Fiberglass is a common material choice on smaller utility bodies. "The main advantage of fiberglass is that it weighs a lot less, but it is a little more difficult to customize," says Ollerich. "In this market, it isn't as big a deal because most people are really slamming these things out in high volumes." They simply don't do much customization.
Metal bodies on mechanics trucks allow more customizing, but come with more of a weight penalty. Manufacturers have to engineer the smaller mechanics bodies to address this weight. "You are talking thinner gauge material and leaving out some of the features that are available on the bigger trucks ? in our case, the sleeved substructure," says Ollerich. "Instead of going with structural channel, we are going with light formed channel for the underbody to keep the weight down."
But manufacturers approach design differently. "In the smaller trucks, where a lot of guys are into the 20- or 22-gauge bodies, we are more into the 14-gauge," says Ollerich. "It is significantly thicker, so the body is going to be more durable."
No matter what size of truck you purchase, the weight of the body is going to be an issue. "Utilization of space in a weight-conscious manner is one of the most important factors in building a service body," says Van Laren.
It becomes even more critical as you move into Class 5 and smaller vehicles. "The class of chassis will dictate the gross vehicle weight of the unit. A mechanics truck of this size that is upfitted with a crane and compressor will have payload available for tools, but the parts payload may be compromised," Worman points out. "An owner needs to be aware of available payload at the time of the purchase decision. Customers who do not fully understand this potential payload compromise during the buying phase might end up with an under-utilized mechanics truck."
Any compromises really depend on your application. "The questions you have to ask yourself are how much weight are you going to lift and how often you plan to use the crane," says Worman.
Storage capacity is a smaller vehicle's Achilles' Heel. "You are looking at weight vs. storage capacity," says Ollerich. "With a Class 3 truck, you put your tools in it and a few spare parts and you might be at weight or overloaded. The same thing with the Class 4 trucks. You really need to think about what you need to have with you. There are some trade-offs."
Power take-off (PTO) capability adds a completely new dimension to a small truck. "Once you get that PTO option available on the transmission, you can do so much more," says Ollerich. For example, you can have a hydraulic-driven air compressor vs. a heavier, more expensive engine-driven unit.
Overall, purchasing a smaller mechanics body requires a different mindset than buying a larger unit. "The chassis is probably going to be double the cost of the body," says Ollerich. "With the bigger trucks, the body may be the same price as the chassis or maybe even a little more expensive."
Think long term
When sizing a mechanics truck, carefully evaluate how much truck you need now and into the future.
"I would caution buyers against purchasing a smaller mechanics truck based solely on economy," says Worman. "Of course, economy is and should be an important consideration in any equipment purchase, but it should not be the deciding factor. The most important consideration when buying a mechanics truck is making sure the truck satisfies the needs of the job so it can be a revenue generator for your business.
"Buyers who ensure that lighter-duty mechanics trucks meet their lifting and payload needs see great benefits with Class 5 chassis and smaller," he continues. "But if the size of truck does not meet the needs of their application, the unit will probably be under utilized and will not benefit the fleet."
Don't fall into the same pitfalls as those who came before you. "Contractors that are new to service trucks typically buy less truck than what they really need, especially if they want options like compressors and cranes on them," says Van Laren. "There is little price difference between a Class 4 and Class 5 truck, so it's almost always worth it to go with the higher rated GVW. Depending upon the operation, most customers would be better served by going up a size class."