Combustion v. Compression

Do medium-duty trucks run better on diesel engines or gasoline power? If you only consider the price at the pump, you may be missing the bigger picture Web Extra!

One of the biggest decisions facing a fleet manager when he or she fills out a spec' sheet for new medium-duty trucks is whether to spec' gasoline or diesel engines. To find out what goes into this decision, we spoke with a manager of a fleet that has just switched from diesel to gas power across the board in its medium-duty trucks, and representatives of a medium-duty truck manufacturer that has recently eliminated the gas engine option on its products.

Craig Joost, senior manager, corporate operations for 1-800-GOT-JUNK, a Vancouver, B.C.-based full-service junk removal company, oversees a fleet of about 1,000 medium-duty box trucks operating in the U.S., Canada and Australia.

According to Joost, 1-800-GOT-JUNK is not afraid to radically alter the way it operates if it sees a clear benefit to its franchisees in doing so. Up until five years ago, the company used Ford trucks, he says, "But with us operating in metros, the cabover configuration is just a way nicer turning radius and much easier for guys to drive. So, we did a switch-over five years ago."

That switch was from Ford to Isuzu, and today 85 percent of the trucks in the fleet are N-Series Isuzus. But now those are changing as well, from running on 4H 5.2L diesel engines to Vortec 6.0L gas engines.


1-800-GOT-JUNK is a franchised private junk removal service, and each franchisee manages his or her own fleet of trucks. "It's a turnkey operation," Joost explains. "When they need a truck they call our main dealer, order the truck, arrange the financing, and the truck gets delivered with our spec' body on it and our spec' of truck."

As part of the company's squeaky-clean image, those trucks must always be clean and well-maintained.

"So, our guys can only keep their trucks for seven years because of our image," Joost says. "It's part of our brand to have the guys show up fully-uniformed, in a bright, shiny truck. We're going into people's houses; we don't want to look like Joe the garbage guy showing up in a beat-up truck and stomping around the house.

"So, with that in mind, part of our franchise agreement states that after seven years they have to replace their trucks," he says. "There is a one-year grace period, where we'll actually look at the truck and if it looks good and has been maintained well you can run it for one more year."


Up until 2007, the company relied exclusively on diesel power, and was even experimenting with biodiesel ("Biodiesel on Trial," Fuel Advantage, Fall 2007). But the EPA 2007 diesel engines had caused serious sticker shock among the company's franchisees, and Joost started taking a close look at whether the company could continue to justify the higher cost of diesel engines.

"We did a study on how many miles our franchisees travel in a year, because they're in such tight areas in such tight metros that they don't do any long-haul driving," he explains. "So, we looked at the mileage that they did, and with Isuzu we determined that our guys do on average about 20,000 miles a year per truck.

"And then we looked at the new generation of gas trucks that was out," he goes on. "We said, ‘What's the lifespan of a gas engine?' and Isuzu said, ‘Well, 160,000 to 200,000 miles wouldn't be an issue.'"

Joost did the math. If the company was requiring franchisees to replace their trucks after seven years--eight at the most--and each truck put on 20,000 miles a year, then the lifespan of a truck with a Vortec 6.0L gas engine fit in perfectly with the 1-800-GOT-JUNK business model.

"It really came down to the life of the truck, the application, and what fit for us," he explains. "I know in other businesses they might haul a lot heavier payloads, where our guys on our trucks actually cube out most times before they go over weight. You know, bulky couches and things take up room, but they don't weigh that much. Sure, we have the odd run where we pick up heavier stuff, but for the most part the truck is just not under the same stress as, say, a dump truck, and it doesn't need a crazy amount of torque.

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