Normally, ordering a truck is fairly simple. You know what capabilities you need, and you spec the truck accordingly. If only it were always that simple. Sometimes, outside constraints rise up and bite the ordering process, and a truck must not only be special-ordered, but specially special-ordered.
To accommodate these unique truck orders, manufacturers have departments set up to handle them, with people and processes in place. At Ford Motor Co., for example, those people and processes are in the Vehicle Special Order (VSO) department.
Cathy Beattie works in Ford's VSO Option Development department. Work Truck spoke with Beattie and with Bill Chew, VSO engineering supervisor.
Beattie takes customer requests, and Chew makes sure the modifications requested by fleet customers will actually work.
Why Should You Re-Rate a Commercial Vehicle?
Our first questions delved into the reasons for down- or up-rating a particular chassis model's gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). Do you know what happens if you go over the manufacturer's GVWR? Trucks were only meant to carry so much weight before failure. Up-rating is usually requested for a simple reason.
Truck and fleet vehicle purchasers want as much GVW as they can and are willing to pay for the upgraded chassis components that will deliver it.
Occasionally, however, purchasers want to up-rate a vehicle or truck because, particularly in the case of multi-passenger vehicles such as shuttle buses, going to a higher GVW means that certain federal requirements no longer apply.
How Down-Rating Applies
Down-rating is different, and, as usual, in so many cases, an important factor is money.
Chew noted the 12% federal excise tax on rated over 33,000 lbs. GVW. Unless a company needs a heavy-duty Class 8 over-the-road tractor, usually rated at 40,000 lbs. or more, the company will seek a smaller truck, such as a heavy-duty rated at 33,000 lbs. or less for tax savings.
Remember: Light- and medium-duty truck options under 26,000 pounds do not require a CDL.
"Rather than allowing a de-rated vehicle by eliminating readily detachable components, government regulations require the front axle and the rear axle capacity to be 33,000 lbs. or less when added together. So that's one reason why the industry as a whole shifted to vehicles that were 33,000 lbs. or less," Chew explained.
According to Chew, that's why designations such as a 34,000 lb. GVWR doesn't show up on order sheets anymore. Commercial trucks are either:
- Class 8, at over 40,000 lbs., or
- Class 7, under 33,000 lbs.
"Unless you absolutely need all that payload, you're going to buy a vehicle that's 33,000 lbs. GVWR or less," he said.
When a CDL Is Not Required
The next breakpoint in ordering commercial vehicles comes at 26,000 lbs. GVW level. For vehicles at or below that weight, a commercial driver's license (CDL) is no longer required according to CDL laws. Thus, drivers are much easier to find and less expensive to retain.
"You don't get too many vehicles in that gap between 26,000 and 33,000 lbs. anymore because it's difficult to find drivers with a CDL. There's a professional driver shortage in the U.S. That's another reason why if you traditionally purchased vehicles at 28,000 lbs., today you're going to go with 26,000 lbs.," Chew said.
When Are Truck Driver Logbooks Required in Commercial Vehicles?
Beattie and Chew noted their greatest involvement comes with vehicles rated at 10,000 lbs. and under. With heavy- and medium-duty trucks and commercial vehicles, VSOs are now set up to accommodate the special GVW ratings. One requirement for vehicles over 10,000 GVW is that the drivers maintain comprehensive logbooks.
So, according to Chew, "The customer might say 'I'm willing to give up the payload capacity. I really don't need it. I want you to de-rate the vehicle. I'm happy to have all the components that allow me to have that much capacity, but I want a vehicle that's rated at 10,000 lbs. or less, so I can avoid maintaining logbooks and some of the other markings that must be on the vehicle.' "
He added the logbook and truck marking issues are the main reasons, over the past few years, the VSO group has been asked to do a 10,000 lb. de-rate from a higher GVWR — either 11,500 or 10,700 lbs.
Canada's Similar Requirements
Canada mandates a similar requirement as well, based on a GVWR of 4.5 metric tonnes (9,900 lbs.)
Chew noted that in the latest model-year, he and Beattie have taken many such special requests and incorporated them into the regular ordering guide. Those special GVWRs can be ordered from Ford without going through VSO. A 10,000-lb. GVW rating, for example, is available in both Super Duty and Econoline products.
Econoline products concern the shuttlebus industry.
"For one fleet customer, we have de-rated an 11,500 lb. GVWR vehicle down to 9,900 lb. GVWR. The reasons are similar in Canada and the U.S., except it is a 9,900 lb. GVW rating that doesn't normally exist on a Ford cutaway today," Chew said.
According to Chew, a recent request came from a customer who wanted to take a 9,600-lb. single-rear-wheel cutaway, and up-rate it to 10,050 lbs.
Another such request came from a shuttlebus customer who wanted to move from a Class 2 to Class 3 vehicle. Both requests appear based on the fact that in some cases standards may be less stringent.
Why Changing Commercial Vehicle Truck Class Can Be Tough
Chew explained when a vehicle moves from medim-duty Class 3 to light-duty Class 2, the de-rate is not simple. Other more stringent standards for brakes and crash safety come into play.
"It is sometimes easier to up-rate than to de-rate a truck because the requirements may be lower," said Chew. "We've had occasions where we could meet certain safety standards with a vehicle at 10,000 lbs., rather than at 10,500 lbs., because once you drop it down that extra 500 lbs., your stopping distance improves. The vehicle weighs less, but the standard itself may be such that you can't meet it without major brake changes."
Chew also noted that upfitters make changes that affect the GVWR.
"Sometimes upfitters will re-rate a vehicle, but when they do that, they're on their own as far as vehicle sign-off and certification is concerned. Most of our fleet customers want the vehicle to be Vehicle Identification Numbered (VINed) and certified by Ford to meet the safety standards that apply to the chassis when it leaves our plant. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has a Web site that covers all the requirements," Chew added.
What is the Impact of the VIN?
So, can a VIN be changed? Beattie described the final steps in the re-rating process, noting that re-rating a truck is affected by:
- Emissions requirements
- Crash safety
- Other Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) requirements.
In addition, the fourth position character in the VIN specifies the weight class of the truck. The VSO recode process makes sure the numbers on the VIN plate and paperwork match the actual vehicle.
When a customer wants a de rate or an increase, he or she must go to the dealer, who submits a VSO inquiry, a formal process in which the dealer submits the request to Ford. Beattie and Chew determine the request's feasibility and then process it. Re-rating happens, but it is not easy.
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Editor's Note: This article was updated June 2023.