. Everyone should just work from home and care about the environment as much as he does.

Scanny man

The boss has been buying S-cabs since they came out, speccing them right up in 500hp form, and then 540s with a couple of V8s coming along in 530 and 590 form. With tractor units hard to come by, the chance of a nearly new R was too good to turn down.

Curiously dubbed “fleet spec”, the Scania R540 is an impressive piece of kit. It doesn’t have leather seats and it looks a bit naked without a sunvisor; but the cloth is heated and there’s a microwave. Sitting lower to the ground than the towering S cab, the R has a six-inch tunnel in the floor which means the fridge and bunk are a bit smaller but they’re still more than big enough.

The lower driving position means the truck is easier to get in and out of, and visibility is better too. It handles more sharply, as you feel you’re sitting in the truck rather than on top of it. An unexpected benefit is that the R is buffeted and pulled around less by high winds. That’s good as it’s a wild night.

The motorway is eerily quiet on the journey south; at certain times of night, the trunkers all hit the road at the same time and the network is every bit as full of trucks as it is during the daytime. But outside those windows, nothing. Especially now with weather warnings in force. Storm Guybrush, followed by Storm Herbert or something.

The Scania has the full spec infotainment system with Tom Tom and DAB. The digital radio signal drops out between South Lanarkshire and Lancashire, even in 2022.

No matter; with the phone hooked up to the Bluetooth it’s time to listen to some of these Joe Rogan podcasts that have got leftie musicians so wound up. Covid misinformation apparently. Well, there doesn’t seem to be any of that, this episode has been on for nearly three hours and the guest has been talking about where the lost city of Atlantis might be.

The 13-litre 540 was only introduced in 2019 and is about to be replaced by an all-new twin-cam “Super” 560. That’s not to say the 540 is outdated; more that its replacement is at the cutting edge of combustion technology.

Diesel engines are a wonderful thing. They’re now super-clean, super-efficient and should be utilised for a long time to come. The 540 doesn’t have the meaty soundtrack of the 16.4-litre 530, and doesn’t quite have the low-down torque, but it is spot-on at 44 tonnes and uses less fuel as well.

Switching the gearbox software into standard mode stops the truck losing too much speed on the hills, and it’s a surprisingly enjoyable run to Preston, where it’s time to leave the M6.

A couple of serious gusts of wind did their best to unsettle the truck, but the gross weight made itself useful. With a light load or God forbid and empty trailer, he suspects it could have ended up on its side. Or a new pair of pants would be needed.

Gravy train

Councillor Howell is up at 5am and mortified at this truckstop, even though he doesn’t actually know where it is. Having read the headline and skimmed the comments, but not actually bothered to read the article, he’s jumped in with the tweeting. What will become of the birds and woodland creatures that will be displaced by this truckstop? If the UK had remained in the EU, there would be no need for this truck parking and he could have become an MEP.

There’s a couple of aggressive, hateful types who look like they might drive lorries quoting him on Twitter and telling him he’s talking rubbish and that there’s a terrible lack of truck parking all over the country and asking if he’s even read the story.

Truck drivers need somewhere safe to park at night? Nonsense, thinks Howell. They’ll be anti-vaxxers and climate-deniers, no doubt about it. Best to just block them. He thinks about reporting them for hate speech and holding unacceptable opinions, but then he gets distracted as his private car – paid for by the council – is outside to take him to the airport where he’s flying to Portugal to attend a seminar on the climate catastrophe with fellow forward-thinking political minds.

Racking up a 15-minute break in a urine-scented layby gives the driver a chance to check his map. The first drop is down a single-track road and there’s no contact details. Google Streetview comes in handy and thankfully there’s a big, wide gate.

The first commuters are on the road now and these ones tend to drive very fast, considering trucks to be a nuisance to be overtaken or cut up as necessary. Construction vans can be especially aggressive.

Care has to be taken on the twisting, narrow road to the delivery point, a food supplier. Upon entry it’s a bonus as the truck is directed onto a bay and it’s possible to rack up a 30-minute break and a little snooze on the bunk.

The next stop is not too far away; a couple of villages need to be navigated and the traffic is now pretty busy. Apparently lots of people have kept working from home after the lockdowns have lifted. It’s a new thing, allowing people to have a better work-life balance. Well, you could have fooled me, thinks our driver. The traffic is even worse than it was before covid. Probably because people have been put off public transport.

Anyway, the next spot is an outdoor tip and requires the hauling of one-tonne pallets with a sack truck. Icy torrential rain means an immediate soaking, which goes great with the sweat accumulated from the manual handling.

Shivering, after a quick change of clothes the Scania’s heated seat is switched to max and he’s just about at a decent temperature at drop number three.

This one looks obvious enough: warehouse in a busy industrial estate. Just drive in?

Nope. Bloke in a hi-vis rushes out waving frantically. “No! You can’t drive in here before 9am! You have to come in the other side! We’ll get complaints!” he exclaims. Any chance of some sort of signs or advice to that end? Surely stuff like this must happen all the time.

Well, the road is now super-busy and the yard too busy to turn round in, so a scowling Mr Hi-Vis has to stop the traffic and the wind and rain isn’t helping. The woman in the new Range Rover is not happy that she’s been held up for a few seconds. She’s attractive and obviously not short of a bob or two. So why so miserable? On the other hand, the girl in the Mini Cooper returns our man’s wave and “thank you” with a big smile.

Nimbys everywhere

Turns out the issue with the warehouse is the housing beside it. The residents do not like the noise from trucks coming in and out and got the council to place a restriction on the company that they are not allowed truck movements on that side of the site before 9am.

The warehouse has been there since 1967 and the houses were built in 2014. Someone moved into one in 2020 and raised objections about the noise and the pollution and wanted to file a lawsuit about the stress caused from these “juggernauts” on the doorstep.

Mr Hi-Vis actually turns out to be alright and points out the toilets. To be fair, it’s not much fun being out in that yard on a forklift. It cost a lot of money in solicitor fees and they were damn-near shut down, because someone moved next door to a business that had been there for over 50 years.

Inside one of those houses a man is just waking up, satisfied his sacred sleep schedule has not been disturbed. It’s a work-from-home day for him: nice and warm and cozy, no need to go out. He scrolls Twitter lying in bed and notes with disgust that some tyrannical council down south are allowing a truckstop to be built. They better not try that round here. Apparently they attract prostitutes. Shocking. He makes a note to research prostitutes hanging round truckstops later that night.

The final drop is 150 miles south in Gloucestershire, so a long run down the M6 and M5. The Scania has adaptive cruise control which comes in handy to match the speed of the vehicle in front. It doesn’t have the fancy new overdrive gearbox, so it sits at about 1200rpm in 12th, which works well at full weight as it means it can hold on well on the hills.

Bizarrely the storm lifts and the sun comes out for the last couple of hours. There’s only a couple of pallets left to tip and the truck is only on the bay 10 minutes and it’s done. That’s a 13-hour shift nearly done.

Instructions for the reload come in and it’s just round the corner. Drop the trailer in there and pick it up again at 2am with deliveries later that morning in the north.

Trailer dropped, the traffic clerk helpfully advises that it’s possible to park in the industrial estate. It’s only 1pm, so that’s 13 hours to kill. Any facilities? Nope. No truckstops or parking within half an hour of here, even though there’s several industrial estates.

A truckstop plan in this area was knocked back, although 10,000 houses on green belt were approved, and there’s one super hub after another popping up at the side of the motorway.

Our driver goes to the toilet and hopes for a number two, because he’s going to be parked at the roadside for a long time.

He gets parked in a line of tractor units, beside some overgrown bushes draped with bog roll and strewn with bottles of alarmingly dark-coloured urine. Radio says the second storm is on the way tomorrow. He hopes if he gets a quick start, he might beat it.

Curtains closed, he is surprised to fall asleep so easily, woken up by the noise of a load of cars piling out a factory on a shift change. He sleeps again.

The wind picks up and the temperature drops. The Scania’s night heater keeps the temperature steady and the bunk is soft and comfy. With lockers on the rear of the cab, there’s tonnes of storage room in the R cab and he notes that he can stand up in it no problem.

It’s a nice truck, this; he might ask to go on it full-time figuring that as it’s not as fashionable as a 540S, it might be a bit less likely that some bell-end will drive it. Rain hammers off the roof and it feels nice.

Hotel Scania

Waking up, the 24V kettle is plugged in to make a coffee. The flat area on the dash is handy – the whole interior is very well laid out. Well-made and simple to use, the Scania control systems, buttons and interfaces are all excellent. The microwave comes in handy, as it so often does. Hot food on the go when you can easily access facilities is a big help. A swab round with baby wipes to freshen up and he’s ready to go.

The trailer is loaded and waiting, as is the paperwork. Get in. The load is soft fruit. Strawberries, mangoes and guavas from halfway round the planet. This sort of thing can’t be good for the environment, it doesn’t make sense, he thinks. But hey, it’s work – and what does make sense these days?

The first part of the drive is 25 miles of quick A-road and with no traffic, it’s a quick run. Sod it, limiter all the way.

This truck handles very nicely; it sits flat through corners, the nose turns in well and there’s strong steering feedback. There’s a retarder too. It’s not really fleet spec at all.

The load isn’t as heavy as the one going south, but it’s still about 15 tonnes. Easy work for the 540 which is lively, even in economy mode.

The wind and rain makes things challenging – cars not using headlights are everywhere too. According to the radio it’s now a red weather warning for the south, and trucks are actually being parked up in some areas. By the look of it, he’ll miss the worst of it, but heavy snow is forecast to hit the north west.

A clear run to Tebay services. A shower (which is free), a coffee and a bacon bap. Back on the road after a 45 and then the snow hits. He knows that if everyone just keeps spaced out and going steady, there won’t be an issue. There’s a BMW somehow way up on the banking on the opposite side. Good effort.

The Scania is on nearly new Michelin rubber and has impressive grip, even though it’s “only a midlift” and not the preferred tag spec. Panicked car drivers are the main issue, dropping their speed way down low due to a little bit of snow.

The snow is hypnotic after a while, Star Wars mode. Then, surprisingly, it turns to sleet. The sat nav indicates long delays on the M8, so a cross-country diversion is gambled upon and works.

The drop is a German supermarket that requires the driver to do it himself. They aren’t open until midday so he parks up at a new service area nearby. It’s a really handy spot this, with 10 truck parking spots. Thing is, it could do with double that.

With Spar, Greggs, KFC, McDonalds and Shell all on site it’s popular. A space is free though and another sickly instalment of sleep is grabbed before heading back to tip the trailer.

It’s hard going as the first pallet truck turns out to be faulty and it takes over an hour to tip the fruit, which has a stupid Best Before date of just three days from now. How much of this stuff will end up not being eaten, having been flown round the world and on at least four lorries. Well, we ain’t paid to think about this stuff.

Back out, park up and wait to hear. The weather is causing mayhem for the transport office with trucks stranded or unable to load. He’s lucky that he’s up here and not down there.

It’s a 4am start, loaded trailer full of cereals for… Kent. He immediately starts making calculations to work out where to park after tipping as there’s few options down there to aim for. Notes on Twitter that there’s a new one being given the go-ahead on a disused office site on an industrial estate.

People don’t like it, or trucks. People who have been able to stay home, safe, warm and cozy and not have to worry about a thing – thanks to road transport and the supply chain that’s not only taken for granted, but often actively resented.

People who start work at 9.30am in the comfort of their living room, in their slippers and trackies. Even at the height of the pandemic, even when there’s brutal storms. Fresh fruit and veg, booze, organic granola, new clothes, hot bubble baths, quilted bathroom tissue. Every single thing brought with lorries, by people who work seven days a week and start at the most anti-social hours imaginable, missing showers, peeing in bottles, ending up constipated or with piles.

Every truck driver, no matter where they are or what time it is, should be able to access safe, secure parking and basic facilities. But there seems to be a default setting of resentment.

It has to change.


This Scania R540 is a cracker, by the way. The enlightened driver knows that the R is the star, despite the success of the S.

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