The Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) is having an immense impact in our communities.
Our primary concern is for the safety of our team members and customers.
We continue to monitor the situation at all of our locations and will provide updates as necessary.

News & Announcements

How to Spec Your Truck

How to Spec Your Truck


If you have a business that depends on its trucks for your operation, you may have discovered one of the most difficult aspects of your vehicle or fleet management is getting the right truck for your operation.

According to Smart Trucking, spec’ing a truck (specifically a big rig) is so difficult, it’s beyond the capability of most truck owners. We find it to be similarly true for most types of trucks. There are so many variables when it comes to work trucks, it’s easy to miss some that might dramatically impact your long-term revenue.

To maximize their productivity, you need to optimize the specifications for your operation.

Over-spec’ing: increases the capitalized cost of the vehicle

Under-spec’ing: increases the maintenance cost

Either direction can mean unnecessary cost for your operation. However, there are steps you can take to help ensure you acquire vehicles with the correct specs.

One recommendation is not to buy a stock truck, which may include features you don’t need, or (most likely) be lacking options you do need.  Specs should be defined by your fleet application and mission requirements.  If you can, purchase a custom truck, or one that can be customized to meet your needs. Accommodating the operational requirements rather than making your operation conform to truck(s) you purchase will help save costs in the long run.

Another recommendation is to ensure the vehicle(s) you purchase are versatile and have high resale value. Although it’s difficult to anticipate what features will be most valuable in the future, there tend to be OEMs and aftermarket equipment brands that hold value more than others. A well-rounded set of features can allow more versatility for your organization as well as provide a higher resale value.

Operator and Payload considerations

The key is finding a balance of options and features that will pay off over time. The best way to determine these features is to investigate and have answers to critical questions about your truck or fleet operation BEFORE you start calling consultants, dealers, or truck companies. By researching these topics, you are more likely to have a clearer picture of your fleet or vehicle needs.

Meet & talk with drivers, techs, and field personnel who will be using the vehicle(s)

Ask questions about their current vehicles:

  • Is the powertrain right for their application? Does it provide enough power at the heaviest loads, or does it seem overpowered?
  • Is the gross vehicle weight adequate for payload?
  • Is gross combination weight rating high enough for towing any trailers needing to be hauled?

Other issues that will be helpful to note could include:

  • Does the cab have proper access and meet requirements needed for operators, crew and passengers?
  • How is visibility when backing up? Is it adequate, even when fully loaded?
  • Is there necessary storage, including bins, shelves, or other cargo or accessory needs?
  • Are trucks spec’d or provisioned with the tools operators and crew need on their routes? Is there sufficient tool storage and access?
  • Any other changes they thought would be useful?

Investigate maintenance records

What type of problems has the vehicle had, if any? Unscheduled maintenance problems are a sign of underpowered or overloaded trucks.

Repeated mechanical failures can indicate the vehicle is under-spec’d. This is an important clue that can direct your investigation and will be worth mentioning when spec’ing new vehicle(s).

Investigate the payload

Ask how employees will load the truck.

  • Do they use jacks or forklifts?
  • How is the payload distributed?
  • Is the vehicle always fully loaded, or operated with diminishing load?

It’s important to know height requirements of truck.

  • What are the dimensions of payload?
  • What is the dock height?
  • Are there any loading height issues?
  • How are drivers securing the load?
    • Take dimensions and type of cargo into consideration to ensure truck has proper cargo restraint system.
  • If using forklift, is truck reinforcement option included in body specs? (Should it be?)

Determining payload needs

The key areas to analyze when determining payload needs include:

  1. Weight: how much weight will the truck need to carry in its daily workload? When calculating weight, use the maximum, not the average weight. Payload weight will also help determine if the cargo can be loaded and unloaded by hand, or whether you will need a power liftgate or some other type of assist to get it up in the body or bed.
  2. Volume or size: the size of your truck bed, box, or trailer needs to be large enough to handle the volume. How will it need to be loaded? Does cargo need to be stacked? In your current truck, can cargo be stacked right up to the ceiling, or can only the floor space be used? How is the product currently secured?
  3. Type: the type of cargo may include pallets, loose gravel or dirt, boxes of merchandise, etc. The type of cargo you typically carry, or envision you will carry, determines type of truck and body combination.
  4. Trips per payload: how many trips need to be made with an average haul or payload? Would a bigger truck cut down on trips, which may indicate a potential opportunity for long-term cost savings?

A suggestion about weight: the best way to determine current payload is take a normally-loaded and max loaded truck and weight them on a highway scale. Another tip is to weigh the front and rear axles separately, which will show whether the truck is overloaded, or just one of the axles.

Without fully understanding fleet application requirements and operating parameters, it is impossible to spec the best chassis, powertrain, and body necessary to optimize productivity. Yet, there is still one important area to analyze.

Budgetary considerations

After you’ve uncovered operator and payload needs, it’s time to approach the considerations within your fleet or vehicle budget. When analyzing cost, it’s important to include the total cost of ownership calculation, which typically includes estimated maintenance, operating costs, and residual value. It’s also helpful to look into manufacturer’s incentive programs, particularly when it comes to chassis purchase.

Fleet productivity increases return

Are there features available that could Increase driving efficiency for your operation, such as automatic transmissions or lower required maintenance or costs?

Can any specs be modified to increase fuel efficiency?

  • Drivetrain, tires, engine, and aerodynamics should be properly matched to maximize fuel efficiency.
  • Aerodynamic modifications include aerodynamic mirrors, moving air filters under the hood, or eliminating fender-mounted mirrors. For each 10% reduction in air resistance, mpg increases by approximately 5%.
  • When spec’ing auxiliary equipment, be aware of component weights, which both increase fuel consumption and reduce payload capacity.

To help ensure you are getting the right fit, you might turn to a reliable consultant, company or dealer who can help provide expert advice about what many other operators and fleet managers experience when it comes to specific payload and operational needs. A reputable dealer who has excellent service or options for training (depending on your in-house service capabilities) is another important consideration. Your best advice will come from a source who can analyze your needs and provide recommendations based on your needs.


Trusted Truck Specialists

Southwest Products is trusted by clients across North America to supply world-class service vehicles.  With more than 50 years of experience, including manufacture of our own custom work truck bodies and partnership with leading truck and chassis brands, SWP’s innovative product lines enhance the way jobsites operate.  Whether your truck will be working on a construction site, assisting with maintenance, moving heavy loads, or transporting cargo, SWP’s team can specify and customize a truck to successfully accomplish the unique challenges you face.

We also provide unmatched support, service, and parts to help keep your equipment operating at peak performance. Our product support team provides after-sales support and analysis, product operation, service, and repair issues, warranty claim assistance, practical training, and more. We have the experience, inventory, and highly-trained technicians to reliably support your vehicle service needs.

When you’re ready to talk trucks, let one of our experts provide recommendations specific to your needs. Contact us to get the conversation started.

More about SWP Trucks
View our Customizable Inventory
More about SWP Service & Support

Quality Products That Work As Hard As You Do