Founded in 1998, Sterling Trucks has one of the shortest histories of truck manufacturing, ceasing production in 2009.
The company began after Ford Motor Company bought out Freightliner’s heavy-truck product lines in 1997. Ultimately, Freightliner’s competing products made it difficult for Sterling to establish a place in the market, often struggling to meet sales goals.
Sterling trucks were known as “work trucks” on the lower end of the price range. Typically they were made with a body mounted onto them instead of a fifth wheel. Sterling trucks were called “Baby 8’s” because they barely qualified as a Class 8 truck.
Here is a brief rundown of the makes and models put out by Sterling Trucks between 1998 and 2009. All of the data presented is backed by the Diesel Laptops Diesel VIN Decoder, which decodes millions of VINs each year. This data is used to recreate the exact model years that trucks were manufactured, as well as engine configurations.
(Note: Model years and the actual year a truck was built are often different. The model year is usually one year after the date of manufacture. Next model years typically come out in February or March of the previous year. A truck built in April 2022 is considered a 2023 model year, as an example. The years given in this blog are model years, NOT the year the truck was manufactured.)
Sterling A9513 & A9522
Sterling debuted their A-Line of set-back axle trucks in 1999. Called the A9500 series, this line was manufactured through 2010.
The A9500 series came in two flavors: the A9513 and the A9522. The A9513 was a 113” BBC (Bumper to Back of Cab) and the A9522 was 122” BBC. Contrary to what the internet says, there was no such model as the “A9500.”
The Sterling A9513 & A9522 were built with a dozen different engines from Cummins (ISM), Caterpillar (3176, 3406E, C10, C12, C13, & C15), Mercedes-Benz (MBE 4000), and Detroit Diesel (Series 60 12.7 L & 14.0L, DD15, & DD13). All of Sterling’s “A-Line” trucks had a set-back axle.
(Note: It’s not uncommon to find reference to models such as “A/AT 9500.” This is a specific group of Sterling trucks. The “T” denotes that the truck doesn’t include a factory-issued fifth wheel. Outside of that, the A9500 and the AT9500 are the same truck.)
Sterling L7500 (L7501) Series
The versatile Sterling L7500 Series ranged across seven non-CDL weight ratings from 21,000 to 24,5000 lbs and could be built with engine horsepower ranging up to 300. The L7500 were equipped for mid-range engines from Caterpillar, Cummins, and Mercedes-Benz.
The Sterling 7500 Series was produced with both single and tandem drive axles and GVW’s up to 66,000 lbs. (However, you can imagine a 66,000 GVW truck with a 300HP engine would be severely under-built for most applications.)
Notably, the Sterling L7500 Series has a 101” BBC, which is to say that the only model truck officially produced was the L7501, though the technical model may be L7500.
Sterling L8500 Series
The “big brother” to the Sterling L7500 Series, the Sterling L8500 Series was offered with three different BBCs, each a unique model, the L8501 (101” BBC), L8511 (111” BBC), and L8513 (113” BBC).
Though they were designed as Class 98 trucks, the Sterling L8500 Series could be specced down low enough to qualify as a Class 7.
The Sterling L8500 Series could get the same mid-range engines as the L7500 Series, but could also go up to larger big bore engines, even advertised with the Caterpillar C16 as an optional upgrade.
Sterling L9500 Series
The Sterling L9500 Series were built for vocational applications and includes the L9501 (101” BBC with steel cab), L9511 (111” BBC), L9513 (113” BBC), & L9522 (122” BBC). The L9500 Series could have set-forward or set-back axles depending on the specific model. Intended for the heaviest uses, the L9500 could be built in the factory with additional axles and frame rail configurations.
From 2000 forward, the L9500 Series were usually equipped with heavier engines such as the Caterpillar C13, C15, & C16 or the MBE 4000.
The Sterling L9500 Series was only available as a Class 8 truck.
Sterling Acterra (M5500, M6500, M7500, M8500)
The Sterling Acterra line was created because Sterling Trucks needed a medium-duty truck line. Sterling didn’t have a true Class 5 through 7 product line and mainly focused on :”built-down” Class 8 trucks. The company didn’t want to invest a lot of time and money into building a new truck line from scratch, so they put together something of a Frankenstein’s monster with a Sterling Trucks cab and hood and Freightliner Business Class 106” BBC chassis. This allowed them to create a new product line in months instead of years.
The first Sterling Acterra rolled off the assembly line for model year 2001;. Originally, the models were listed as Sterling M5500 (Class 5), M6500 (Class 6), M7500 (Class 7), and M8500 (Class 8) in their VIN decoding. In 2003, they changed it to Acterra.
The Sterling Acterra had a cab roughly 5” closer to the ground than a comparable A or L Series Sterling Truck. Acterra also all came with a 106” BBC that gave them excellent maneuverability. Engines were available from Mercedes-Benz (MBE900), Caterpillar (3126 & C7), and Cummins (ISC, ISB5 9, ISB6 7, & ISC).
If “Condor” sounds familiar, it’s because Freightliner also released the exact same truck model. The only difference between the Freightliner and Sterling models was the logo on the hood.
Announced at the 2000 Waste Expo, the Sterling Condor could include the Caterpillar 3126, C10, or C12 along with the Cummins ISM, ISC, or ISL. Designed for refuse use, Sterling had Mack Truck’s market share in their sights with the Condor. Unfortunately, the Sterling Condor didn’t sell very often and died the same year Freightliner killed their Condor, model year 2006.
Sterling LC Car Hauler
The Sterling LC Car Hauler is a super-rare truck. Among the millions of VINs we have decoded and researched online, we’ve only found model years 2005 through 2007. Presumably it wasn’t manufactured after 2007 due to low production and emission requirements for EPA2007 which would have required more engineering effort.
To be a car hauler, commercial trucks are required to have a lower than average suspension. This in turn makes the cab height lower than most trucks.
The car hauler market was one that Freightliner (which owned Sterling) wanted to grab since they manufactured a similar vehicle with Western Star around the same time. The Condor came with the MBE4000 engine which was used until 2000. It’s possible there are some 2008-10 model Condors in the wild. If you see one, send us the VIN!
Sterling SC Series (SC7000 & SC8000)
Prior to putting together the research for this blog, our team had never seen a Sterling SC series truck. But they did (and do) exist. The SC Series was Sterling’s LCF (Low Cab Forward) competitor to trucks like Isuzu, HINO, and the Mitsubishi FUSO. SC Series trucks were available in Class 7 (Sterling SC7000) and Class 8 (Sterling SC8000) and were exclusively powered by the Cummins ISB engine line.
The shortest truck ever sold by Sterling is the Bullet. The Bullet was manufactured by Dodge and rebadged as the Dodge Ram. The only significant difference between a Dodge Ram and the Sterling Bullet is the grille.
The Sterling Bullet was only available with a diesel engine, powered by the Cummins ISB6.7. The Bullet was not a popular seller for Sterling. A Dodge Ram equivalent could be purchased for less. The Bullet also never came with a traditional pickup bed as it was intended for commercial application.
Sterling Truck was popular in Minnesota and certain other parts of the country with a strong Ford dealership history. However, the brand was doomed early on when Freightliner purchased Western Star. In response, Sterling was positioned as a cheap, inexpensive truck with a few niches, primarily the cheaper “Baby 8” setup.
|Model||Year Started||Year Ended||Weight Class|
|A9500 Series (A9513 & A9522)||1999||2010||Class 7 & 8|
|L7500 Series (L7501)||1999||2010||Class 7 & 8|
|L8500 Series (L8501, L8511, & L8513)||1999||2010||Class 7 & 8|
|L9500 Series (L9501, L9511, L9513, & L9522)||1999||2010||Class 8|
|Acterra (M5500, M6500, M7500, M8500)||2001||2010||Class 5, 6, 7, & 8|
|LC Series||2005||2007||Class 8|
|SC Series||2001||2007||Class 7 & 8|
|Bullet||2007||2010||Class 3, 4, & 5|
At Diesel Laptops, we offer a huge range of diagnostic tools, repair information, parts information, and training to help you quickly and easily diagnose and repair all of the Sterling Truck models listed above. Let us help save you time AND money!