The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

14 Tips to Improve Upfit Spec'ing

September 2015, by Mike Antich - Also by this author

Upon completion of the planning process, the next step is to spec out the upfit. In Part 2 of our two-part article, 14 suggestions were identified on how to improve this process from our “dream team” of 18 subject-matter experts on fleet truck upfitting.

Here’s what they told us:

1. Basic, but Important, Spec’ing Considerations

When spec’ing an upfit, there are some basic, but important, considerations to always keep top of mind:
• Be sure the cab-to-axle of the chassis matches the body length being installed.
• If a camper shell is being installed, make sure the bed length matches the camper shell length.
• Order a trailer brake controller, if towing.
• With the newer diesel emissions systems, consider a gasoline engine in Class 4 and 5 trucks.
• With decals, make sure the decal installer has, and understands, the decal layout.
• If a company has radios, telematics, in-cab cameras, or any other electronics being installed, be sure the upfitter knows how to install and activate the equipment.
• Diesel engines in the North Country need to have a block heater, and medium- and heavy-duty vehicles should have a heated fuel/water separator.
• Inverters should be sized for the job and, depending on the inverter size, may require an auxiliary battery and a heavy-duty alternator.
• On medium and heavy trucks with a service-type body or a body with boxes hanging down the side of the frame rails, pay particular attention to packaging the exhaust system, fuel tank, DEF tank, and battery placement.
• More and more, new safety systems are becoming available on lower trim levels in light-duty vehicles; these should be evaluated to see if they should be included.
• Air-braked vehicles should have an air dryer.
• Any truck over 10,000-pounds GVWR must have hands-free cell phone capability if the driver is allowed to talk on the phone while driving; OEM Bluetooth should be considered.
Jeff Robley, Regional Truck Manager for ARI

2. Consider Safety & Payload Considerations

We often see a lack of consideration for safety and payload implications when spec’ing a truck with upfitting. It’s easy to overload trucks and there are safety standards that must be followed, allowing for many pitfalls. If a truck is going to tow a trailer, there needs to be thought given to weight and balance. It’s critical to know the payload.
Rich Zambroski, Manager, Truck Excellence for Element Fleet Management

3. Carefully Review Specification Quotes

Casual approval of quote specifications (both chassis and upfit) leads to major issues. Advise your truck engineer and upfit supplier of required items (safety or fleet-specific) during the initial request to ensure they’re accounted for. Rushing through a quote approval without a thorough review often leads to trouble. Today’s OEMs and upfit vendors provide detailed quotes with very specific information on the chassis to be built and body to be installed. When these quotes are approved, they move directly to manufacturing, and what is on the quote is what gets built. If an item you are interested in is not on the quote, it won’t be on the actual vehicle (without manufacturing changes, which are costly in time and dollars). Take the extra time to review quotes carefully and challenge your FMC if the quote isn’t just what you want.
Joe Brightwell, Truck Operations Manager for Wheels Inc.

Review, review, and review again. Make sure the completed spec has been developed, reviewed, and approved prior to order placement to reduce unnecessary delays and improve quality. To ensure delivery of a turn-key product, spec development, and completion is critical to allow for streamlined order placement and issuance of purchase orders for the chassis and upfit. This will allow for efficient routing of the order from the OEM to the upfitter(s) and ultimately to the end location, with a ready to work turn-key solution that will exceed expectations. Again, documented sign-off is critical between the spec provider, end-user, and supply chain — this minimizes after-the-fact upfitting.
Mark Pilong, Truck Spec Process Facilitator for ARI

Carefully review specification quotes. Advise your engineer and upfit supplier of required items during the initial request to ensure they’re included.
Carefully review specification quotes. Advise your engineer and upfit supplier of required items during the initial request to ensure they’re included.

4. Eliminate Guesswork When Writing a Spec

It is a mistake to assume required upfitting is standard equipment. For example, asking for a standard topper or racks/bins package leaves too many unanswered questions. Providing an FMC and upfitter with pictures or an exact description of what is required eliminates any guesswork that can cause delays in the ordering and upfitting process.
Steve Swedberg, Truck Engineering & Ordering Specialist for EMKAY

5. Spec Truck to Match Fleet Application Requirements

When upfitting a truck, fleet managers sometimes miss key information, such as dock height or turning radius requirements. It’s crucial to familiarize yourself with the location trucks are used. For example, you would not want to spec a conventional truck with a 24-foot van body when the loading dock can only accommodate a cab-forward truck with a 20-foot van body.
Bill Gooden, Vehicle Upfit Consultant for LeasePlan

6. Avoid Upfits that Invalidate an OEM Warranty

It is important to consult with the vehicle manufacturer to validate installed upfits will not have any negative impact on the new-vehicle warranty.
Greg Carson, Director of Fleet Operations for Union Leasing

7. Work on Proactive Spec Development

Beware of proactive vs. reactive spec development. Forecasting vehicle needs for the fleet remains one of the most essential steps when it comes to the accurate creation of completed, orderable specs to meet company needs. Successful spec development for both a chassis and necessary upfit requires attention to detail, review of current chassis options, and upfit components. Also, consider all of the available technology that can enhance the work tool and lead to increased productivity and cost savings (both on the front-end and the back-end where applicable). By taking the time to properly develop vehicle specifications and coordinate with the forecasting needs of the company, unnecessary delays may be averted. Additionally, suppliers have time to gather the necessary materials to produce the desired product to be ready for production when the chassis arrives at their facility.
Ron Wiggins, Truck Spec Analyst for ARI

8. Keep it Simple

Keep the process simple and consolidate upfitting as much as possible. Many companies feel they can better control their spend by negotiating with several component suppliers and installation vendors, which leads to multistage purchase orders and upfitters. For example, some companies will order tonneau covers from one vendor, ladder racks from another, and decals from a third. While this method may initially seem to save money, it can add to the overall lead-time, which will eventually increase costs. If possible, identify a vendor that can procure all of the material needed up front.
Mike Sturges, Regional Truck Manager for ARI

9. Identify Needed Equipment in Advance

A common mistake is not identifying needed equipment “in advance” when ordering a truck regarding the upfit necessary, which eliminates the possibility of a ship-thru upfit.
Greg Carson, Director of Fleet Operations for Union Leasing

10. Use the '85-Percent Rule' When Spec'ing

The “85-percent rule” is an industry standard, but is sometimes not taken into consideration when upfitting. If a vehicle is operated at 100 percent of capacity, it’s going to increase repair costs and reduce the life of the vehicle, while operating at 85 percent of max capacity won’t negatively affect the vehicle. This should always be considered when upfitting and determining payload.
Rich Zambroski, Manager, Truck Excellence for Element Fleet Management

Another mistake is not properly obtaining the proper GVW vehicle to accommodate the needed upfit.
Greg Carson, Director of Fleet Operations for Union Leasing

Make sure a vehicle has enough payload capacity to handle the cargo/equipment it is carrying once it has been upfit. Many managers assume the projected payload, but in reality it is less than they expected. Have a current unit weighed or individually weigh items that will be going into the vehicle to ensure you have the correct GVWR and payload.
Tim Stroup, Regional Truck Manager for ARI

Know the weight of the expected payload and static load, including upfit equipment, tools, parts, fuel, drivers, and other “in-cab” items. Compare it with the GVWR of the vehicles being considered to ensure there’s adequate capacity. Confirm towing use, and determine trailer and payload weight for the GCWR necessary, regardless of how frequently towing happens.
Ken Gillies, Truck Ordering & Engineering Manager for GE Capital Fleet Services

One issue is ignoring maximum available payloads. Overloading is also a constant issue. Knowing the heaviest load that will be carried helps to determine correct GVWR requirements with the added weight of any upfits being included. It is important to know what equipment is being carried and what it weighs.
Steve Swedberg, Truck Engineering & Ordering Specialist for EMKAY

Keep payload capacity, GVWR, and GCWR top of mind. Often, fleet managers may not take into account how much payload capacity will be left after upfitting has been completed, especially when it comes to the light-duty segment — specifically, 1/2-, ¾-, and 1-ton pickups, as well as cargo vans. They may also be unaware of the towing capacities and GCWR limitations for each of these models. And, once the upfit is complete, consider adding “available payload” and “max trailer weight” stickers on the dash of the truck so the operator is aware of the limits.
Charlie Johns, Regional Truck Manager for ARI

11. Avoid Over-Engineering Specs

Fleet managers often over-engineer or over-upfit a vehicle beyond its mechanical capabilities. This can result in premature wear of a vehicle’s transmission, suspension, and tires, because it is simply dealing with more weight than the body can handle. Fleet managers might attribute wear-and-tear to manufacturing defects when it’s actually a consequence of overworking the vehicle. And, unfortunately, these problems will not be covered under a warranty.Communication is vital to avoid all of the problems mentioned above. Fleet managers should always consult their fleet management company and solicit feedback from drivers. Some fleet management companies can do on-site consultations to help tailor an upfit program and engineer the most appropriate vehicle for the application.Partnering up with a fleet management company and its experts can be the best way to determine what works best for their fleet.
David Jankiewicz, Director of Mechanical for LeasePlan

12. Ensure Upfit is DOT-Compliant

Don’t forget DOT and state compliance considerations. Weight slips and VIN inspections may be required to make a vehicle road legal. Much of this can be done by an upfitter or may require a third-party driveaway. You don’t want a truck to arrive at one of your facilities only to find that it can’t be tagged because of missing prerequisites.
Mike Sturges, Regional Truck Manager for ARI

13. Don’t Overlook Graphics

Connect early with your marketing and communications personnel to guide their efforts for a display that’s effective as well as reasonably easy to install. Upfit cost and cycle time can be minimized by ensuring graphics production is properly timed to the total upfit process. Final results will be of higher quality, and after-delivery installation hassles will be minimized.
Ken Gillies, Truck Ordering & Engineering Manager for GE Capital Fleet Services

14. Stay Current with Specs Data

One of the biggest mistakes fleet managers make when spec’ing a truck is not reviewing or accessing key information that is available. Many fleets also do not have a computerized maintenance program in place and, therefore, lack needed information when spec’ing trucks. Some also do not have communication in place with the truck end-users to ensure they have what they need to provide a viable and safe truck.
Bill Gooden, Vehicle Upfit Consultant for LeasePlan

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