The spec’ing process has evolved, and you must too

If you’re still spec’ing trucks the way you used to do it 10 years ago, chances are, you’re doing it all wrong. Powertrains have advanced substantially, especially over the last few years. Smaller engines now produce more power. Faster rear axle ratios improve fuel economy, but increase torque loads on downstream powertrain components, which may need to be fortified.

Truck spec’s are being designed for every imaginable application. Go out heavy, come back empty? There’s a spec’ for that. Run light U.S. payloads cross-border? There’s a spec’ for that. Never even considered an 11-liter? In the right application, it may be your best option.

But old habits die hard, and many owner-operators still want to spec’ the 600-hp engine they always ran. This topic came up during a recent conversation I had with an Ontario-based dealer rep. He said it drives him nuts when owner-ops come into the dealership and can’t be talked into a more efficient powertrain package than what they’re demanding, simply because they like being the first to the top of the hill.

Let’s be real. The cost of a new truck has skyrocketed. You can thank the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for that, as well as the falling value of the Canadian dollar. We all know rates haven’t kept pace with this increase in costs. So, how can you afford not to spec’ the most efficient truck possible for your application?

When it comes time to spec’ a new truck, I urge you to speak with a knowledgeable dealer representative. The OEMs have vast engineering departments and have invested a truckload of money into equipping dealers with the tools they need to spec’ out trucks for optimum efficiency and performance. No, they may not get you up the hill the fastest, but they’ll ensure you have more money in your wallet when you get there.

You don’t have to be a large fleet with servers full of big data at your disposal to figure out your costs and to spec’ a truck that will maximize your profits. The dealers can help you with this, and to not take advantage of that free service is short-sighted. Even the savviest owner-operator can’t stay on top of all the advances in powertrain design on their own.

There’s no shame in asking an expert for help.

Another common pitfall that came up in this conversation, and others I’ve had with dealers, is that many truck buyers are making purchases online only to find the truck is illegal in the jurisdiction they plan to run. It has become so easy to buy trucks online. A trucker in Quebec can be sitting at his computer and bidding in real-time on trucks at an auction in

Alberta. An owner-operator in Mississauga can respond to a Kijiji ad listed in Saskatchewan for a dump truck with a price that’s too good to pass by.

You bring the truck to Ontario only to find it’s illegal to operate here, because the lift axle’s in the wrong position or the weight distribution won’t allow for full payloads. Then what?

This is where a knowledgeable dealer can once again play a valuable role in the buying process.

Trucks – and especially their powertrains – have undergone major advances over the course of the past few years. Old rules about spec’ing don’t always apply anymore. The next time you’re in the market, do yourself a favor, and ask for help in determining the right spec’ for your application. Do so with an open mind and you may not end up with the truck you thought you would, but you’ll likely be happier with it in the end.

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James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 20 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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