Rising material costs have made it more tempting for fleets to consider cycling truck bodies and equipment. However, even though it may become more attractive in the future, such cycling typically isn’t cost-effective in most applications, according to fleet management officials.
Cycling Benefits Fleet
"We see with some degree of regularity certain customers contemplating refurbishing bodies for use on new chassis," says Ken Gillies, manager of truck purchasing and engineering for GE Capital Solutions Fleet Services, based in Eden Prairie, Minn.
Customers believe that repainting and reinstalling the body would be cost-effective.
"As the cost of bodies increase, refurbishment can become more attractive, if a fleet can somehow fit it into their operation without a loss of downtime," Gillies says.
"But from a general standpoint, we generally discourage our customers from doing refurbishing work for many of reasons."
The cost of vehicle downtime to allow for remounting requires major consideration.
GE Capital Solutions Fleet Services does have a customer that cost-effectively cycles its bodies, specially designed to transport expensive, oversized panels standing on edge.
"But that’s a rarity," adds Gillies, noting the company has the advantage of operating extra trucks, so it isn’t impacted by the downtime costs of having out-of-service vehicles during repair or maintenance.
Most fleets aren’t that fortunate — especially in today’s environment, when the trend is to cut back on the number of vehicles operated.
Cycling Costs Pile Up
Palm Beach County, Fla., incurs costs, for example, of about $100 per day for a work or dump truck to be out of commission, according to Doug Weichman, CAFM, director, fleet management division.
Allowing two months to refit a body and equipment onto a new chassis, downtime costs alone would total about $4,000, he adds.
"Beyond that you’d need the capability to do it, such as overhead cranes to pick the body off," said Weichman.
There’s also the cost of changing out and upgrading older bodies to update company requirements, such as LED lighting.
If the fleet has switched from a different, low-bid chassis supplier, matching the older body to a different chassis can pose additional problems and expense. Such expenses include hydraulics, location of power take-off (PTO), or the chassis’ exhaust system, which has a different configuration.
Considering all the variables, "It’s not as easy as just unbolting a dump truck body," said Weichman.
Weighing the economics, a fleet also must consider the lost value in selling an older complete truck versus selling just its cab-and-chassis.
Palm Beach County can sell a seven-year-old dump truck for $22,000 - $28,000 (with 12-yard capacity), but loses at least one-third of the profit when selling only a cab-and-chassis.
Still, county officials with a fleet of 4,500 vehicles, found it more cost-effective to refurbish a 10-year-old under-bridge bucket truck and recycle the bodies of some of its animal trucks.
The under-bridge bucket/aerial truck cost $268,000 to refurbish versus $400,000 for a brand new model. Refurbishment included sending the vehicle back to the original equipment manufacturer Aspen, and having it completely upgraded to the level of a new model.
The County’s animal cage trucks are viable candidates to have the bodies moved or reused, said Weichman.
"We did this in the past and we consider each truck as it comes up for replacement on a case-by-case basis," Weichman adds.
The high cost of the bodies, about $15,000 each, favors their reuse. Their light weight, fiberglass construction and manageable size make them easy to handle. They don’t incur rust and are typically in good shape. And, having no hydraulics or other items to transfer, they’re relatively easy to bolt onto the back of a ¾-ton cab-and-chassis.
As an alternative, Palm Beach County has also sold these trucks to operators at dog tracks for 30 percent of the original purchase price to be used for transporting their greyhounds.
Cold Climates Face Different Issues
Kansas City, Mo., Central Fleet has tried cycling cranes, but with "limited success," according to Sam Swearngin, CAFM, fleet superintendent.
Because of their expense, "We tried twice with truck-mounted cranes to take them off an old truck and put them on a new one with a new flatbed. But I’m not endorsing that," says Swearngin.
The cranes were perceived as unreliable and lacked the remote control features of new models. The trucks ended up as "secondary units," used just for emergencies — not exactly what the County had planned.
Like those in other cold climate areas, Kansas City’s truck bodies and mounted equipment are subject to the corrosive effect of salt, which largely precludes cycling. Dump bodies, in particular, often wear out more quickly than the cab-and-chassis.
Despite rising costs, Swearngin and fellow superintendents has been experimenting with — and spending money on — more expensive, corrosive-resistant steels to stretch out truck life.
"I’ve got trucks here 15 to 16 years old, and I wouldn’t have thought it possible in the past. We literally run them until there’s a catastrophic failure."
"There are a number of strategies you can use to extend body life," he notes.
Upgrades to "mild" steel proved inadequate for the fleet’s goals. However, Cor-Ten, commonly termed "weathering steel," has worked well for Kansas City’s public works division trucks.
The mechanical properties of weathering steel depend on which alloy and the material thickness is. It has been used in bridge and other large structural applications.
"It gets surface rust, but not structural rust," like mild steels, which are subject to structural failures," said Swearngin.
In select applications for water department trucks, subject to year-around wetness and corrosion, fleet officials have also been experimenting with stainless steel.
"For a 14-foot tandem dump truck that needs the horsepower to pull backhoes costing around $140,000, you can put a second engine and transmission in it and still be ahead of the game, if everything is structurally sound," said Swearngin.
T1/tungsten steel in the floor of dump trucks also permits doing away with underbody cross members, which catch hard-to-clean dirt and debris and contribute to premature rusting. "You get a nice, clean floor that goes all the way across," he notes.
Refurbishing "Mini Pumpers"
Canadian fire/emergency-truck producer and refurbisher Holland Enterprises, based in Kakabeka Falls, Ontario, has also seen demand for cycling "mini pumpers."
These are 1- and 2-ton trucks, scaled-down versions of pumper trucks that provide fire and protection services for cost-conscious customers.
Most fire apparatus vehicles don’t log many miles or hours on the engine. Typically, the bodies wear out much more quickly than the chassis.
Kevin Holland, operations manager notes that cost savings from refurbishment depend on the body’s condition, and the amount of work it requires.
Overall, truck operators need to give as much attention to preventive maintenance on truck bodies, as they do the chassis.
"People give a lot of attention to the chassis, but they often don’t realize the body requires maintenance the same as an engine," Holland concluded.