When to Upgrade to a Medium-Duty Truck
If you’re considering a larger vehicle for your work fleet, ask yourself these questions: Are my vans and one-ton trucks sitting down on their springs when fully loaded? Are they holding up traffic when trying to make it up a hill? Is my team taking up too much time each day to make multiple trips for supplies? Are we going through brakes at an alarming rate? If you’ve answered yes to more than one of these questions, it’s definitely time to invest in a medium-duty truck.
Medium duties boast larger engines, bigger breaks, a wider stance, and stronger frames and transaxles, giving your the muscle, safety, and axle capacity you need to take on highway hills and heavy loads without skipping a beat. The other major benefit is that a medium-duty truck is built specifically for its application. While most light-duties are manufactured as a single unit, medium duties start with a cab and chassis and have a specialized body added on as needed.
Now, you might be hesitate about taking the plunge into this bigger financial investment, but the good news is you’ll make that up in life cycle cost. Medium duties are a greater initial investment, but they easily last for more than 500,000 miles so you won’t have to replace them as frequently as light duties.
What to Consider When Buying a Medium Duty
One of the first questions you should ask yourself after you’ve decided you should make the switch to medium-duty trucks is: What am I hauling, and how much?
The type of load will determine your optimal body type, and the weight determines the cab, chassis, and horsepower needed to get the job done correctly. Payload weight is determined by GVWR, or the weight of the base vehicle plus the driver and passengers, cargo, additional equipment and tongue weight if you’re trailering. Payload capacity equals GVWR minus curb weight, or the weight of the unloaded truck.
For instance, FUSO trucks have a lower curb weight than competitive medium-duties within similar GVWRs, which can give you a payload edge of up to 2,200 pounds. But, don’t let the numbers throw you off. Through vehicle specification software and the assistance of a dealer, you can estimate payload weights down to the cubic foot on anything from construction materials to refrigerated food to livestock.
Another consideration is the backbone of the truck: the truck frame itself. The frame is what actually carries the load and is measured by resisting bending moment (rbm), or the frame’s flexibility and permanent bending point. A frame’s tensile strength is rated in pounds per square inch (psi). Medium duty frames start at 50,000 psi.
2. Towing Safety
Equally important to payload is towing safety, specifically a truck’s ability to stop safely. If you’re towing a fifth-wheel trailer greater than 28 feet or more than 27,000 pounds, FUSO recommends stepping up to a medium-duty truck.
Here’s why: The smaller caliper brakes of the light-duty truck will not stop the vehicle and trailer as efficiently as a medium duty. An engine with enough guts to get up a hill is important, but coming down that hill safely is even more so. That’s where medium-duty trucks come into play.
Beyond brakes, gear ratios are also a factor in towing. Medium duties, when towing, benefit greatly from gear package options helping them hit equal or better fuel economy than light duties. The lower the gear ratio, the more torque they have for hauling, but the slower the wheels turn.
3. Gas Vs. Diesel
Speaking of fuel economy, another major consideration should be fuel type. Annual mileage, budget, operating environment, and length of time between services influence this choice.
For instance, diesel engines typically cost more than gas engines, but typically hold their value better. But, inexperienced drivers may unintentionally misuse or abuse a diesel engine and diminish the truck’s value and life expectancy while hiking up repair costs. Gas trucks are also less expensive to service.
Next, factor in where these vehicles will be used primarily. Will it be highway driving where diesel fueling stations are abundant or city driving where they are more scarce?
When it comes to fuel economy, diesels still enjoy up to 40 percent better mileage than a comparable gas engine, but with diesel costing between $.50 to $.70 more a gallon, according to 2018 AAA studies, the savings don’t add up as quickly. Lastly, you should be aware of the 2007 diesel emissions regulations, which will add even more to initial cost.
Here’s our fuel for thought: Elect a diesel for its towing capacity, torque, and if your annual mileage is high. Elect gas for lighter loads, shorter trips in more urban areas, and easier, less expensive maintenance.
4. Type of Cargo
What you’ll carry determines what body style is right for your new commercial truck. For instance, if you’re delivering goods in boxes such as consumer electronics or perishable baked goods, a dry freight or cube body might be best. If you’re hauling large, heavy construction supplies or landscaping equipment, a stake body or flatbed with a lift gate makes sense. Tradesmen, on the other hand, such as electricians, plumbers, or carpenters might find a utility or contractor type body more fitting for their work.
However, no matter the commercial truck body you require, a FUSO work vehicle is engineered remarkably for flexibility and customization to fit your business’s need. For specifics, your local FUSO dealer has established relationships with body builders to help you select the right specs for your needs, or help transfer your current truck body to a new work vehicle.
5. Cabover Vs. Conventional
The engine and hood of a conventional medium duty are located in front of the driver, which adds to the vehicle’s overall length and weight. This decreases payload potential, maneuverability, and visibility—unlike cabovers.
FUSO’s cab-over-engine design eliminates the hood and features large expanses of glass around the driver for maximum visibility. The driver can see the ground just 6 feet in front of the truck. And because the cab occupies less space on the frame, the truck body occupies more space for a significant payload advantage. That makes a cabover ideal for dry freight van or cube bodies, refrigerated transport, lawn and contractor service, and dump truck and utility bodies. Cabovers are also more maneuverable in narrow streets and alleys than conventional trucks.
6. Operating Environment
Does your work bring you to major cities and suburbs or to the country? Will you be making a lot of stops, navigating narrow city blocks, or making hot shots down highways? What’s the terrain like—wide and flat or hilly and gravelly?
If you’re using your truck in the city, giving up body length will get you better maneuverability. If you’re primarily on the highway moving product from warehouse to warehouse, an extended wheelbase allows you to carry additional cargo and offers a more comfortable ride (less bumpy), but comes at the at the cost of a good turning radius.
Cabovers, with their visibility, maneuverability, and operating ease, are exceptional for residential neighborhoods and tight-squeeze city streets. In fact, FUSO’s FE130 cabover has a tighter turning radius than a MINI Cooper! Top Takeaway
There is a lot to consider when making the upgrade to a medium-duty truck or fleet. As you begin the research process and begin conversations with a dealer, our one word of advice is not to under spec your truck to hit a lower initial cost. Optimizing your work vehicle for its intended application will always provide the lowest overall cost of ownership over its lifetime. In the end, you will be much happier with your decision to fit your exact needs and so will your employees and drivers.