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All Successful Upfits Start with Careful Planning

May 16, 2016, by Mike Antich - Also by this author

There are a multitude of specialized fleet applications that require the installation of auxiliary equipment on a truck or in a van. What complicates the planning process is that there are as many ways to upfit a vehicle as there are chassis and body configurations. Since no two fleets are alike, auxiliary equipment needs will vary depending on the application. The reality is that each fleet is specialized to its own needs, and what works for one may not work for another. Also, you need to analyze whether you are “building” a truck to accomplish one task or several. It is critical that you properly define a truck’s application to ensure the supplier builds the truck to meet its intended use.

Selecting an Upfitter and Equipment Supplier

When selecting a supplier, don’t buy on price alone. Invariably, the first consideration when specifying equipment is cost and a desire to keep acquisition expenses as low as possible. When cost is the primary factor in equipment selection, there is a tendency to reduce costs by fudging on the specs. There is a fine line between under-spec’ing and over-spec’ing a truck. And, it is a lot easier to under-spec a truck than over-spec. If you had to pick one of these two evils, you’d be better off over-spec’ing.

When selecting suppliers, ask what makes their products and services better than their competitors. Then, ask each of their competitors the same question. It is important to use a reliable upfitter, with a good track record, to ensure an upfitted truck chassis or van meets all the appropriate government truck regulations. One under-utilized resource is truck dealers, who can provide useful information and insights on local equipment and body companies.

Other considerations when selecting a supplier include quality of workmanship, type of materials used, and lead time. The best way to ascertain these factors is to visit the upfitter you are considering to install the equipment on your vehicles. Many fleet managers never do so. In terms of lead time, double check with an upfitter’s current and past customers. Lead times are easy to quote, but often not easy to meet. Late deliveries are an expensive hidden cost to fleet management, since you are paying interest on equipment that is not in service. Make sure you plan for sufficient lead time between the time you order and ultimately put the upfitted truck into fleet service. Make sure the lead time for the body is concurrent with the lead time for the chassis and not in addition to it. For instance, order vehicles with delivery dates timed to arrive at the upfitter at the time the equipment is ready for installation.

Applying Common Sense to Upfitting

The most important factor in formulating truck specifications is payload. If you don’t know your fleet’s payload, an easy way to determine it is by taking a fully loaded truck and weigh it at a highway weigh scale.

For light-duty fleets, a common upfit for a truck chassis is a service body. There are four factors that determine the size of a service body. The first is the chassis itself, which is determined by the required gross vehicle weight. The other three factors are cab-to-axle dimensions, service body floor width, and required compartment depth. Additional service body considerations are whether it is enclosed or open and the type of bin configuration. If you need to install equipment in a service body, such as winches, generators, or compressors, it may require compartment cutouts or access doors. These decisions should be made in consultation with the vehicle and equipment users.

If you operate a pickup fleet requiring storage equipment, it is critical to examine the various configurations from the user’s perspective in order to provide good ergonomic accessibility to stored items. The type of pickup selected and its bed length will determine the size of the tool storage box. There are three types of pickup storage boxes: a crossbed box, side-mount box, and interbed-mount box. In addition, the type of storage box is usually determined by the size and number of items that require lockable, dry storage space. A crossbox, mounted directly behind the pickup cab, is favored when there is a minimum number of items to be stored. Side-mount boxes can be configured for large bins to carry shovels, pipes, or conduits. Interbed-mounted boxes are installed inside a pickup bed against the fender walls and are primarily used to carry large items.

One of the most common upfits is the installation of ladder racks. When specifying ladder racks, it is important to first determine the size of the ladder to be carried. Look for ease of maneuverability. Locate a rack so a ladder can be easily removed by the driver. How difficult is it to lock or unlock the ladder rack? This is important when service technicians have a quota of stops that need to be made each day. Also, a ladder rack location determines whether a driver will remove a ladder from the driver side or curb side, which is important when working in an urban environment.

Another common upfit is the installation of a liftgate. The first consideration when selecting a liftgate is whether one is actually required. Sometimes company policy will dictate the necessity of a liftgate, especially if there are limitations on how much weight a driver is allowed to lift. When selecting liftgates, the key consideration is to determine the required lifting capacity. It is also important to examine the mounting requirements of a liftgate. If a fleet frequently replaces its vehicles, it is advantageous to select liftgates that bolt on to facilitate transfer to replacement vehicles.

There is no easy answer as to how long should you keep auxiliary equipment in service. A good rule of thumb, however, is that the more money you put into auxiliary equipment, the more economical it is to keep the vehicle longer in service.

Planning, Planning, and More Planning

Planning is a process of choosing among many options and there are an abundance of options in vehicle upfitting. The first step to successfully spec’ing upfits is to fully understand the application. This involves talking with the people who will actually be using the equipment. For an upfit to be successful, it is crucial to completely understand the intended fleet application. The more information you can collect about the fleet application, the greater the likelihood that a truck will be properly engineered to successfully perform the intended operation.

Let me know what you think.


  1. 1. Tony Cash [ May 16, 2016 @ 10:48AM ]

    Great article Mike, and many important points. I would add that single sourcing from an equipment manufacturer is also important. You do not go to ford to buy the body and then choose the engine supplier, so why fit shelving from Vendor A and then a ladder rack from vendor b?
    All too often it becomes impossible to control equipment delivery times, and as an upfitter the fleet vendors take the view that the upfitter is not the customer, so has no interest in meshing the delivery times with other vendors. So my message to the fleet buyer is not just look at the upfitter's track record, but can he provide all of the needed equipment from one source.

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Author Bio

Mike Antich

Editor and Associate Publisher

Mike has covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and entered the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010.

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