The Number 1 Resource for Vocational Truck Fleets


Spec'ing and Selecting Service Bodies

July 2017, Work Truck - Feature

by Lauren Fletcher - Also by this author

Reading Truck Equipment offers a variety of service body offerings in both steel and aluminum. (Photo courtesy of Reading Truck Equipment)
Reading Truck Equipment offers a variety of service body offerings in both steel and aluminum. (Photo courtesy of Reading Truck Equipment)

Work trucks are one of the most important tools for a vocational fleet, and those that utilize service bodies must take special care to ensure they get exactly what they need and avoid potential pitfalls and mistakes.
Find out what mistakes upfitters often see and what some of the most important factors are in spec’ing in selecting.

7 Mistakes when Spec’ing & Selecting

Making a mistake when spec’ing and selecting service bodies for a work truck application can cost a fleet, from loss of productivity and possible driver injury to vehicle downtime due to improper upfits and the need to adjust or equip with more appropriate needs.

When you are next spec’ing your upfit, avoid making the following mistakes:

1. Not Using Real Numbers

It is important to utilize accurate numbers when gauging upfit needs, including payload and gear.

“One point I’d emphasize is to assess the needs of the truck so a fleet manager has the GVWR that is appropriate for the fleet’s needs. It’s important to consider everything it will need to haul — including crew, fuel costs, tools, equipment, and cargo. By accurately weighing this out, you can avoid costly losses in productivity and keep the truck running longer,” said Eric McNally, VP sales and business development for Reading Truck Equipment.

2. Not Knowing the Job Requirements

Fleet managers often do not understand the short- and long-term purposes and needs of the job requirements.

“This includes business trends, and external factors, including new technologies, regional laws, environmental impacts, etc., according to Rafik Soliman, senior fleet operations manager for Ranger Design. “They end up investing in upfits/service bodies that do not serve the purpose and usually end up impacting the efficiency and productivity of entire operations. Understanding the step-by-step operation will also reduce the risk of accidents by making customized upfits that are ergonomically friendly to serve the employee needs and protect him from any surrounding danger!”

Ranger Design provides custom shelving and storage solutions in partnership with SpaceKap for its truck caps. (Photo courtesy of SpaceKap)
Ranger Design provides custom shelving and storage solutions in partnership with SpaceKap for its truck caps. (Photo courtesy of SpaceKap)

3. Ignoring Organizational Options

Another mistake upfitters often see is underspec’ing a service body without needed organizational options, such as drawer systems, bins, tool cubbies, and various other specialized carriers, parts, and accessories.

“We see so many fleets order just a plain-Jane body and rely on the driver to further upfit and organize it when they receive it. Not only is this likely more expensive to do after the fact, but also less consistent and the fleet manager does not know exactly what is on the truck. Taking advantage of all the great organization systems out there to fully outfit the truck in a productive and safe manner is key to not only that drivers efficiency but often their safety,” said Erik Nelson, national accounts sales manager for Stellar Industries.

4. Being Short-Sighted

And, don’t forget to be forward thinking. Not only related to your business, but regulations, too.

“Fleet managers need to continuously map business needs, future job requirements, regional laws, and environmental impacts for at least five years ahead. Understanding a company’s trends and business opportunities are extremely important for fleet spec’ing,” said Soliman of Ranger Design.

5. Not Considering OtherMaterial Options

Another mistake is not paying attention to alternative materials to those traditionally used in upfits and service bodies.

“The alternative materials market has grown quite a bit in recent years and there are many alternative suppliers to your traditional steel service bodies. We build more in aluminum and fiberglass in this space than we do in steel these days because the needs of our customers have changed. Truck chassis have gotten heavier in recent years and the 10,000-pound DOT limit has stayed the same, so right out of the gate, our customers are working with less payload. We want to help fleet managers get over that hurdle by building in aluminum and steel, both lightweight materials directly impacting the payload of that vehicle in a positive way,” said Nelson of Stellar Industries.

6. Not Focusing on Safety

And, never forget about driver safety. This should be a consideration during every stage of the selection and spec process.

“Another mistake fleet manager make is not taking into consideration the driver’s safety. Fleet safety is not only about air bags and seat belts. Fleet managers need to work closely with their health and safety advisor to better understand the impact of the upfit/service body in every single step of the operations that the employee (driver, technician, installer, etc.) will take while he is in contact with the vehicle/truck,” said Soliman of Ranger Design.

7. Ignoring Total Cost of Ownership

Don’t ignore total cost of ownership (TCO) as some materials may have more of an impact on factors such as fuel economy, among others.

“When fleet managers make decisions based upon on the initial acquisition cost, rather than total cost of ownership, they may actually cost themselves more in the long run. For example, an aluminum service body can be up to 50% lighter than a comparable steel body. In the long run, this equates to significant savings in both fuel and operating costs,” said McNally of Reading Truck Equipment.

Piedmont Natural gas operates a fleet of 1,200 vehicles with around 80% featuring an upfit, such as the service body pictured below. (Photo courtesy of Piedmont Natural Gas)
Piedmont Natural gas operates a fleet of 1,200 vehicles with around 80% featuring an upfit, such as the service body pictured below. (Photo courtesy of Piedmont Natural Gas)

Natural Gas Fleet’s Standardized Upfit Approach

Piedmont Natural Gas operates a fleet of 1,200 vehicles with approximately 80% featuring a service body upfit. The trucks are used to service and maintain
The biggest challenge Piedmont Natural Gas faces when spec’ing service bodies is standardizing the fleet throughout the companies footprint and meeting the needs of its different departments.

Spec’ing service bodies can be difficult, with complicated processes and varying vehicle needs. Working directly with an upfitter on your specifications can help.

“I wish I would have known how complicated the engineering process is, but working with Reading Truck Bodies over the past few years has made this process easier. For example, the information and resources they provide during our annual spec meetings are helpful. Having access to CAD drawings that show where different items can and cannot be moved, added, or deleted on our specifications is powerful,” said Mark Full, fleet service specialist for Piedmont Natural Gas Company.

Factors to Consider When in Spec’ing & Selecting

Avoiding mistakes in spec’ing is important, but so is taking a few important factors into consideration during the spec’ing and selecting process, including weight, organizational options, quality, and where the units will be used.

First, fleet managers must always consider the job requirements of the vehicle and keep that in the front of their mind.

“When spec’ing a truck, include how many people the truck needs to carry at least 50% of the time, specific equipment/tools the vehicle will carry (including specs, dimensions, and weight),” said Soliman of Ranger Design.

Weight is also an extremely important factor, both payload and distribution. Too much weight on one side of a service body can cause a multitude of issues, and even contribute to an unstable vehicle and resulting crash.

“Weight is important because fleets need to know how much payload they can carry on the vehicle. By performing an extensive weight distribution analysis, fleet managers are better prepared. You’ll know if optional axles, suspension additions, etc., are required so the chassis is able to adequately handle the weight,” said McNally of Reading Truck Equipment.

Organizational options should be top of mind when spec’ing the truck or service body, including drawer systems, bins, tool cubbies, and various other specialized carriers, parts, and accessories according to Nelson. Not spec’ing these items from the start can result in downtime later down the line when installation is needed.

Don’t skimp quality. The Durability of the product and available warranty options should be a consideration.

“Purchasing a work truck is an important investment. When your work truck performs well, it helps keep your business moving. It’s also a constant representation of your business, so its look and appearance are critical to how customers judge your organization. A clean and well-maintained service body represents your organization and makes a better impression to customers and prospects alike. A warranty provides peace of mind,” McNally said.

The TMAX Series by Stellar is designed to serve municipal, contractor, construction,
and other markets needing a service crane or lifting capabilities. (Photo courtesy of Stellar Industries)
The TMAX Series by Stellar is designed to serve municipal, contractor, construction,and other markets needing a service crane or lifting capabilities. (Photo courtesy of Stellar Industries)

Another consideration fleet managers should make when spec’ing a service body is the location the vehicle will be utilized.

“Consider where the truck will be used such as rugged terrains, crowded cities, etc.,” Soliman said.

The capabilities of the upfitter you are working with are also important. New and improved products are consistently introduced each year.

“Whether it’s a new chassis, a new body, or a general piece of equipment, it’s critical to ensure that the manufacturer has the engineering capabilities that accommodate the end user’s needs. Using an engineering team that continually refines its processes and products is a good indication of a solid partner that will always work with worker safety and productivity at top of mind,” McNally said. 

Comment On This Story

Comment: (Maximum 10000 characters)  
Leave this field empty:
* Please note that every comment is moderated.


Fuel Management

Bernie Kanavagh from WEX will answer your questions and challenges

View All


Fleet Tracking And Telematics

Todd Ewing from Verizon Connect will answer your questions and challenges

View All


Fleet Management And Leasing

Jack Firriolo from Merchants will answer your questions and challenges

View All


Sponsored by

Steward C. Holman was the founder of Automotive Rentals, Inc. (ARI).

Read more