How to buy and upfit trucks

Features - Equipment Focus

Contractors take a lot into consideration when buying and upfitting work trucks.

March 8, 2018
Megan Smalley
Photo courtesy of Morton’s Landscape Development

Shopping for deals on fleet vehicles is a constant process for Brian Walters, owner of Oots Lawn and Snow in Kansas City, Kansas. He regularly checks eBay, Autotrader and his local Craigslist for deals on used vehicles as well as dealerships to see if there are sales on new vehicles.

“That’s a year-round thing,” Walters says. “Deals don’t come around a whole lot. I’m always watching vehicles, so when one comes around if I’m in need, I’ll buy it.”

Walters recommends all contractors regularly window shop for work trucks since deals can be hard to come by. This helped him a few months ago – Oots purchased a work truck after Walters realized he was a truck short for snow removal season. Since he always keeps his eyes open for deals, he says the process of buying a vehicle quick was easy. “It was simple because I had already been looking,” he says.

New vs. Used.

New and used work trucks each have their perks. The perks for new trucks are that they have no wear-and-tear, no mileage and a nicer look. Morton’s Landscape Development Company in Columbia Station, Ohio, generally prefers new trucks. The company’s fleet has 26 work trucks, and only one or two of those were purchased used. Out of the company’s 10 pickup trucks, three were purchased used.

Matt Drda, partner and manager of Morton’s mulch blowing division, says the $6 million-revenue company purchases a couple of trucks each year, primarily buying new trucks to minimize problems.

New trucks tend to be better buys for tougher lines of work, such as snow removal. Walters says Oots never buys used trucks for snow removal, as these vehicles often have more rust and mechanical problems from working in the elements.

“No matter what it looks like on the outside, I won’t buy a used vehicle for this work,” he says. “Sometimes they take stuff off and you can’t see that it’s been used much, so you have to ask questions. In 2013, I found a used truck up in Chicago that was so rusted underneath, it was unbelievable it was for sale. It was in awful shape and had been used for salting.”

However, new work trucks have some downsides. While it’s not a deterrent for Morton’s, Barry Morton Jr., vice president at Morton’s Landscape Development Company, notes new work trucks need to be upfitted with accessories to meet the company’s specific needs. So, there’s still the additional cost of adding desired accessories for both new and used work trucks. “It’s the same thing – we like to (upfit) the trucks ourselves because that saves us money and we have our own mechanics to do those things,” Morton says.

Yet used work trucks have their advantages with cost being the main one. Walters says he tries to find deals particularly on used work trucks for Oots whenever possible. For him, a deal would be any used truck that has lower mileage – under 75,000 miles – and under $15,000 in cash.

“Last year, I bought a used truck with only 14,000 miles on it and bought it for about $12,000, and it was practically new,” he says. “So, that’s a good buy. I would never buy new over deals like that.”

Drda also says contractors need to be on the lookout for deals on used vehicles. Morton’s came across a deal a few months ago on a used 2007 GMC 5500 dump truck. “A family member is in the car sales business. Whenever he comes upon a nice used truck, he will send over the information regarding the truck,” Drda says. “It just so happened to be a very nice, clean truck for the right price. Not really needing a truck at the time, it still made sense to purchase it with the vision of the crew that we could assemble for that truck. Once it was purchased, it took us eight days to get the truck up to our needs.”

Desired accessories.

Since work trucks often feature minimal accessories or features, contractors must add their essentials to them after purchase. For Morton’s, work truck essentials include safety features like strobe lights and tarps. Drda says both are safety features, as strobe lights give the work trucks more visibility on jobsites and tarps prevent material from flying out of dump beds.

“We preach safety a lot here,” Morton adds. “We check the trucks all have first-aid kits and fire extinguishers, too.”

The company also adds tool boxes to all work trucks, Drda says. However, some work trucks come with tool boxes installed. “We bought two one-tons this year that had tool boxes on them,” he says. “Down the road, we think we’ll find more trucks with the tool boxes already.”

In addition, ergonomics aren’t a major concern for Walters when upfitting Oots’ work trucks. While Walters appreciates when trucks have automatic functions, A/C, power locks and other luxuries, he says the only important factors for his company are that the seats are vinyl and the floors are rubber instead of carpet. “Vinyl is harder to find – it’s more expensive and less comfortable,” he says. “But cloth seats stain and are harder to clean, whereas vinyl is easier to clean. The same with rubber floors. I can put a hose on it, hose it out and scrub it out.”

Although ergonomic features are nice to have, Morton thinks they aren’t always necessary. “We’re buying (Chevy dumps) with four-wheel drive because they’ll be used for plowing in the winter. But we usually won’t add ergonomic features ourselves.”