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What is an Articulated Vehicle?

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  • Written By: Jeremy Laukkonen
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 24 August 2016
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An articulated vehicle can typically make sharper turns than a rigid vehicle of a similar length. To manage this, these vehicles are designed with a pivot, which can allow them to bend from side to side. An articulated vehicle may be one cohesive unit, such as a bus, or a two-part unit, such as a truck and trailer. In the latter case, the pivot typically consists of the ball or fifth-wheel hitch that connects the trailer to the truck. Articulated vehicles are often used in both heavy construction and military applications.

Articulated buses are a common design that can allow long buses to navigate the sharp corners present in cities. Where a rigid bus of equal length might be unable to turn certain corners, adding an articulation can essentially allow the vehicle to bend around the corner. The articulation in this case typically includes a large joint in the chassis and an accordion-like wall and roof construction. Certain very long buses may even include a double articulation.

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Trains have historically also been a kind of articulated vehicle in one way or another. Some train cars have utilized an articulated type of connection, wherein one car shares a common set of wheels with the car in front of or behind it. Since trains travel on tracks and don't have to negotiate especially tight corners, this design imparted other benefits. By sharing wheels between cars, the weight of the entire train could be reduced. This may have also allowed the trains to travel more quickly.

The articulated vehicle may also be used by military units and the heavy construction industry to improve a vehicle's turning radius. This can be convenient in construction zones, which might present tight working quarters. In military applications, the ability to make tight turns with large vehicles can be beneficial when traversing rough or unfriendly terrain.

A form of articulated vehicle that isn't one single unit is the semi-trailer. These vehicles consist of a heavy truck and one or more trailers. The trailers that are towed typically lack a front axle; instead, the trailer is mounted to the truck via a fifth-wheel hitch. This forms the pivot seen in all articulated vehicles, and in some cases a second or even third trailer may be connected to the rear of the first. In places such as the United Kingdom (UK), the semi-trailer may be known as an articulated lorry.

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bagley79
Post 2

I live in a large city, and many of the long public transportation buses have double articulation.

The only reason I notice something like this is because my husband is a truck driver, and he is always making comments on this kind of thing.

Most people who ride the bus probably don't have a clue what an articulated vehicle is. The person who is driving the bus certainly knows how much clearance they have when they are making sharp turns.

Sometimes when I am sitting at a light in traffic and watch the trucks and buses as they make their turns, I am amazed they can get it done. There have been a few times though that I have seen traffic back up to give them more room to get by.

LisaLou
Post 1

We have a horse trailer that hooks up to our truck with a fifth-wheel hitch. This is a long trailer that hauls horses in the back and has living quarters in the front.

There is no way we would be able to get around in some of the campgrounds we park in without this kind of set up.

Using a pivot like a fifth-wheel hitch gives you the ability to make sharper turns than if you were pulling a bumper trailer.

This is easy for me to say because I am not the one who is doing the driving. All I have to do is get out and help navigate once in a while. I think it would take a lot of practice for me to get used to driving an articulated vehicle.

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