Bought on a Hunch?

Keeping informed when spec'ing to cut construction fleet costs.


Construction fleet managers are under constant pressure to control costs and manage expenses. A critical step in this process is to properly spec' the fleet's work trucks. Specifications should be written to include as many components as possible, such as frames, suspensions, engines, transmissions, brakes, lights, PTOs, tires and specialty equipment like air compressors and welders.

"Far too often, construction fleets purchase trucks and equipment on a hunch," says Robert Johnson, fleet management liaison for the National Truck Equipment Association (NTEA). "In today's cost-conscious, competitive environment, it's more important than ever that fleet managers take the time to understand their vehicle needs and evaluate components for the lowest overall life cycle costs."

Johnson, a former fleet manager himself, educates others about component specifying and life cycle costing for vocational construction vehicles and equipment. He recommends following five rules for specifying commercial vehicles to maximize the fleet's return on investment.

1 Develop written specifications for complete vehicle applications (including upfits). Written specifications ensure that the components painstakingly chosen by the fleet manager are the ones installed on all of the company's vehicles. Without written specifications, fleets may receive different components depending on which upfitter assembled a particular vehicle. Putting specifications in writing also protects against ordering errors and makes it easier to order the next round of vehicles.

2 Standardize components. Standardizing components ensures continuity in vehicles from dealer to dealer and upfitter to upfitter. Most upfitters have their own preferred brands, so if the fleet manager does not specify which brand to install, the brand used will vary depending on who is doing the work. When components are standardized in a fleet, it minimizes the number of parts the maintenance department has to keep in stock and reduces the amount of training required for maintenance personnel. If a variety of lines are used, maintenance personnel have to learn how to work on all of them.

3 Don't automatically under-spec'—or over-spec'. Fleet managers who want to save every penny up front tend to spec' for the lowest possible upfront cost. As a result, these vehicles often perform poorly and have more down time and higher maintenance costs. Then there are the fleet managers who avoid the "cheap" trap by buying the most heavy-duty components available, whether the application requires them or not. These over-designed vehicles generally cost more upfront and usually require the use of more expensive maintenance and repair components. Plus, the increased weight of these vehicles may reduce the payload they can carry, leading to a loss in productivity or the need to purchase a bigger vehicle.

4 Identify vehicle requirements upfront based on job requirements. The most important guideline to follow when spec'ing a vehicle is to optimize the components for the required application. Start by identifying the vehicle's basic functional requirements for the intended use. Then consider additional features intended to increase productivity, reduce maintenance costs and improve operator comfort. Some of the parameters to consider include:

  • Net payload requirements
  • Operating environment
  • Operating conditions
  • Operating cycle
  • Loading cycle
  • Starting gradability
  • Reserve gradability
  • Minimum desired road speed
  • Towing requirements
  • Special vocational requirements
  • Maintenance environment
  • Operator proficiency
  • Regulatory and contractual requirements. The requirements should be reviewed before each vehicle purchase, to make sure they have not changed.
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