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After a 30-year career as an owner-driver devoted to American trucks, Newcastle’s Phillip Meharg has been bitten by the Scania V8 bug.

If you’re going to change the habit of a (professional) lifetime, then you want to go the whole hog, which is in effect what Newcastle subbie Phillip Meharg has done, buying a Scania R 650 V8 tipper to replace one of his American trucks.

Phillip transports bulk loads of magnetite, coal, mulch, sand, gypsum and even compost, around New South Wales and beyond, clocking up 180,000 km annually, pulling a quad-axle dog.

As one of the pioneers in the use of quad dogs from the start of his business, and now running them under mass management, Phillip has always looked for the right solution to maximise the efficiency of his operation.

Despite celebrating 30 years as an owner driver, he’s not stuck on the old ways of doing things, and he says five years ago he came close to buying a Scania but was lured away by an attractive offer from the biggest American brand for an auto transmission model.

With 890,000 km on his five-year-old, 600 hp, cab-over American, he thought it was time to take stock.

“I added up how much I’d spent on maintenance and repairs over five years on the truck and it was a six-figure sum. And we didn’t do a diff or a gearbox, just regular maintenance and a few small, but annoying things. When I did the figures on the Scania, I couldn’t believe the difference. At the end of the day, all the costs add up,” Phillip said.

“The Scania’s got a terrific warranty to start with (5-year/500,000 km) and we went with the maintenance agreement as well, so I know I’m set for the next five years with no surprises.

“I had a few long-standing gripes with the American truck too: steering, dust and water sealing, and the passenger door didn’t fit properly. What tipped me over the edge was that a few mates who have recently bought the same model new, reported having the same problems, so they haven’t been fixed,” he said.

“It also helped that I knew Trenton Wilks, the Scania new truck salesman. He used to work on my Cummins engines years ago. He has been unbelievable. He didn’t give up and worked very hard to find the best solution for me, in terms of the specification of the truck, and making it fit my requirements. It was the first Euro 6 R 650 V8 tipper they have done at Scania, so there was a bit of work to get it right, but I am very happy, it has worked out really well,” Phillip said.

“Trenton would have to be the best salesman,” he said. “He really puts his heart into it. Even the guys at Sloanebuilt who made the body and the dog trailer were impressed. They said he’s the only salesman who rings them with a list of things to be done and follows them up. But he is focussed on getting everything right.

“I’ve used Sloanebuilt for a long time, I’m a regular there, they are very good to me, they do all our work, anything needs fixing,” Phillip said.

“Scania’s Newcastle Branch Manager, Richard Turner has also been fantastic, and his workshop team has been helpful fitting the truck up and getting it ready,” he said.

“It looks good, and a lot of people have seen it and commented on it and how good it looks. They’ve been asking me why I’ve bought a European truck after 30 years, and I tell them all the things it’s got: safety, comfort and the unbelievable way it drives. On a really bad piece of road it rides better as a six-wheeler than the American truck does fully loaded. I’m very happy with it,” he said.

“With the American truck we were pulling 57.5-tonnes gross and getting on average 1.8-km/litre. I’m hoping for 2.0 km/l with the Scania, though some of my friends who have driven them now say I might get more. The fuel saving will make a difference.

“I’ll be getting the monitoring data from Scania but will probably put in a third-party system as well, as I need to know the exact weight on all of my axles for the mass management programme. There will be cameras going in as well.

“The new four-axle dog has disc brakes to integrate with the truck’s electronic braking system. The Scania is a bit heavier than the truck it is replacing but will give better fuel. We worked out that if I save 10-litres even on a short run, that fuel cost more than offsets any loss in payload due to the higher tare,” Phillip said.

“The new trailer is longer and higher, so the combination has a 70 m3 capacity. We raised the height of the body sides on the truck and lifted the tarp so it would be the same height as the trailer, and as European trucks sit a bit lower than the Americans, we’ve got some extra cubic capacity in there. It makes a difference when you’re carting light volumes like mulch and compost, but when the magnetite’s in there you can hardly see it.

“I spend quite a few nights in the truck, because I’ll often take a load of magnetite to Narrabri or Gunnedah, then load coal to go to Harwood, north of Grafton, sleep in the truck and come back next day. I sometimes go to Queensland to bring back firewood, and I’ll always look for a load to take up there as well. We also supply compost and mulch for rehabilitation at mine sites, so we have really diversified what we carry,” he said.

The Scania’s main work will be transporting magnetite for Clermont Bulk Haulage to various mine sites. The magnetite delivery is vital, it’s used by the mines to wash the coal, so if they run out, everything comes to a stop. It’s a pretty specialised job delivering it, inductions for the mines and so on, and when they call, we must deliver. When I go to the Lithgow area, out west, there are lots of hills towards the Blue Mountains, so the extra horsepower will be good, but the retarder will be fantastic for coming down the hills.

“The retarder was truly tested coming down Mt Ousley’s steep descent – 40 km/h speed limit – at 57.40 tonnes. I didn’t have to touch the brakes at all. The retarder kept the truck between 36 and 38 km/h with ease. Very impressive!” Phillip said.

“I used to have up to 5 trucks, but it’s down to three now, and I’ll be selling the older American truck,” he said.

The new Scania is a looker, having had a modernised version of Phillip’s traditional blue and red stripes reimagined for the very different bodyside of the Scania compared with the American trucks. The stripes were painted by National Truck Repairs.

 There’s a good deal of scroll work too, all of which was designed and applied by Phillip’s long-time custom truck painter, Danny Showman. Phillip added several neat touches, such as the aluminium stay under the low-rise bulbar that lines up perfectly with the bottom of the cab body and carries marker lights. The extra lights on the mirrors and air foil were fitted by Scania Newcastle.

The fuel, hydraulic and AdBlue tanks have all been painted. There’s also an aluminium finisher plate under the tanks to hide the J-brackets.

“It’s really come up well,” Phillip says. “I’ve had this colour scheme for 30 years; everyone knows the colours. For the Scania, the stripes are a bit more slimline and they make the cab look very long. On the inside we went for the full V8 leather package for the seats and the red trim on the dash. It’s got LED headlights and an LED strip on the bulbar. The bar is designed so you can open the bonnet for daily checks without having to drop it.

“I’m really pleased with the bar; it integrates so well with the truck you don’t even see it. Again, this is one of the items that Trenton put a lot of work into, to make sure it was a perfect fit.

“I picked up the SCANIA rego plate as well. Thank you, Scania. I think it finishes off the truck really well.

“The more I look at the truck, the more I like it,” Phillip said. “You just can’t take everything in at first glance.”