Class 5 and smaller mechanics trucks have been around for a long time, accounting for as much as five to six times the unit sales numbers of larger mechanics bodies, according to Jason Ollerich, Feterl Mfg. While the size of this market hasn't changed much, there are several companies offering new, smaller, mechanics truck products.
"Our customers are increasingly concerned about fuel economy," says Tim Worman, product manager for commercial vehicles at Iowa Mold Tooling (IMT). "With the price of diesel being what it is these days, everyone is looking for better fuel efficiency. Smaller mechanics trucks offer better fuel economy than bigger versions, and they also fill the niche need for customers who don't require a full-sized mechanics truck." This includes customers who have lighter lifting requirements.
Smaller mechanics trucks offer economies of scale. "The smaller trucks are less expensive to purchase up front, typically have better fuel economy and are better suited for preventive maintenance jobs," notes Walt Van Laren, Service Trucks International. "Class 5 trucks don't require a commercial driver's license to operate, thereby increasing the number of employees that can operate the unit. The size of the truck seems to be relative to the size of the equipment being serviced and the size of the business."
Their advantages make smaller trucks particularly attractive to the first-time buyer. "First-time buyers will get into the Class 5 truck first to understand how a service vehicle works in their business," Van Laren notes. "Construction companies that buy Class 5 trucks often shortly realize ? depending upon the equipment size they work on ? that the truck is not big enough for their needs."
"Class 5 chassis will continue to be a great option for customers who service small to mid-range equipment, including those in utilities, rental markets and equipment dealers," Worman says. "Class 3 and 4 chassis are generally best for customers who service compact equipment. We do not foresee this truck going into other industries that primarily use heavy equipment. Contractors who service heavy equipment are still going to need larger mechanics trucks. "
A careful balance
It pays to understand all of the trade-offs before selecting a Class 5 or smaller mechanics truck.
Obviously, there are limitations on the size and type of equipment a smaller vehicle can accommodate. "Depending upon the major equipment installed, such as a crane or compressor, PTO space availability and torque rating, compromises may need to be made to meet the customer's requirements," says Van Laren. "A crane and compressor can be properly sized and installed, allowing available payload for tools and materials. Oftentimes, it involves educating the buyer as to what is possible with a given GVW and what is not."
Ollerich adds, "You can certainly get smaller cranes and put them on smaller bodies, but you really give up a lot of performance. You are now talking about someone who doesn't use his crane every day ? maybe only a couple times a week. A lot of these customers are guys who are getting their first cranes. Maybe they had a Class 3 straight utility bed, which is basically just a box, and now they are getting a crane on it."
Choosing a smaller truck is a balancing act. "The most important attributes for these smaller truck chassis include the overall weight, stability and strength of the body. Finding the right combination is key," says Kyle Whiteis, director of marketing for Auto Crane Co. "Many bodies designed for these chassis are made with lightweight materials that often lack the strength and stability required of a mechanics truck (with crane). A significant weight savings may not be as attractive if you find yourself replacing the body more quickly than you had expected or find the lifting capability of the crane compromised."
"The duty cycle and longevity of the smaller class trucks is typically less," Van Laren explains, "so the bodies and accessories for them are built to match."