Spend time on specs
"Maintenance is the key to cost control for the vocational customer," states Jim Zito, vocational sales manager, Peterbilt Motors Co. "However, selecting the best equipment possible and correctly spec'ing the vehicle also contribute to overall life-cycle costs."
Great care must be taken when developing specs to ensure they meet the needs of the intended application, says Gervais. "Under-spec'ing the vocational truck can lead to premature component failures, which demand additional unscheduled repairs and increase life-cycle costs," he notes. "Over-spec'ing adds unnecessary weight to the vehicle, increasing the cost of daily operation through lowered fuel economy."
Improper spec'ing of components also adds to operating costs. "If the wrong axles, transmissions, traction devices or any major component is spec'd incorrectly, the truck will not operate efficiently," says Zito.
All of these common spec'ing mistakes increase downtime and maintenance costs. Yet, they can be largely avoided by consulting your local dealer.
"Work closely with a dedicated truck sales professional to help you make good spec decisions for your application," Zito advises. They can also keep you up to date on the latest technologies available to increase efficiency and reduce upfront costs.
An example is the availability of gas engines on medium-duty trucks. "Diesel engines in medium-duty trucks have increased in price in the range of $5,000 as a net charge to the customer," says Eaves. So it pays to examine your application to see if a gas engine can meet your needs.
Clearly, there are limitations with this size class. "Obviously, the PTO is not as ideal for gas engines as for diesel engines" says Higgs.
A gas engine is also not the best choice for a heavy dump truck application. "But there are applications where [the truck] is not going to do a tremendous amount of idling or a lot of mileage," Eaves notes. In these cases, a gas power source could be a cost-effective alternative.
In other words, keep your options open. "Past experience is good," says Eaves. "But we are in a changing world, and sometimes there are newer ways that are perhaps better than the old ways. So it is important that you understand what new developments might help."
Once trucks are properly spec'd for the task, life-cycle costs can serve as a basis for comparison between brands. "If two competitive brand vehicles are spec'd correctly for the same application (within the confines of the OEMs' option availability), then close scrutiny of life-cycle costs between them will provide a fairly accurate life-cycle performance comparison," says Gervais.
"Total cost of ownership and resale value are great tools to compare brands and products," agrees Zito.
Assess useful life
By tracking life-cycle costs, you can also determine if the ongoing cost of operation of the truck outweighs the cost of borrowing money to purchase a new vehicle, Gervais points out. If it does, it's time to consider a new purchase.
In some cases, however, it may prove more cost effective to refurbish an older vehicle. "Consider the costs of potential refurbishment and how much time that will add to the vehicle in terms of economical operation," says Gervais. If it brings the truck to the point where it can be operated at a life-cycle cost less than the cost to borrow money over a significant period, then it may be the right solution.
Another option may be to use kits to convert existing on-road trucks to vocational use. "Converting a sleeper to a day cab is very popular right now, and can make sense in many cases," says Zito. "That business decision should be based on the age of the truck and the components. With the cost of labor and improvements in technologies, it is becoming less cost effective to build kits."
Also consider the intended application. "Putting a road tractor into vocational service works well for on-road dump or tanker service applications," says Zito. "But these units do not have proper gearing, transmissions and other major components needed for [off-road] applications."
Older trucks will be less cost effective in high-production applications. "However, older trucks put into secondary service is common practice and is recommended," says Zito.