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Trucks: Choosing Your Rolling Fleet

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Youve got the tools, youve got the equipment, and youve got the know-how. You have the certification and the license, and people willing to pay you for your services. What seems to be the missing piece in this puzzle is the vehicle to take you and your equipment from job site to job site.

So what will you use to haul all that equipment to a site? Fortunately, you have lots of choices. If a pickup truck is right for you, what kind truck should you buy? Should it be four-wheel drive? Does it need to be diesel or gas? How big?

Handling, safety, power, and turning radius are all things to consider when adding trucks to your fleet. Its also important to realize that this isnt a one-size-fits-all situation. The question becomes, what are you going to use the truck for and what kind of truck are you going to need?

Since our business is mobile (we work on-site), we cant afford to lose any downtime. Other than contractors just getting started, most landscaping contracting companies have more than one vehicle. It would behoove you to utilize those vehicles to the max.

Some contractors have trucks dedicated for special uses; a number of contractors use a medium-duty pick up truck for basic irrigation maintenance. They will have the truck equipped with a rack on top to carry pipe; some will customize a bed that will carry fittings, sprinkler parts, valves, and other parts. This same contractor will also use a heavy-duty truck for large landscape installations and maintenance. Depending on your maintenance business, and how it is scheduled, will decide what size vehicle you would use. Look at what you need, and get a truck to fit that purpose. Dont look at trucks as a Swiss Army knife; instead, look at each one as a specialized tool.

The choice of trucks is seemingly endless... the options available for each model become even more overwhelming. Extended cab, crew cab, suspension options, towing packages, upholstery choices, engine preferences--its easy to find yourself perpetually drowning in a sea of data when taking on the task of finding the truck you want.

The good news is that there is no excuse not to get the most ideal truck for your business. Because of all these options on top of options, each model can be customized to have just the features you want and need.

Two generic and broad set-ups that contractors usually choose between using is a pickup truck, or a cab-over.

Some contractors like the pickup-with-a-trailer option, some like the idea of having a cab-over in the back in lieu of having to worry about a trailer. It ultimately will depend on your preferences and needs, and as your business grows, you might find that what once was not a good option is now precisely what you need.

We used to use pickups and trailers, and had no real complaints with them, but the cabover trucks simply made things a lot easier, said Mark Borst, owner of Borst Landscaping and Design, Allendale, New Jersey. Our maintenance trucks can take about 14,000 pounds and have 16-foot long boxes on the back. We also get our trucks equipped with a hydraulic ramp gate that allows you to get the heavy equipment in and out.

Whats out there anyway?

Heres a look at a few of the most popular choices of models contractors can choose from, and a little bit about their capabilities. Take a look at the jobs these trucks can handle, and determine how much of a truck youll need for your company. Bigger isnt necessarily better.

Pickups come in many shapes and sizes, with a variety of features that you may or may not want. Well start with Ford, and the base model that many contractors use is the Ford F-150. The F-150 is used by many contractors as the maintenance truck of choice, and also as an irrigation installation rig.

The F-150 can be had with many engines; contractors interviewed generally recommend that you stick with the V8 options available. The F-150 serves as a basic maintenance rig, and we also use it as a sales vehicle when we have to transport clients around a property, says Rick Angelo, operations manager and president for Stay Green in Valencia, California.

This truck can be equipped to tow trailers ranging from 5,700 pounds with the 4.6 liter V8 to 9,900 pounds when equipped with the regular cab and 5.4 liter V8. Three engines are currently available, the 4.2L V6, 4.6L V8, and the 5.4L V8.

The F-250 and F-350 are used in very much the same way as the F-150, and many contractors sidestep the 150 and go straight to these models because of the standard engine power available and a more rugged suspension and brake set-up. These trucks can be used as a maintenance rig and a basic route truck for simple installations. There is plenty of grunt in these models to handle heavily equipped trailers as well.

The cost of what we put on a F-150 is comparable to what we get standard on a F-250, says Angelo. It has larger brakes, and since we tow a lot of trailers, that safety issue is a very big thing to us.

Conventional trailer towing for the 250 models is up to 12,500 pounds when utilizing a 6 liter V8 diesel or the 6.8 liter V10. The 350 extends towing capacity to 13,400 pounds. Youre probably going to want to get these trucks with a crew cabin; youll be able to carry six people with this option. These trucks have heavy service front springs, and a rear stabilizer bar to add greater handling and stability under heavy loads.

For heavy installations, many contractors go with the monster F-450. This truck can transport heavy material very efficiently, and can tow up to 17,500 lbs. with the 7.3 liter turbo diesel engine.

We use this truck to carry all the heavy installation material, plants, and soil, says Angelo.

In summary, the F-series has something for everyone. John Gachina, owner of Gachina Landscape Management in Menlo Park, California, simplified the classification of his Fords. We use F-150s as maintenance rigs, F-250s for pulling trailers, with some designated to be to be used by our enhancement crews, and F-350s and above for our construction crews.

The Dodge Ram trucks, like the Ford models, have a wide array of available options and specifications that you can customize your truck with.

The RAM 1500 comes standard with a 3.7L Magnum V6, but youll probably want to switch that for the 5.7 liter HEMI engine, which boasts 345 hp and 375 pounds of torque. Independent front suspension is standard, and towing capacity for this line starts at 3,300 lbs and goes up to a maximum of 9,200 lbs. It is equipped with rear wheel anti-lock breaks. This line could easily be set up as light maintenance trucks or irrigation installation rigs, but could also be designed to handle heavier tasks.

The heavy-duty line is the Ram 2500/3500 series, which pumps out standard towing capacity at a brutish 9400 lbs., with the capability of being equipped to handle 13,600 lbs. Dodge brags about their 2500/3500 trucks sporting the most towing power in their class. The 5.7 liter HEMI engine is standard with these trucks, and you have the option to go for the Cummins Turbo Diesel engine in the 3500 line that churns out a monstrous 600 lbs. of torque, which should be plenty to take care of heavy installation projects and crews. A 5-speed manual transmission is standard, but a 5-speed automatic transmission is available.

Frames on these trucks are hydro-formed, as in molded by means of high-pressured water. It offers the frame greater strength and impact absorption, and reduces the number of welds, thereby lessening stress points. Also, while the frame is stronger using this method, it is also lighter, helping with fuel economy and maneuverability.

The GMC Sierra 1500 has three engines to choose from, though, once again, youll probably want to stick to the V8s: the 4800 and the 5300 Vortec. The 4800 puts out 285 hp and 295 lbs. of torque, while the 5300 offers an additional 10 horses and five more pounds of torque. The maximum towing capacity with this line of trucks is around 9,000 lbs. The turning radius for the crew cabin models are 46.6 feet for 2WD and 47.3 feet for 4WD.

The next in line is the 2500 and the 2500HD series, which amps things up quite a bit. With a 300 hp, 360 pounds of torque Vortec 6000 engine standard, along with the available Vortec 8100 and 6600 Turbo Diesel V8, this truck could be arranged to be a a more than capable route truck. With the Vortec 6000 engine, towing will be maxed out at 10,000 lbs., but a properly equipped 2500HD model with a diesel engine will haul up to 16,100 lbs. The 2500HD can also be had with four-wheel drive. Manual transmission for this line is standard. The turning radius for the HD is 53.6 feet with the long box.

Trucks equipped with either the Vortec 8100 V8 or Duramax Diesel 6600 V8 have the option of the Allison 1000 Series 5-speed automatic transmission. This transmission is essentially overbuilt, and would be overkill for something that will withstand the wear and tear your trailer will cause. The clutches are hydraulically actuated and spring released, with automatic compensation for wear, and the strong gears and clutches provide added durability.

Finally, for the earth moving work you might be doing, theres the 3500 line, which boasts a towing capacity of 16,800 lbs. with the Duramax Diesel 6600 V8, and a standard 6-liter V8 that produces 450 pounds of torque. The extended cab and the crew cab can hold six people. The Allison transmission is available for this line as well.

Cab-overs

Mitsubishi offers the Fuso, and you should probably take a look at the Class 4, which is designed to handle landscape material. The GVWR for this truck is 14,500 lbs., and the FE145 model with the Aisin 6-speed automatic and 4.9 liter diesel engine makes available 175 hp and 391 pounds of torque.

Dual-caliper, hydraulic-disc service brakes with vacuum servo assist are standard at all four wheels, with the added safety of ABS. The 2005 models have increased chassis stiffness, coupled with new laminated leaf spring/stabilizer bar suspension components at the front and rear. This should contribute to better driving stability and improved handling.

Four wheelbase lengths are available, giving you the choice of accommodating 12, 14, 16, and 18 bodies.

Now owned by General Motors, Isuzus N-Series features a tilt cab design that provides easy engine access, service, and maintenance. The unified structure of the exterior eliminates cracks, crevices, nooks and crannies where corrosion could form. Inside, the tilt-telescopic column adjusts up down, fore and aft for drivers convenience, and the truck has power steering.

You have a gas or diesel option, the 6-liter gas delivering 300 horses and 358 pounds of torque, while the turbocharged 5.2 liter diesel is easier more economical while giving 190 hp and 387 pounds of torque.

Depending on the engine and trim you choose, the N-series trucks offer a payload starting out at 6,739 pounds, with the gas engine all the way up to 12,097 pounds using the diesel. The suspension consists of semi-elliptical leaf springs and a front stabilizer bar to provide sufficient strength to haul heavy loads, with added stability for improved handling characteristics.

Trucks have come a long way from the hard riding, rough-around-the-edges vehicles they once were. Now, many of them have better ride quality than some sedans, and can take more of a beating than ever before. Using the right size truck for the right job, your vehicles can give you years of service. Choose wisely.

october 2004




 
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