RentSmart: Matching rented artics to your jobs

Contractors certainly like to rent articulated trucks.

“When you include rental purchase options, approximately 75 percent of artics start out as rented machines,” says Mike Kennamann, Caterpillar’s sales support consultant for articulated trucks.

Artics are versatile; they operate in all weather conditions and are adept at hauling a variety of materials. You don’t need good haul roads to use them and you aren’t required to put your best operator behind the wheel. “A rented machine is usually a contractor’s first exposure to artics,” Kennamann says. “They try them and they like them.”

“Site development and road building are two of the larger market segments these trucks are used in,” says Tim Averkamp, Deere’s product marketing manager for trucks and engines.

Size Matters
Matching the type of articulated truck to the job at hand is simply a matter of size. Although artics sold in North America run as small as 13 metric tons payload, the majority of units offered for rent fall in the 25- to 40-metric-ton range. (See table on page 68.)

The vast majority of artics on today’s market are six-by-six units. According to the Equipment World Spec Guide, there are only four four-by-four models sold in North America, most of them with payloads of less than 20 metric tons.

“In our area of northern California, the 35-metric-ton machine is our best rental unit because it covers both sides of the market, both large and small,” says Rick Wolfe, branch manager for Volvo dealer Mathews Machinery, Livermore, California. Wolfe sees the artics he rents put to use in a wide variety of jobs, including quarries, cell building in landfills, constructing levies and dredging. The units are usually rented by the month with a three-month minimum.

If your objective is to move a large amount of dirt in a short amount of time, you’ll probably lean toward renting a 40-metric-ton unit. On the other hand, “If you’re working in a residential area with tight spaces where you need maneuverability, you’ll want to go with a 25- to 30-metric ton machine,” says Steve Moore, Komatsu America truck product manager.

Artics are extremely popular rental machines, so getting the size you need for a job may pose a problem.

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Answer the Questions
Articulated truck renters should be prepared to answer several questions, including:

  • What material are you moving?
  • How much material are you moving?
  • What are the underfoot conditions? Is truck weight a consideration?
  • How long is the haul road?
  • What type and size of machine is loading the truck? (Usually excavators, but sometimes loaders)
  • What is the project duration?
  • What are the general job conditions (wide open spaces or tight quarters)?

There also are weight restrictions to consider. “Several of our customers will opt for a 30-metric-ton machine since permit requirements can change when they’re transporting it from site to site,” Wolfe says. “This size of machine can be transported without a permit.” Wolfe adds his dealership handles about 75 percent of the transports of the artics it rents.

Height restrictions are another size factor, according to Averkamp. “If you have to work under a bridge or overhead conveyor,” he says, “you’ll probably go with a smaller truck, since you might see a height difference of a foot between a large and a small artic.”

Another consideration is the type of material being moved. Artics excel at hauling dirt and gravel, but large rock poses more challenges. “Then you’re getting into rigid-frame truck territory,” Kennamann explains.

Soil conditions also figure into the mix, says Pat Hunt, director of strategic sourcing for United Rentals, which primarily rents Terex articulated trucks. “If our customers are operating in muck, thick sand or clay, we want them to use a lighter truck, in the 25- to 27-metric-ton range,” he says.

When renting, contractors frequently ask how many cubic yards of material a truck will haul, Hunt says. “One of our trucks may hold 27 metric tons,” he says, “but it can also hold almost 20 cubic yards of material, so as long as your pounds per cubic yard doesn’t add up to 27 tons you’re in good shape.” And today’s high fuel costs are prompting questions about a rental machine’s fuel consumption and capacity, he adds.

Other Factors
One consideration should be ease of operation, Moore says, especially since rented artics generally have a short duration on the job. In addition, there’s a high turnover among artic truck operators due to their position at the lower end of the labor scale. “You need equipment that’s not complicated,” he says. “For example, we use electronically controlled wet disk brake clutches to govern the inner axle lockup and the differential locks. Operators can control these features with a simple flick of a switch on a dashboard, and these are the type of things that help eliminate operator error, preventing them from damaging the truck.”

Hand in hand with ease of operation is operator comfort. “If an operator feels unsafe, or if a truck’s suspension is making his back ache, he’ll slow down and you’ll lose productivity,” Moore says.

When you rent, check out artic options that might help you do your job. For example, Mathews Machinery offers rental machines with tailgates, which add another 1.5 cubic yards of capacity and can be beneficial when hauling wetter loads or larger rock.

Of course, renting doesn’t excuse the need to match the machine to the job. “It doesn’t matter how you acquire it when considering how you decide which machine is the right one,” Kennamann says. It can be a simple matter of trade offs. For example, while an artic wouldn’t be the ideal machine for hauling large rock, you may opt to rent an artic because the rental rates are lower than those for a rigid-frame truck. “Just make sure you know the options,” he comments.

Train your operators on the correct loading position.

Productivity Snares
Since size is naturally also a factor in rental rates, you may be tempted to opt for a smaller or larger machine than you really need. “If availability’s not an issue, make sure you match the machine with the job,” Moore says. “While you can’t always get the size you want, there’s no use paying $13,000 a month to rent a 40-metric-ton truck when you just need a $6,000-a-month 30-metric-ton truck.” Also make sure you have the right number of rented trucks to either make up your truck fleet or mix with the artics you own. “You don’t want the excavator waiting on a truck,” he says. “Do a job study to determine what size truck and how many you need before you call the rental company.”

“Don’t trade off rental rate for productivity,” Hunt sums up.

Not maintaining your haul roads can also be a lost productivity culprit. “Although these machines are made for rough conditions, you need to groom your haul roads to keep your cycle times up,” Hunt says. “I’ve seen poorly maintained roads actually slow down cycle times.”

This productivity can be lost on the simple things, such as not training your artic truck operators on the best way to position the unit for loading. Or perhaps the truck isn’t properly matched with an excavator or loader, and instead of loading a truck in four to five passes, it takes eight or nine. This lost productivity adds up and could even cause you to have to extend your rental contract.

Wear and Tear
As a renter, you’re responsible for daily lubrication and tire air pressure checks. If you’re renting for an extended period, you’ll also need to make sure the machine’s service intervals are followed.

Some practices just lead to outright damage, which will show up on your rental bill. “Even though these machines are easy to drive,” Kennamann explains, “you’ll still need your operators to understand how to use engine compression brakes. We’ve seen instances where the operators are going through brakes on trucks because the operator was using the service brakes to stop the truck.”

Tire wear is a key articulated truck maintenance issue, and can be exacerbated by hauling uneven or heavier loads than the truck can handle or operating on hard soil or pavement, Hunt says. “And if you’re operating in thick mud or sand you could end up spinning your tires a great deal,” he comments. “That practice will also eat up the transfer case, transmission and differentials.”

All of this affects your bottom line, because “at the end of the day if the truck goes down it’s going to reduce your productivity,” Hunt says.

Keep your Hair
Finally, know a bit of planning can save you from tearing your hair out down the road. Waiting until the last minute to rent an artic can be a practice that bites back. The popularity of these trucks may mean you can’t find one in your jobsite locale no matter what the size. “Right now, we have around 30 trucks in our fleet and they’re all rented and this is winter,” Wolfe says.