Posted: August 1, 2014 by POWER INVERTERS: AC & DC IN CONCERT
With a little imagination, some knowledgeable mechanics, and some extra cash, a decent used truck is not limited to its original spec’s and application. That longhaul truck in the lot could see a whole new life as a regional day-cab with the sleeper stripped off. You might stretch the frame, add a cargo box and voila, an expedite truck or a small-shipment specialist. Or, add an axle, upgrade a few parts and you’ve got a lugger, roll-off, or a dump chassis. Within limits, there are many ways to reincarnate a former highway hauler.
Marc Levesque, sales manager at Sudbury, Ont.’s All-North Truck Centre, says he gets lots of requests to alter specs on used trucks, mostly for a change of application. “Usually it’s just a matter of changing the specs to increase or decrease the axle capacity,” he says.
Owing to its location in northern Ontario, All-North sees a lot of heavy-spec trucks involved in area logging, mining, and construction operations. “We can send a long-time logging truck into semi-retirement by shortening the wheel base and maybe putting a pusher axle on it – converting it to a tandem truck,” says Levesque.
Other examples Levesque has seen include a 293-in. wheelbase logging truck with a self-loader, a pusher, and a tag axle. He took the loader and the lift axles off, shortened the wheelbase to 257 inches and put a gravel box on it. The truck already had a 20,000 lb front suspension so it made for a nice triaxle.
While Levesque says All-North’s modification work is largely limited to changing the specs on front axle capacity and changing wheelbase lengths, Ross Babula, sales manager at Tatro Equipment in Chatham, Ont., says he’s seen buyers actually go as far as changing out rear axles and transmissions – as long as they’ve got the cash to spend.
“Let’s say a buyer’s got their eye on a truck that’s perfect for them except for the fact that it’s got a 10-speed transmission,” he says. “If they’re going to be pulling 80,000 lb and they’re running in the hills, they want to get rid of the 10-speed and replace it with a 13- or 18-speed so they can split gears instead of downshifting. It’s versatility. Thirteen- and 18-speeds are universal – you can haul feathers or steel, whereas a 10-speed has gaps.” Babula says it costs around $4,500 to change out a transmission, replacing it with a remanufactured unit.
Same goes for rear axles, says Babula. Some buyers might want to change out a used truck’s rear axle because they’re hauling different weights or they want to lower the engine speed at cruise for better fuel economy. Changing out a differential runs around $2,800 per pot at Tatro, according to Babula.
And then there are sleepers, which buyers will sometimes want removed from their used truck to convert the rig into a daycab. Removing those, especially integral sleepers, isn’t cheap. “That costs around $6,800,” he says.
Ron Andrews, director of marketing at Freightliner of Vancouver says integral sleepers have really cut down on the number of requests for bigbunkotomy procedures.
“We used to do a lot of those because there’s a strong market here for container hauling trucks,” he says. “That’s all regional work where they hardly ever use the bunk. But if we get the right truck in at the right price, it’s still economical.”
The team at Saskatoon’s Frontier Peterbilt see the odd request to remove a sleeper, but say the most common request is to add or remove fifth wheels to convert a truck to a tractor, or vice versa. Otherwise, says Frontier Peterbilt president Kerny Korchinski, buyers in that part of the country can usually find a truck that meets their specs fairly easily. “Really, these days, precious little is changed out anymore. Things have come a long way since days gone by. Years ago you almost had to retrofit a piece of equipment to make it serve some other application, but that’s a thing of the past.”
A relatively inexpensive modification a buyer can make is tweaking an engine’s software to change its performance. “If someone’s buying an off-lease fleet truck where the road speed was set at 105 km/h and they want to run to California, they don’t want to be stuck on the Interstate in Montana doing 105,” says Steve Kenny of Selectrucks Toronto. “You can control a lot of things – how the cruise works, jake brakes, you can alter horsepower, the roadspeed, etc. Once you open it up to remove all the restrictions on the engine parameters, then it just operates to the full capacity of the componentry.”
“Basically, on every used truck we sell, there’s something we have to alter,” says Babula. “Whether it’s a pair of seats, a 19- to 20-in. steering wheel, cab-mounted exhaust to rear-mounted exhaust, steel to aluminum wheels, drive axle ratios, transmissions – there’s not one truck that leaves here that a buyer will just take. Every used truck has to be modified. But if you do want to change things, bring money – all alterations come with a cost.”
Andrews advises that inspectors in B.C.’s Lower Mainland take a really dim view of highway truck to dump truck conversions because the job usually isn’t done properly. They watch that stuff pretty closely, he notes, “they check the axle ratings, among other things, so you can’t get away with just slapping a pair 425 tires onto a steer axle and thinking you’ve now got a 20,000-lb front end.”
He cautions that other components such as frame rails, hubs, possibly even braking systems all have to meet the requirements for the higher weights.
A dissenting view
Aside from a few minor modifications like tweaking an engine’s software to open up engine and drivetrain capability, or adding different tires or an auxiliary heater, Kenny doesn’t think a buyer has a whole lot of options in terms of changing the specs on a used truck.
“The challenge is to find a used truck that most closely suits your needs. Guys come in and want to try and rebuild a used truck, but really, it is what it is and there’s not a lot you can do with it. It’s already built and it’s the purchaser’s challenge to find the truck that suits his needs, and our challenge is to have that truck available.”
Kenny says if a good customer comes in looking for a particular spec, he’ll do his best to source it – calling up his truck suppliers to try and make a match between the would-be buyer’s spec and a truck sitting on a lot somewhere. “And if I don’t happen to have what you’re looking for today, I can always take your number and give you a call if something comes in tomorrow.”
Kenny also says that buyers should make full use of the Internet when searching for their perfect used truck. “The days of just shopping for trucks in your own geographic area, those days are behind us now,” he says. “You can source from anywhere thanks to the Internet. Log on and shop in the US, Western Canada, Quebec – there are no restrictions. Some sites – like www.equipmentfinder.com – even allow you to punch in what sorts of specs or applications you’re looking for so you can tailor your search accordingly.