Mechanics trucks are mobile shops on wheels. The larger the truck, the better equipped your shop will be.
"I liken it to a house," says Jason Ollerich, vice president, Feterl Mfg. "No matter how big your house is, you always fill it full of stuff. So what it comes down to is figuring out what you really need on a daily basis - the tools you are carrying or the spare parts." Then factor in the load carrying capacity required. "Are you frequently pulling a component and having to transport it somewhere?"
Obviously, larger trucks cost more money. "You have to balance a truck that is large enough to meet the needs and small enough to be affordable," says Tim Worman, product manager for commercial vehicles, Iowa Mold Tooling Co. Inc. (IMT). "To me, it is more important to have a truck that meets your needs. If you don't, your affordability went out the window because your cost of doing business is impacted. Your utilization costs are impacted."
There are many examples where a contractor purchased a truck based purely on price and it didn't work, says Worman. In such cases, he adds, "You better not have high expectations of what you can do with it."
Tough decisions are necessary when sizing the vehicle for your operation. "It is really a matter of what do you need every day vs. what would you like to have," says Ollerich. "What is a necessity, what would be nice and what is just kind of a luxury item?"
The size of truck will dictate what you can accommodate. However, there are a few downsides to a larger truck besides the initial purchase price. "Not only does the cost of the truck go up, but with $3/gal. diesel, that is another consideration," says Ollerich. "Some of our customers, when they travel between jobsites, they may be 200 miles apart."
Yet, small GVWs create limitations. "With smaller units, some of the compromises you have would be limitations on what you can carry back to the shop, and what tools and optional equipment you could have on your unit," says Gary Hibma, national sales manager/Western region, Maintainer Corp. of Iowa Inc. "This also limits the size of crane you can mount on the truck, which limits what a heavy equipment mechanic can accomplish on a jobsite."
It all revolves around the intended payload. "I tell operators to look at the weight of their heaviest normal load and build their mechanics trucks around those components," says Tim Davison, product manager for bodies and cranes, Stellar Industries. "The worst thing is when a field mechanic has an undersized crane and truck to do his job. The whole idea behind a field mechanics truck is to perform a majority of his work in the field. Having a correctly spec'd truck is crucial to his performance and efficiency."
"The payload you want to carry will dictate the size of your chassis," says Worman. Another important consideration is CDL requirements. There has been a progression away from Class 5 trucks toward the 26,000-lb. CDL limit. "Everything is getting bigger. I see a trend for 14- and 19-ft. bodies."
It's also important to consider maintenance costs. "The cost of maintaining a larger truck is less than a smaller unit," says Hibma.
This is due to the greater wear and tear on the smaller Class V chassis. "You chew up drivetrains, you chew up brakes, you beat up transmissions - just because you are trying to do the heavy-duty work of a truck in that lighter vehicle," says Worman.
Resale is also better on larger trucks. "The value of a 26,000-lb. GVW truck with a service body is higher than a 19,000-lb. GVW truck," says Worman. "There is more of a secondary market for the larger truck."
Select the right wheelbase
Wheelbase has a great impact on weight distribution.
"Really, it's maneuverability vs. compartment storage," says Davison. "Is a shorter wheelbase for increased maneuverability, or a longer wheelbase for better weight distribution, more desirable? [Operators] who have longer drives tend to need more storage. Most mechanics like a shorter wheelbase for maneuverability. This also decreases the chances of overloading the front axle."