Application Tips: Field service tips

Most advice on buying field service trucks boils down to this: Don’t buy a truck that’s too small. Contractors often underestimate how many tools and other items they’ll be carrying, says Walter Van Laren, sales manager for Service Trucks International. “We run into guys wanting to put 10 gallons in a 5-gallon pail,” he says.

To avoid this problem, always tell your sales rep what you intend to put in the truck, making sure to include items you’re not buying from that person. The rep can only spec a truck based on what you tell him, so if you forget to mention you’re going to carry a welder, a 200-gallon diesel tank or a heavy jackhammer, for example, you could find yourself paying over-weight tickets or trading in the truck for a bigger one in six months.

Keith Formanek, inside sales manager, Stellar Industries, says he’s seen contractors save $500 on a $60,000 to $70,000 service truck by not getting enough crane reach, compressed-air capability or roll-out drawers. “That kind of stuff can really come back to haunt you,” he says.

The crane
While more service trucks are sold without cranes than with them, if you need one, spec’ing a crane that matches your applications will be a big part of the purchasing process. If you think your heaviest lifts will be hoisting 2,500 pounds to a height of 6 feet, don’t buy a truck with a crane that maxes out at that. “You want to have room to expand that capacity,” says Kyle Whiteis, product manager, Auto Crane. “That may be what you’re lifting today, but inevitably you’ll want to lift more.”

Whiteis also suggests buying a crane with hydraulic rather than manual outriggers. “We find out they don’t get used,” he says of the manual outriggers, which means operators are putting themselves in danger. Manual outriggers can be cumbersome and they can get dirt in them, making them difficult to extend. Some operators then decide extending them isn’t worth the effort. Conversely, hydraulic outriggers extend with a simple flip of a lever.

Consider the extras
Spend some time thinking about convenience options as well. Contractors often come back after the sale for roll-out drawers and extra shelving, Van Laren says. Once you put your stuff in the truck, you might find you want more organization. Many contractors also regret not buying a bed liner. “After you have your bed all beat up over a year of use, you realize a bed liner would make it look better longer,” Van Laren says.

One option you might not know about is a removable lubrication skid that sits in the load bed, says Tim Worman, product manager for commercial vehicles, IMT. This unit can contain oil, anti-freeze, grease and fluid salvage containers for doing preventive maintenance on equipment when there’s not a need for a large lubrication vehicle in your fleet.

What’s new
Service truck bodies have changed only slightly in the past three or four years. Manufacturers are using galvanneal steel, which has a zinc coating that counters rust. Bodies are also designed to be equally as strong as they were several years ago, but lighter.

The item that has made the most difference in service trucks in the past two years is the radio remote control for the crane, Worman says. Once an option, radio remotes are now standard for most service truck cranes. The remotes have self diagnostics that tell you if you need to change the batteries and if you are out of range, Formanek says.

In the past, radio remotes were not as reliable as they are today, and the risk of increased downtime kept operators from ordering them, Worman says. But newer radio remote control systems provide better quality, durability and longevity.

Most service truck crane manufacturers have begun using hex boom construction, which allows you to reach farther and higher, Van Laren says. There’s less side-to-side sway with the self-aligning hex design than with the rectangular steel previously used in truck crane booms.

Many mechanics are now opting for crew-cab-style trucks so they can protect the computers most of them use now from the elements and from theft, Formanek says. Spec’ing trucks with 110-volt electrical capabilities for powering microwaves and coffee pots is another trend, one that emerged just in the past six months. “We see a lot of these mechanics basically living in their trucks,” Formanek says.

Before you buy…
Here are six questions to ask yourself:

  • What are the requirements of the tools you plan to operate? For example, if you’ll be using a certain size air wrench, you’ll need a compressor to match it.
  • What and how much do you want the truck to carry? This will help you decide how much storage space you need.
  • If you need a crane, how much weight do you need to lift and at what angle off the body? Remember you will have to derate the crane 20 to 30 percent if you will be lifting off the side of the truck. Think about the size of the machines and parts you’ll need to lift and how far away from the machine you’ll need to be. The size of the crane will be a big determining factor in the size of the truck body and chassis you’ll need since they will have to support the crane.
  • Do you need an air compressor or welder and, if so, what size?
  • What is the terrain like where you will be servicing equipment? Contractors often don’t consider this, says Keith Formanek, inside sales manager, Stellar Industries, but it can help you decide if you need four-wheel drive or a standard or low-profile chassis.
  • What is your work environment like? If you live in a part of the country where corrosion is a problem, you’ll want to purchase a truck with as few welds and holes in the body as possible. The side of Auto Crane’s field service truck, for example, is made out of one piece, which eliminates welds and the resulting potential for rust. You can also get models with internal hinges that don’t require holes in the body. On the other hand, if you live in an arid climate like that in Arizona, these things probably won’t matter to you.