The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

10 Points for Selecting Specialty Truck Bodies

August 2011, by Sean Lyden - Also by this author

At a Glance

When selecting a truck body, main points to consider include:

  • Vehicle application
  • Body type and dimensions
  • Matching the chassis with the body
  • Cargo requirements and access
  • Using available resources such as fleet management companies, dealers, shop managers, and OEMs

Truck body selection directly impacts employee productivity, crew safety, and overall cost of vehicle ownership. Here are 10 basic points to consider when selecting specialty bodies for a truck fleet.

When ordering cars, SUVs, or light-duty work trucks with minimal upfits, the selection process is relatively simple. There are a handful of options — passenger capacity, seat type and material, engine size, transmission type, power seats, and so forth — that, for the most part, are available directly from the original equipment manufacturer (OEM).

The process of selecting specialty bodies for trucks, however, is considerably more daunting, especially for those new to fleet management or at least to the truck side of fleet. The fleet manager is not only sifting through OEM chassis specs, but also the dozens of options available with aftermarket truck bodies. Is a service body or dry van body better? If a dry van body is selected, what length should it be? What material should it be built from? What size and spec chassis is needed to fit the body and the application? These questions are just scratching the surface.

Truck body selection directly impacts employee productivity, crew safety, and overall cost of vehicle ownership. So, how does a fleet manager stack the odds in his or her favor to select a truck body that best fits the application and budget?

Follow these 10 steps:

1 - Define the application

What exactly will the truck be used for? Will it haul loose gravel, dry goods, perishable products, pallets of sod, tools, parts, piping materials, compressors, construction debris, or a combination of items? How much will the maximum load weigh? Will it be a constant load or will it diminish with each delivery throughout the day? Will the truck pull a trailer? If so, what length? How much total weight, including trailer, is cargo? The answers to these questions will present a clear idea of what body spec and chassis capacity will be needed.

2 - Determine expected vehicle lifecycle

How long will the truck be kept in operation? “This is an important question to get a feel for what cost level is going to be appropriate for the body. Should you go for a body built for longevity that also costs more money or select a lower-priced body that is going to be on a shorter turn cycle?” said Ken Gillies, truck engineering manager with GE Capital Fleet Services.

 3 - Consider marketing & graphics requirements

Vehicle graphics can be a promotional point for the company, so the marketing department may have a role in what kind of body the fleet manager can select. “What images go on the truck and how they look is critical,” Gillies said. “However, graphics is a frequent afterthought in the body selection process, even though it greatly impacts body configuration as well as materials used to build that particular truck body. In van body applications, graphics impact sidewall construction. The cleaner the surface, the better. Graphics impact door design because they work better on a swing door than a roll-up door. Overall, you’ve got to balance functionality with promotional considerations.”

4 - Choose a body type

How much space will cargo require? How will cargo be loaded and unloaded? Does cargo need extra protection from climate and theft? Are there specific temperature requirements for the cargo?

Some applications for common truck body types include:

  • Service/utility body. Electrical, plumbing, mechanical, heating and air, mobile equipment service and general construction.
  • Flatbed. Landscape, heavy construction, pest control, plumbing, and mechanical distribution.
  • Dump bed. Heavy construction, landscape, and demolition.
  • Dry van bodies. Package, equipment and furniture delivery; landscape; and plumbing; heating and air.
  • Refrigerated body. Food and beverage delivery.

For example, if the truck’s application is landscape service/ground maintenance, none of the cargo this truck carries requires a refrigeration system or extra insulation on the body to maintain specific temperatures.

In this instance, there are two likely body type options to consider. The first is an open-air steel flatbed with a reinforced dovetail ramp (to drive mowers onto the platform), metal fixed sides, and open mesh compartments for shovels, blowers, etc. The second is an enclosed aluminum dry van body (with air vents for fuel containers), with shelving inside the box (to contain tools and equipment), and a reinforced dovetail ramp to load mowers.

Either body is capable of carrying the same cargo. However, the enclosed dry van body with ramp would offer extra protection from the elements in harsh climates (including areas along shorelines where salty sea air can cause premature corrosion of equipment) and theft. Yet, it usually costs more money than the open-air flatbed.

Is the added protection and security of the van body worth the additional cost? In some cases, yes. In others, no. The key is deciding which factors are most important to the fleet manager.

5 - Calculate required body dimensions

Refer back to the answers to the questions in Step 1. When hauling pallets of tile, for example, what length, width, and height does each pallet measure? How many pallets will the truck carry in a full load? How much total space — in terms of combined length, width, and height — would that number of pallets require? What else will be placed on the truck at full load? How much space does the fleet manager need to accommodate?

Based on these calculations, work with a body manufacturer and/or fleet management company to determine the precise dimensions needed for the truck body to safely carry this cargo.

Another aspect of body height to consider is clearance. Will the truck need to fit in parking garages and other areas with limited height clearance? If so, spec the truck and body height accordingly.


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