Selecting a New Service Truck Body

Knowing the details of service body design and construction pays off for underground and trenching work in terms of utility, durability and professional appearance.

Ask any contractor about the one thing that makes their work go easier, and they will most likely answer, their tools. Nowhere else is this more important than when it comes to the work truck. So when it comes time to replace or step up to a new service body, quality pays for itself in terms of usability, durability, and looks.

But how do you know which truck service body to order to meet and exceed your needs? On the face of it, competitive truck bodies look very similar.

To ensure that you get what you pay for at the dealership, you have to dig deeper into the details of design, construction, the quality of materials used, and several other factors that differentiate service bodies. Knowing this information helps you get the most for your dollar at the original time of purchase, during the entire service life of the truck body, and even when you go to sell it.

Security

Of all the considerations on a contractor?s mind, security must rank as the most important. Here, details spell the difference between having thieves see your truck as an easy mark, or too much trouble to try to break into.

To start, outside handles should be made of sturdy material, like hardened chrome. These should operate metal locking rods?plated with an anti-corrosive material like zinc?at each corner of the cabinet doors, as well as a center cam.

Added strength comes from welding steel brackets onto the interior of each door behind a ?hinge block.? The latter securely grips the wall of the compartment so that the door can?t be pried out from the bottom. Check for steel rivets to hold all locking hardware in place.

A popular add-on for security is a master locking system. This is achieved by the use of long rods that extend inside the length of the body, one on either side.? The rod is engaged by pulling or twisting a handle at the rear of the body, at which time a male and female stop are mated.

?Many doors on utility or service trucks lock at just one or three points,? notes Dudley DeZonia, president of Paramount, CA-based Royal Truck Body, a leader and innovator in the design and building of specialized truck bodies for contractors and tradesmen since 1971. ?We prefer to use a five point system of defense that incorporates all of the above and includes concealed access latches for added security.?

Design

When it comes to the actual construction of the service body, the features that make a service body a success in the field begin on the drawing table or computer screen in an engineer?s office. This is because of the complexity of today?s engine and electrical systems.

Even something as simple as a brake light is now tied into the Controller Area Network of the vehicle. In certain states, diesels must utilize complex urea systems that require an extra filler neck near the back of the truck. Even crash-worthiness specifications play a part.

?Service body manufacturers have to certify that their product meets all government regulations in order to satisfy the standards that OEMs like Ford, GMC, and Dodge must adhere to,? continues DeZonia ?For that reason, look for a manufacturer that is a selected partner or preferred ?upfitter? of the ?big three.??

One way of ensuring that a given service body meets these standards is to check to see if the manufacturer is a member of the Service Body Institute of the National Truck Association and has attained MVP status.? Also, ask about whether or not the manufacturer supplies any major fleets.

Design also extends to customization for a particular craft, like underground utility work.

?We?ve used several different makes, but the specialty bodies that Royal set up for our? crews work out really well,? says Dan Ogg, fleet manager for International Line Builders, Inc.?a full service electrical distribution and transmission power line construction company with offices in Oregon and California.

?Our biggest job is with Edison right now,? continues Ogg. ?We dig the trenches, put conduit in and build pads for the transformers. Royal made a space to mount the compressor on the truck, freeing up the hitch for when we?re going to a site where we must have traffic control and need to tow an arrow board. This saves quite a bit of time because you don?t need to send another truck out or make a second trip.?

Quality of Materials

Consider first the grade and type of metal used for the cabinets and racks. For example, A-60 ?galvanealed? steel with a heavy zinc coating currently represents one of the best materials for keeping rust and corrosion at bay.

How that metal gets coated is equally important. An automotive-style high gloss finish maximizes gloss retention and durability. For example, acrylic-urethane enamels provide resistance to chipping, corrosion, UV, and chemicals. Items subject to very heavy use, like ladder racks, bedliners and bumpers, should have their metal surfaces protected by sprayed-on powder coatings which provide much greater permanence and won?t wash away through usage.

The use of composites for the fender flares is an important element, as composites will not rust. Automotive style neoprene weather stripping around shelving and cabinet doors provides resistance to water, ozone, UV degradation, freezing and compression.

?These trucks work every day and our guys aren?t easy on them, but all the truck body systems are still working,? notes Ogg. ?The doors get the biggest workout, but they are still holding up in the field.?

Workmanship

The service body should be supported by several steel crossbeams. Tailgates should be double-paneled with heavy duty machined hinges. Hinge rods with oversized blocks provide maximum strength. Doors should also feature strong, double-steel construction.

Seams between service body parts should be caulked inside and out. Modular wiring harnesses protected by a plastic loom or similar will help prevent water and physical damage from causing electrical shorts.

Attention to detail extends to how ladder racks are constructed. One piece, mandrel-bent legs, versus rust-prone welds, ensures that metal integrity is not compromised. Beyond visual inspection, details like internal spacers within the rack tubing strengthen the legs and prevent the tubing from collapsing as it is tightened during the manufacturing process.

Note that service body manufacturers that install the bodies on the truck frame at the plant or through company owned branches can maintain better quality control over both installation and workmanship, as opposed to third-party distributors.

Assurances like multi-year/multi-mile warranties add credence to claims of quality workmanship.

Convenience

Large capacity shelving should be adjustable at several levels. Gas shocks account for an easier way of opening and holding vertical doors and top compartments in an open position than metal struts.

Other convenient details include rope hooks to secure items to the ladder rack and tie downs along interior walls of the truck bed to hold cargo in place. Small things like roll-out drawers and portable storage trays also help speed a job.

A retractable utility bed cover greatly improves access to the truck bed. Extending access beyond that point are electric roll tops that telescope onto themselves for compact storage. Push-button operation helps prevent accidents since the worker does not need to climb into the bed to manually open or close the top.

Convenience should even extend to overhead racks with swing-away crossbars for easier loading and unloading of tall items, and tailgates that permit one-hand operation. These should have no chains or side brackets to get in the way. ?

?It makes the job go easier when the truck body works with you to finish on time,? sums up Ogg.

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