While dwindling chassis inventory and prolonged lead times, upfitting aging chassis with modern bodies has gained traction as a pragmatic solution.
Tim Marks, New Truck Install Manager at Levan Machine and Truck Equipment, emphasized in a Knapheide article that, "This is something that has become much more common, given the state of the marketplace and industry."
He further pointed out that the scarcity of new chassis has spurred the inclination to extend the lifespan of existing vehicles, with the hope that improved chassis availability will emerge.
There are three hurdles to consider when upfitting an older chassis.
Step 1 — Evaluating Chassis Condition
When contemplating the feasibility of upfitting, the first consideration is the existing condition of the chassis.
Marks advised, "Are there any problems that will need fixing? We have found a majority of times, when the old chassis is being upfit with a new body, the chassis will often need repairs."
This, he noted, presents an ideal opportunity to address any pending repairs. It's also essential to evaluate any prior modifications to the chassis, whether they might influence the new retrofit, and ensure sufficient payload capacity after integrating a new body.
Yet, the road to upfitting is challenging, particularly for chassis older than seven years.
Step 2 — Availability and Compatibility
Compatibility poses a significant hurdle, as integrating older chassis with modern electrical systems and intricate components such as power lock modules can be demanding.
The availability of compatible mounting kits further complicates the process. While occasionally suitable mounting kits from the past may align well, modifications are often necessary to achieve compatibility.
Additionally, with modern industry trends emphasizing quality and minimal modifications, limitations arise concerning body types and features that can be accommodated on older chassis.
Finding a qualified and willing workshop is another crucial factor. Marks noted, "In general, the technology of chassis and truck equipment alike has advanced leaps and bounds over the last decade."
This progression has shifted installation practices from traditional methods involving welders and torches to more sophisticated techniques. Retrofitting older chassis often demands custom fabrication and welding, a skillset not universally possessed by all shops.
Step 3 — Don’t Overlook the Cost
Finally, the cost aspect must not be overlooked. While retrofitting circumvents the expenditure on a new chassis, it's imperative to weigh the overall costs.
Repairs to the chassis, specialized brackets or components, and increased installation time can significantly elevate expenses. Consequently, gauging the entire cost spectrum is vital, extending beyond the immediate to project the cost-effectiveness over the lifespan of the retrofit.
Adapting to Chassis Shortages
As the industry navigates challenges posed by chassis availability, retrofitting older chassis with modern bodies emerges as a viable workaround.
However, the decision necessitates a meticulous assessment of the chassis condition, compatibility issues, qualified service providers, and the comprehensive costs involved.
Amidst the complexities, the choice between upgrading and updating demands a holistic evaluation of the fleet's requirements and long-term goals.