When you upfit trucks and invest in equipment, you want it to last. The good news is, there are several measures you can take to help them last longer.
Check out nine tips for before you buy and after your truck or van is out on the road.
Before You Buy
1. Research the Options
Depending on the type of upfit or equipment you need, you may have several options to choose from. Jeff Haag, VP fleet sales for DECKED, which provides in-vehicle storage solutions for pickups and cargo vans, said fleets could benefit from investigating the quality of upfits and equipment.
“What’s the point of buying a new upfit if it starts to rust after six months or starts to fail to operate properly? Do your research: Ask other fleets what they use and their experience with that solution,” he advised.
Paul Lawrenson, director of business development for EZ STAK, a provider of vehicle storage solutions, breaks it down to a simple equation.
“Forecast how long you’re going to keep the vehicle, then ask yourself this: Are you buying the quality of cabinetry that will last that life?” he said.
Sean Meredith, national fleet manager for Driverge, which builds commercial wheelchair vans, shuttles, transporters, and crew vans, advises against falling back on a “we’ve always done it this way” mentality and says that weighing the options pays off.
“It’s important to truly spend time doing the research and paying attention to the details before making a purchase and not always doing what is easy and repeating behavior when there are warning signs, like a really low competitive price,” he explained. “At times, companies concentrate on upfits that they ‘can make work’ because of the initial pricing factor, but the reality is their efficiencies could be improved by finding the right or better solution.”
2. Ask the User Group
Just as researching the options can pay off, so too can doing some internal research and getting input from the vehicles’ users.
Joe Packard, Transportation & Fleet Manager for Ziegler CAT, a construction and farm equipment dealer, said the type of work being done and how the operators will use the equipment would guide the right choices. “These elements are critical to understanding the overall cost of the build, usage, functional need vs. want, and how that unit will cycle out,” he said.
In addition to helping fleets find the right fit, Lawrenson said it would result in those operators taking better care of their truck or van, which ultimately impacts the longevity of the upfit.
“I’m a big supporter of including the user group when you’re designing your fleet. The attitude used to be, ‘Here’s your truck, take it or leave it.’ It’s far better to include the users in how they lay out the truck and the design and the flow of the vehicle,” he said. “Imagine if you got your dream home, but you had no input on how the kitchen was designed. You’d get frustrated, and then because you didn’t have a lot of input, you wouldn’t want to take care of it, and you wouldn’t work efficiently either.”
Meredith agreed that ensuring operators can perform their work safely, efficiently, and comfortably is an investment that yields positive results.
“A team member who has enjoyment and feels safe in their work will provide a stronger result, share ideas for efficiency gains, and remain an employee,” he said. “Losing team members because you saved a few dollars on the upfit will be more costly for the organization when you factor re-hiring, training, and downtime.”
3. Don’t Undersize or Over Spec
Once you’ve gathered the input of users, you’ll want to make sure the upfit or equipment is capable of doing the job – but no more and no less.
“Ensuring that the equipment is properly sized for the work it will be doing will help lengthen lifecycles,” said Adam Oppermann, product manager for Stellar Industries, a manufacturer of hydraulic truck-mounted equipment. “An example is ensuring a crane or air compressor is matched to the daily work being done. An undersized crane or compressor will result in a shorter lifecycle for the equipment.”
While under-sizing can shorten lifecycles, Packard said over spec’ing isn’t the solution.
“Many fleets over-spec their trucks, anticipating it will make them more functional or last longer,” he said. “This increased cost could be wasted on added equipment not being used, increased weight on the vehicle, or increased costs training operators on non-essential equipment. Focusing on the right equipment for the job is critical. Anyone can build a truck, but not everyone can build a truck that is cost-conscious and fits the operational ticket. To maximize lifecycle, you need to analyze the functions of the unit, operators, conditions of work, and overall build specs.”
Part and parcel to matching the upfit to the job is resisting the temptation to take a one-size-fits-all approach. While one solution for all vehicle types seems simple, Jeff Langley, Fleet Account Executive at Adrian Steel, a manufacturer for commercial van and truck equipment, said it could create challenges for the operator.
“A one-size-fits-all approach is not necessarily the answer. Understanding the operator’s job is paramount to success — both in and outside of the vehicle,” Langley said. “If the job the vehicle is supporting isn’t considered, the company risks spending additional funds at a later time, which negatively impacts the overall TCO of the fleet.”
4. Plan for the Short and Long Term
While it’s important to think about matching the upfit to the current job, thinking about how it will be used in the future can help ensure it will be useful for longer as well.
“High-performing fleets plan their vehicle upfit as an integrated system,” said Tracey Patterson, North American Truck Product Manager for Thermo King, which provides heating and refrigeration for trucks and trailers. “They consider the immediate routes and applications, then think about long-term plans and consider building in flexibility to adapt. So if your route changes a year from now and has more stops, you want to think about how you’ll utilize your investment for the life of the vehicle.”
For instance, Thermo King worked with a large national fleet that anticipated business growth over the next few years. Growth meant more stops per vehicle, per day — and to keep temperatures stable under those conditions, that would require a different type of unit than they would have purchased had they only spec’d for their current needs.
“Looking at what their route profile would be in the next 3-5 years, we validated their use cases and helped them decide on a higher capacity unit for that future profile,” Patterson said.
AFTER THE UPFIT
5. Keep up on Preventive Maintenance
If you know the importance of regularly performing preventive maintenance on your trucks and vans — or even your own car — you won’t be surprised to learn the same principles apply to upfits and equipment. Simply put, the better you take care of it, the longer it will last. But ignore PMs and you run the risk of doing damage.
“One of the easiest things a fleet can do to extend the useful life of their equipment is to follow the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule,” Oppermann said. “Proper maintenance can prevent costly repairs and downtime for fleets.”
Langley offered a simple maxim: “Treat the upfit like you treat the vehicle,” he said. “Perform routine site visits and inspect equipment for organization and proper functionality.”
The key difference between PMs for upfits and equipment compared to vehicles is that some vehicle PM schedules follow the calendar. But for upfits and equipment, the amount of time it’s run is more likely to dictate the timing.“The more operating hours it has, the more often you need to do the PM,” Patterson said. “Stay connected to what your operating hours are and follow the prescribed PM program, and you’ll extend the life of the equipment.”
6. Keep It Clean
In addition to maintenance, keeping equipment and upfits clean can also help them last longer.
“We understand it’s a work environment, but there is something about organization and cleanliness that affects longevity,” Lawrenson said. “When it comes to cabinets, if you’re not cleaning them and not putting away things you don’t use, it adds unnecessary wear and tear. And if you don’t clean up things like spilled oils and lubricants, it can eat away at surfaces.”
Tim Marling, VP, Product & Engineering for Upfit, Parts & Service, Wabash National, which designs and manufactures trailers, dry and refrigerated truck bodies, structural composite panels and products, trailer aerodynamic solutions, and other equipment, says there is another important benefit beyond longevity.
“Keeping your equipment clean can improve safety because it allows you to identify issues more easily when they do occur,” he said.
7. Reduce Engine Hours
Just like the less you drive a car, the longer it lasts, the same is true for upfits and equipment. So any chance you get for reducing engine hours can pay off in the long run.
For instance, Patterson said some refrigeration units could run on either engine power or their own power. So, if a truck is parked for an hour or two to wait until it reaches the right temperature, plugging in the refrigeration unit instead eliminates the need to run the engine and reduces engine hours.
“If there are opportunities to use shore power, it lowers energy costs and extends the life of both the vehicle and refrigeration unit,” she said. “It’s also a great strategy that is gaining a lot of attention for its sustainability benefits.
”Conversely, Lawrenson said equipment that isn’t operated regularly should be run occasionally to keep it operable.
“It’s important to cycle everything to keep it running,” he said. “It’s sort of the opposite of what you think: The less you use it, the longer it will last, is true. But you also have to run it often to keep it moving.”
8. Stick to the Intended Purpose
Just as equipment and upfits should match the job, the converse is also true: they should only be used for the purpose for which they were designed.
“Use the upfit for its intended purpose, only,” Meredith said. “Do not attempt to stretch usage because it will lead to downtime and safety concerns.”
Marling agreed that equipment must be used as intended.
“The biggest ‘don’t’ I can offer is don’t use equipment outside of the recommended parameters of the manufacturer/installer,” he said.
Packard said part of sticking to the intended use includes avoiding overtaxing upfits and equipment.
“Don’t overload or overwork equipment,” he advised. “Equipment will last longer if you stay within the working parameters and train your people properly.”
9. Perform a Truck Audit
Once your upfitted truck has been up and running for a while, it’s helpful to circle back and take a look at how it’s actually being used, then make changes as needed.
“User groups tend to like to carry everything whether they need it or not. That can cause additional wear and tear,” Lawrenson said. “A lot of our best customers conduct truck audits, where they regularly take an inventory of what users have on a vehicle and how often they’re using it. They take stock to make sure they’re only equipped with what they really need.”
Meredith said upfitters and equipment providers can also help with a post-purchase audit.
“A partner to the fleet and fleet manager will conduct and complete audits on the product after purchase,” he said. “It’s about knowing the usage, observing the work being completed and reviewing maintenance records of current in-service work vehicles. This is an example of engagement to ensure the upfit is and was the right decision at the start of the process.”
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