As an expedite owner-operator, your truck is a tool to make money. But you also need it to perform in a way that keeps costs under control. Otherwise, poor fuel economy, high maintenance costs, or unplanned downtime will take a chunk out of your income and put your future as an owner-operator at risk.
And if the vehicle is not built to withstand the rigors of the expedite business, you’ll discover that the truck will be worn out before it’s even paid off, which limits your financial options when it comes time to replace that truck.
With a lot of money and your financial future at stake, what should you consider before you buy an expedite straight truck?
Are you ready to make a $150,000 to $230,000 investment in a new truck?
“Typically, if I get a customer who has never owned an expediter truck before, I’m going to suggest that we find a used truck for them (which is very difficult to find right now) or I might say, ‘Let me place you with one of my fleet owners and let you drive for six months to learn the business,’” says Jeff Jones, sales manager, Stoops Specialty Trucks, a Freightliner dealership in New Haven, Indiana that specializes in Expedite trucks.
This is because expediting is much different than other types of trucking, says Jones. “A typical tractor-trailer driver will get frustrated sitting in his truck too long waiting on a load, which can happen for expediters. The expedite business is not for everyone, and the customer needs to know that before making a huge investment in a truck.”
(If you’re new to expediting or exploring whether it’s right for you, consider attending the free educational workshops put on by ExpeditersOnline.com University at a venue nearest you. To learn more or to reserve your seat, go to www.ExpediteTruckingWorkshops.com.)
If you’re planning on leasing to a trucking carrier, that company will have specific requirements for expedite trucks.
“I would set up a dry freight truck differently than I would a reefer truck or one of the other applications out there,” says Jones. “You need to make that decision about the carrier first. Then I’ll know how to set that truck up for that carrier – and for your success.”
Both Jones with Stoops Specialty Trucks and Wes Hearn, an expedited truck specialist for Middle Georgia Freightliner-Isuzu based in Macon, Georgia, recommend a Class 8 engine (such as the 13-liter Detroit Diesel) over a smaller Class 7 engine for most expedite straight truck applications.
“A true Class 7 is the wrong truck for this job,” Jones advises. “It’s considered a medium-duty truck. And a medium-duty truck is designed for what? It’s designed for local pickup and delivery. Why would you take a truck that’s designed to deliver beer around Chicago and run 40,000 per year when the application requires running the truck in 48 states and Canada at 120,000 to 140,000 miles per year?”
Although many of the expedite trucks that Hearn sells are a Class 7 from a technical gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) perspective – that is, they are within 33,000-lbs GVWR – he specs those trucks with a Class 8 engine. “This way, you get the best of both worlds. You keep the overall truck weight where it’s supposed to be, but then you also get the greater longevity with the bigger Class 8 motor.”
The larger engine enables the truck to operate at peak efficiency in most expedite applications, unlike the smaller Class 7 engines that often have to operate at much higher RPM’s to haul the same load. And this translates into a substantial fuel economy advantage for the Class 8 engine.
“Very easily two miles per gallon,” says Hearn.
Jones is seeing similar results. “The fuel economy on a medium-duty truck running 65 mph down the road is in the 8 to 9 mpg range, where one of my trucks (with the Class 8 engine) is running around 11 mpg.”
Despite the perceived upfront cost advantages for a manual transmission, it may cost you more in the long run.
“If someone asks for manual, I say I don’t do it,” says Jones. “’Why not?’ they ask. ‘It’s $8,000 cheaper.’”
“First off, it’s not $8,000 cheaper because the manual transmission truck would be a ‘one-off’ order,” Jones continues. “You’re going to pay extra for the truck because I can’t get it under my volume discount package [with the truck manufacturer]. Then when you’re going to resell this thing, you won’t be able to give it away because nobody is going to buy an expediter truck with a manual transmission today.”
Another issue with manual transmissions is availability with expedite truck dealers. Since these dealers specialize in the expedite industry, many of them work closely with the truck manufacturers and third-party vendors to build the ideal truck spec for the application. And these dealers do not see the manual transmission as a good fit for expediters.
“If I order this [manual transmission] truck for you, and you decide at the last minute that you don’t want it, what am I going to do with it? Now I’m stuck with a truck I can’t sell,” say Jones.
The transmissions most commonly spec’d in expedite trucks are either automated manual or fully automatic transmissions.
Hearn with Middle Georgia Freightliner recommends sleepers to be no shorter than 96 in. (8-ft.).
“If you go smaller, it hurts resale value tremendously,” says Hearn “Go with the norm. Go with the 8-ft. sleeper to give you the comforts of home, especially for a team. Some people buy the factory sleeper, typically 70 inches, which is too tight. That extra two feet makes a lot of difference, especially when you consider the sleeper is 102-inch wide, the same width as the van body.”
Van Body Specs
What should you consider with the freight box?
“The typical box length is 22 ft., with swing open doors,” says Hearn.
Why swing doors and not rollup rear doors?
“It’s about maximum width,” says Hearn. “With rollup doors you lose a lot of width, making it too narrow to use the forklift because the freight on a pallet is wider than the door.”
Another consideration is the liftgate. “Most of your reefer [refrigerated truck] expediters choose lifegates. Dry freight people can add a liftgate later if they want it. But it doesn’t seem as big an item as it seems in the reefer business. It’s an option you can add,” says Hearn.
Then there are options for securing the load within the box.
“Rows of E-track is usually a top consideration. How many rows of E-track should you have and where should they be placed? Do you need D rings on the floor? (Generally yes.),” Hearn says.
When shopping for an expedite straight truck, be sure to consult with a dealer that specializes in the industry. Otherwise, you risk trying to “reinvent the wheel” with a truck sales rep who may not know what’s best for your business, which could negatively impact the truck’s performance, fuel economy, and resale value.
Dealers that specialize in expedite trucks have longstanding relationships with the third-party vendors (for the sleeper, freight box, lifgates, auxiliary power units, etc.) to ensure the completed truck performs properly and you receive the quickest response possible when any issues arise with those components.
“An expedite truck is the sum total of a bunch of parts,” says Jones. “And those parts have to be able to interact properly together. They have to be supported by each individual vendor after the sale if that vendor wants me to do business with them. Because in my customer’s eyes, every component, from the front bumper to the rear bumper – I’m talking about the engine, the transmission, the truck itself, the sleeper, the generator, the liftgate, refrigeration equipment, van body – if any one of these components has any kind of problem, guess whose phone rings? Not the vendor’s phone. The customer will call me. So, I make sure the right vendors are involved, those who will provide the support I need to best support my customers.”
If you’re looking for an expedite truck to buy on a dealer’s lot today, that may be a challenge.
“Normally I would have some inventory on the ground for sale, but for the past three years, business has exploded. Right, now I’m at about a six-month lead time,” says Jones with Stoops Specialty Trucks.
Hearn at Middle Georgia Freightliner is seeing a similar trend. “We try to keep stuff in stock. But we’re often selling the trucks before they get here. If you order a truck today, the chassis alone can take three to four months. Then you have two more steps. The sleeper takes a minimum 30 days to complete. And the van body takes another 30 days minimum. All of a sudden, you’re 5 to 6 months, from start to finish.”
If you’re thinking it’s time to purchase an expedite truck, plan ahead. Work closely with your dealer to order the truck that best fits your business – and budget.
For more tips on purchasing an expedite truck or to find dealers that specialize in the expedite market, visit www.ExpediteTruckSales.com.