Truck and Van HVAC Field Service Vehicle 2023 Buying Guide
July 5, 2023
HVAC businesses use field service vehicles to perform a variety of heating and cooling installation, repair and maintenance tasks. Since no two companies are the same, there is no one-size-fits-all field service vehicle program for HVAC business owners. A well-researched, carefully planned purchase of field service trucks is a crucial business investment for any HVAC company.
What Is a Field Service Truck?
Field service vehicles are mobile workshops that transport HVAC technicians, equipment and replacement parts directly to installation and malfunctioning equipment sites. They are commonly seen on the roadway as large trucks and vans.
What HVAC Companies Need Field Service Vehicles?
All HVAC businesses need at least one field service truck or van. Field service vehicles come in different sizes and types. Making sure you buy the right one depends on how you plan to use it and how much money you can earn from those tasks.
Carefully listing out everything you need in a field service truck or van for your HVAC company will help you compare features and narrow down your list of potential options. Every industry has different needs.
Not just any truck or van will work as an HVAC field service vehicle. Many service vehicles need modifications to align with your company's intended use. Some of the top features to look for when shopping for an HVAC field service vehicle include:
Dry filter storage
Weather and rust protection
Paint color that matches your brand
HVAC Service Vehicle Types
The HVAC industry frequently uses cargo vans, pickup trucks and hybrids as field service vehicles. Cargo vans with no windows deter break-ins while storing massive amounts of equipment and parts. A lack of windows also comes with the advantage of providing additional exterior advertising space. Furthermore, you can install hanging shelves in cargo vans, making it easier to stay organized.
Flatbed trucks are highly preferred in the HVAC industry because they have no roof, making them less restricted in the items they can transport, especially when it comes to a product's height, such as a tall air conditioning unit. However, trucks of any type present a hazard to exposed materials during bad weather. The Ford F-150, with its maximum trailer weight of 14,000 pounds, is the most popular field service truck in this sector.
Some HVAC businesses use hybrids as field service vehicles for their salespeople. The initial investment is considerably higher when compared to their gas-powered counterparts, but they can save a significant amount of money on fuel for those salespeople who travel a lot of miles each year. Because of this, hybrids work best for businesses that offer out-of-town services, not so much for local HVAC businesses.
How Many Field Service Vehicles Do Businesses Need?
If you're a solopreneur, you probably think you need only one field service vehicle. After all, you're the only one operating the business. However, time and time again, HVAC solopreneurs need assistance completing jobs. Because of this, it's recommended to purchase at least two field service vehicles. This gives solopreneurs on-demand access to an extra business vehicle when transporting supplies and workers.
Small and midsize HVAC businesses usually need anywhere from two to nine field service vehicles. Keeping the number below 10 is crucial to avoiding fleet management fees.
Large Businesses, Corporations and Enterprises
These businesses often need 10 to 100 or more field service vehicles. The government generally considers businesses with 10 or more service vehicles as commercial fleet buyers, which comes with the necessity for expensive fleet management. However, when approached strategically, you can tap into fleet management services that result in major savings on field service vehicle purchases and maintenance.
Steel vs. Aluminum Body Field Service Vehicles
When buying field service trucks, vans and SUVs, you'll have the option to choose between steel and aluminum body types. Understanding the pros and cons of each type is crucial to making sure you buy vehicles that can fully meet your operational needs as an HVAC contractor.
Steel truck bodies are sturdy but more cumbersome than their aluminum counterparts. Lightweight aluminum allows your service vehicles to use less gasoline without sacrificing speed, but it also dents and bends easier.
What Are the Different Sizes of Field Service Trucks and Vans?
Light Duty Service Vehicles
Light-duty service vehicles are your basic pickup trucks and have a body length of about 11 feet. Many contractors install customized toolboxes in the back to meet their storage needs.
These vehicles usually weigh somewhere between 4,000 and 8,500 pounds and have a towing capacity of up to 10,000 pounds. Some of the most popular light-duty models used by contractors include the Nissan Titan, Chevrolet Colorado, RAM 1500 and Toyota Tacoma.
Medium Duty Service Vehicles
Medium-duty trucks typically have body lengths of 11 to 13 feet and a towing capacity of 10,000 to 26,000 pounds. One of the primary distinctions of these vehicles is their Class 6 chassis.
To operate one of these vehicles, you'll likely need a commercial driver's license. Contractors often use the Chevy Silverado 3500, Freightliner’s M2 106 and the Ford F-650 as medium-duty field service vehicles.
Heavy-Duty Service Vehicles
Heavy-duty service vehicles have a class 7 chassis along with massive 14-foot bodies. These vehicles feature air brakes and require a commercial driver's license to operate. HVAC companies offering HVAC and electrical services frequently use them. Common examples of heavy-duty work trucks include the International DuraStar 4400, Ford F-750, International WorkStar 7400 and International WorkStar 7500 Tandem Axle.
Enclosed Service Vehicles
Enclosed service trucks provide enhanced security for tool and equipment storage. They also provide workers with small workspaces to perform essential work tasks. Depending on the intended use of an enclosed service vehicle, you may or may not want the enclosed body to include windows, interior lighting or sliding doors.
Dump Service Vehicles
Dump service trucks help contractors that need to offload materials. Depending on the type you buy, you can dump materials from the side, back or both areas. You can also customize the vehicles with specialized tailgates to enhance their overall use.
Platform Service Vehicles
Platform trucks work great at hauling cargo that is oddly shaped or large (like HVAC units). HVAC contractors often customize these trucks with a variety of straps and ropes, easily allowing them to secure any type of cargo they need to transport. The unenclosed body type broadens a contractor's ability to perform different services, which is excellent for driving revenue.
Buying New Versus Used Field Service Vehicles
New and used field service vehicles both have their pros and cons.
Pros and Cons of Buying New
Buying a brand new service truck may help you secure a lower interest rate if you use a loan to finance the purchase. You also get the added benefit of being able to customize the vehicle to your exact specifications without having to remove any prior customizations or accessories. Furthermore, buying a new vehicle means you'll have one with the latest technology and a warranty, both of which can help save on fuel and overall maintenance costs.
On the other hand, buying new comes with a higher purchase price when compared to buying new. You'll also have higher insurance costs and modification expenses. Because buying new can be so much more expensive than buying used, many contractors opt for used models.
Pros and Cons of Buying Used
Buying used comes with the advantage of a reduced purchase price when compared to buying new. Most field service vehicles depreciate in value tremendously over the first three to five years. This means you can buy a fairly new model at a significantly reduced price when you buy used. Plus, used trucks often come with an assortment of add-ons and accessories that you would have had to pay for if you bought new.
On the downside, buying a used service vehicle means you'll never truly know its condition. You can check its mileage and maintenance records, but you won't know how well it was really taken care of. If you buy used, always have a trustworthy mechanic perform an inspection before signing a bill of sale.
Gas Versus Diesel Field Service Vehicles
The first thing you need to consider when choosing an HVAC vehicle is whether you want a gas or diesel model, both of which have their pros and cons. Diesel trucks, vans and SUVs make the most sense for businesses that tow a lot of heavy cargo. However, the fuel cost is considerably higher at the pump for diesel when compared to fuel for gas-powered vehicles. Diesel vehicles also come with higher price tags.
Pros and Cons of Electric Service Vehicles
You also have the option to use electric automobiles as field service vehicles. These are now available in a diverse range of models, thanks to Ford and GM. Electric vehicles come with a reduced cost of ownership when compared to gas and diesel vehicles. They also come with federal income tax incentives, some of which reduce the purchase price of each electric field service vehicle by $7,500 or more.
Electric vehicles leave behind a smaller carbon footprint when compared to diesel and gas models. Because of this, using electric models as field service vehicles helps businesses brand themselves as socially responsible. The vehicles do come with several downsides, Most can only travel 100 to 300 miles before they need recharged. Interior comfort is also somewhat limited due to poor heating and cooling when the batteries in electric vehicles start to go dead.
A scarcity of charging outlets is another issue you face when using electric models as field service vehicles. Currently, there are numerous remote areas throughout the nation with no public charging stations. For this reason, electric service vehicles don't make sense when performing work in rural regions.
Driver and Passenger Cab Considerations
HVAC technicians spend a lot of time in their service vehicles. This is why you should never try to save money by reducing your cab size preferences. You and your workers need quite a bit of room to comfortably work and travel from one job site to the next. If you intend to use the vehicle for transporting several workers, you'll definitely want an extended cab truck or cargo van with optional seating in the cargo area.
Field Service Vehicle Tool Storage Needs
You don't want yourself or your workers to spend a ton of time looking for tools and supplies. Every minute they spend looking for what they need is more money spent on payroll. This is why it's important to find a service vehicle that comes with optimal storage compartments (bins, drawers, hanging shelves, etc.) that meet your specific needs.
What Type of Field Service Vehicle Does My HVAC Business Need?
The most appropriate field service vehicle for your company depends on the services you intend to offer.
Vans and SUVs work best for transporting workers. If you have a mid-size or large HVAC business employing more than three workers, you may need a van or SUV specifically dedicated to transporting workers to job sites.
Transporting Supplies and Products
The tools and materials you intend to transport will dictate which vehicle is best. You'll likely want to buy a light-duty truck, cargo van or full-size van.
Some of the most common HVAC tools that you’ll need to transport for HVAC jobs include:
Specific HVAC equipment
Coil fin straightener
Conduct Sales Activities
Small SUVs and sedans work great for salespeople. These vehicles save money on gas, which is helpful for HVAC companies employing salespeople who travel daily.
Perform Maintenance Services
Performing HVAC maintenance usually requires a large number of tools and supplies. Depending on the maintenance location, you may even need a crane truck. Otherwise, full-size cargo vans and light- and medium-duty trucks work best for most companies providing HVAC maintenance services.
Provide Specialized Services
Full-size vans and medium- and heavy-duty trucks work best when transporting large equipment.
Additional Factors to Consider When Buying HVAC Vehicles
Since no two HVAC businesses are ever the same, you need to consider the following factors when buying field service vehicles:
The fuel economy of the vehicle you purchase will have the greatest impact on its overall operating cost. Older vehicles tend to have reduced fuel efficiency when compared to newer models.
Always carefully research a vehicle's required maintenance before buying it. You may find some vehicles have much higher maintenance costs, making their reduced purchase price not worth the investment.
Vehicle safety should be a top concern when buying field service vehicles. You can easily check for safety ratings on the HVAC vehicles you're interested in by visiting the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website.
Consider how you intend to use the vehicle. Will you travel to off-road job sites? If so, you must buy one with off-road capabilities. This means you'll need to purchase a vehicle with all-wheel or four-wheel drive options.
Standard Features and Add-On Options
Consider whether you'll need cargo boxes, tool racks, powered lift gates or other types of add-ons. Not all vehicles are compatible with all add-ons, making it important to narrow your options to the ones that are.
The exact body type and size you need in an HVAC vehicle depend on several factors. With a utility vehicle, the cargo area is not open. With a service body vehicle, the cargo space is open.
A utility body is your best choice if you need a weatherproof, fully enclosed space for transporting supplies and tools. Depending on how much cargo room and interior maneuverability you require, utility bodies come in low, medium, and high roof configurations. Many vehicles with a utility body also have a passage from the driver's area to the cargo area. Additionally, many come with conduit storage chutes.
If you need to store equipment and tools for an extended period of time, you should consider a service body vehicle with a flip-top. This type of vehicle also comes with the ability to utilize dividers when storing equipment and tools.
Some HVAC companies perform welding as part of their routine service offerings. For these companies and others that transport tanks, it's highly encouraged to use a vehicle with a service body that has a raised front compartment.
If you intend to attach a trailer and haul equipment, you'll want to invest in a service body vehicle that has low-profile sides. This makes it easier for the driver to see beside and behind the vehicle.
Utility bodies with low roofs are well-suited for use in areas with low clearance. They also work well for drivers who don't frequently access the cargo space. If the driver does need frequent access to tools and supplies in the cargo space, it's best to invest in a utility body with a medium roof. And if the driver intends to haul tall pieces of equipment and tools, a utility vehicle with a high roof will work best.
Your body length will depend on whether you choose a service or utility body. If you already have a chassis, you can figure out what size body you need by measuring the distance in inches between the back of the cab and the rear axle. If you're buying a new chassis and body, you can pick the body that works best for your application and then pair it with a chassis that meets your specifications.
6.5' Body: 40" CA single rear wheel
6.5' Body: 42" CA single rear wheel
8' Body: 56" CA single or dual rear wheel
9' Body: 60" CA single or dual rear wheel
11' Body: 84" CA dual rear wheel
13' Body: 108" CA dual rear wheel
14' Body: 120" CA dual rear wheel
Max Weight Capacity
The max weight capacity of an HVAC vehicle reflects how much weight you can add to the truck in terms of modifications, tools, passengers, equipment, etc. If you go over the max payload capacity, you put extreme wear and tear on the vehicle's suspension system and engine.
It's easy to calculate payload capacity. You take the curb weight of the vehicle and subtract it from its gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). For example, let's say a vehicle has a GVWR of 11,000 pounds and a curb weight of 7,200 pounds. Its payload capacity (or max weight capacity) is 3,800 pounds.
If you intend to haul tools and equipment by attaching a trailer to the vehicle, you must subtract the weight of the trailer's tongue to accurately calculate its max payload capacity. In the example we just used, if you attach a trailer with a tongue weighing 325 pounds, your max payload capacity is only 3,475 pounds.
A vehicle's GVWR, curb weight, the weight of the attached trailer, and the weight of passengers, tools and modifications determine its towing capacity. You add together the weight of each of those elements (minus the GVWR) and subtract their total weight from the GVWR. The number you get is the total number of pounds you can tow on the trailer.
Ideally, as an HVAC professional, you'll need a vehicle that can tow a minimum of 2,500 pounds. This towing capacity allows you to transport up to three or more HVAC units at the same time, as well as workers, tools and equipment.
Where to Buy Field Service Vehicles
You have several options to choose from to find and buy field service vehicles. There are benefits and drawbacks to each of the following choices; choose the one that fits your company's requirements the best.
Going to a commercial dealer is a good idea if you intend to buy several service vehicles for your HVAC business. Many commercial dealers offer fleet packages, making it simple to purchase multiple models of the same vehicle, which simplifies the entire vehicle purchasing process. With fleet packages, you’ll also access regular repair and maintenance services, both of which are crucial for getting the most out of your field service vehicles.
Fleet rental companies often sell their service vehicles after they hit so many miles on the odometer. You can snag a great deal through one of these dealers if you visit the right one at the right time. A lot of fleet rental companies have a large selection of used vehicles to choose from, making it easy for you to compare options.
Private and Individual Sellers
You can usually find the best deals on HVAC service vehicles through private sellers. These sellers come in the form of individuals as well as other companies that want to offload their used service vehicles. Because many of them are looking to replace the vehicles with newer models, they will sell the older ones at steeply reduced prices.
Commercial Auto Auctions
Another way to save money on an HVAC service vehicle is to find someone with a license to buy it from a fleet auction. Because these vehicles come as is, it's important to take someone with you who knows the red flags to look for, specifically those relating to HVAC trucks and vans.
Knowing How to Make the Best HVAC Service Vehicle Purchase
The purchase price is often the primary consideration for company owners. However, this strategy lacks long-term thinking. Business owners should take into account the total cost of ownership, often known as the "life cycle cost," to ensure they make the best field service vehicle purchase. To calculate this cost, consider the following:
How much money you need upfront to purchase the vehicle.
The total amount spent on repairs and upkeep throughout the time you own the vehicle.
The amount for which you can sell the vehicle when you no longer need it.
When calculating a less expensive vehicle's higher maintenance costs and its reduced resale value, you’ll often discover that the more costly car is actually cheaper to maintain and own.
Additional Factors to Consider When Buying Field Service Vehicles
Regardless of the industry, there are key factors to consider when buying field service vehicles to ensure you make the best purchase.
Field Service Vehicle Branding
Is the vehicle brandable? You should brand all of your service vehicles using a variety of options, including paint or graphics wraps. Your entire service vehicle has plenty of space to advertise your company, including the hood, rear door or gate, side panels, doors and trunk area. When branding a service vehicle, make sure to include your company’s name, colors, logo, phone number, and the services you offer.
Driver Records and Requirements
If any of the service vehicles you purchase have a gross weight equal to or greater than 26,001 pounds, their operators will need a commercial driver's license. You'll also need to check with your state to see if any additional licensing requirements apply. For example, in some states, you must have a Medical Examiner's Certificate if you drive a vehicle with a GVWR of 10,000 pounds or more.
Required Inspections and Maintenance
If you operate a fleet of HVAC service vehicles, you'll have to meet certain fleet inspection requirements. Cars and SUVs used as service vehicles often require an annual inspection. However, trucks and vans often need inspections twice a year. Keeping up with required inspections and maintenance is essential to staying in compliance with Department of Transportation guidelines.
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