Shopping for shunt trucks

by Truck News

The days of choosing a simple shunt truck are long gone. Today, there are countless spec’s and options to add to your yard truck to make them last longer, and get the demanding job done.

We spoke to yard truck dealers and experts to ask them about shopping trends they’re noticing today and what customers should be looking for when choosing a shunt truck.

Forget the gimmicks
“The biggest change I’ve noticed is the days of the gimmicks are done,” said George Cobham Jr., vice-president of sales and marketing with Autocar dealer Glasvan Great Dane. “There is a lot of pressure to improve reliability on these trucks. A lot of changes on our end have been made to make wiring more reliable, and to improve aftertreatment systems. Little nifty features are what we find not selling the trucks these days. It’s all about reliability. People need productive trucks.”

An example Cobham Jr. cites to exemplify this are cool door controls.

“Things that used to be mechanical, went to air operated or operating on solenoid,” he said. “But a lot have gone back to mechanical, because it’s all about making these things heavy-duty and high-cycle. It’s neat to have a door open and close at the push of a button, and I’m sure a lot of these spec’s work great in the southern states. But that’s not where we are. These nifty gimmicks that maybe were hatched for a port in California, don’t survive up here.”

Consider leasing
Many more buyers are opting to lease instead of owning their yard trucks, explained James Blake, vice-president and general manager of Tico dealer CheckerFlag Leasing.

“More and more customers are opting for the full-maintenance lease,” he said. “Which means we are responsible for all the maintenance. Because they don’t want to worry about all the maintenance. They want to know their budget for the next two to three years. It’s the biggest trend I’ve seen today, and I think it’s because it’s just such a benefit to customers. Plus, we have 24/7 maintenance so they can call us day or night.”

Maintenance on shunt trucks is of the utmost importance, Blake said.

“They take a beating, but every crossdock needs them – and with a full-maintenance lease, you don’t have to worry about when one of them goes down.”

Think about comfort
“Just like highway drivers, shunt truck drivers – the cab is their office,” Blake said. “They need room to move around. They need space for their lunch. And they need comforts like every other driver gets.”

Blake said newer shunt trucks have a lot more room than their older counterparts.

“And that’s a good thing,” he said. “More room, more visibility, and there’s more ergonomics. Because it doesn’t matter if you’re driving a shunt truck or a highway truck, it’s competitive to get drivers right now. So, anything you can do to make it better for them, it makes a difference.”

Blake added that most opt to choose a more comfortable seat for the driver because of the nature of the job. Radios are also a common spec’ Blake sees customers going for.

“It’s not necessary but it’s a comfort,” he said. “The drivers can hook up their phone or iPod if they have music on there, too. There’s CD players too. Sometimes, people like to work with background noise. Even in my office, I turn on the radio sometimes.”

Go green
Kalmar Ottawa says it’s the first to market with its T2E electric terminal tractor. The manufacturer claims the new shunt truck produces less noise, vibration, and of course – emissions. Kalmar Ottawa says going electric will cost operators less in the long run (as they’re saving big bucks on fuel) and has fewer moving parts, saving you on maintenance costs.

“We’re excited about this,” said John Uppington, sales manager at Kalmar Ottawa for the Tallman Group. “We just launched this last month (in May) so right now we are just going through a process with interested customers asking them a lot of questions to make sure the trucks will work for their application.”

And if you’re worried about downtime, Uppington says you shouldn’t. Kalmar Ottawa recommend using opportunity charging during breaks, lunches, and shift changes.

“The truck will last up to three shifts a day this way,” Uppington said. “And that’s pretty significant for us.”

Don’t forget the warranty
Arguably the most important part of the shunt truck shopping experience is talking about the warranty, said Cobham Jr.

“If you’re buying, you have to ask questions about warranty and you have to be specific,” he advised. “At the same time, if and when you’re returning a truck, warranty is important. Above all, questions need to be asked and warranties need to be consider whether you’re buying on- or off-road trucks.”

And while both on- and off-road trucks have aftertreatment and standard warranties, Cobham Jr. says to think hard about upgrading them.

“Spending a few thousand dollars on upgrading the warranty, can save you many more than that in your third, fourth, or fifth years. People were just not buying extended warranties back in 2005-2010, even 2012. We are asking people to look into that now. It makes the customer experience better when they don’t get an unexpected bill in those third, fourth, fifth years.”

And while the initial cost is steeper than most would like to pay for an extended warranty, Cobham Jr. says, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that much.

“We attempt to talk to every customer about the warranty and if they’re not interested, then that’s okay, but we explain to them about the best customer experience,” he said. “Amortized over the five-year lease or finance, it’s really not a lot of extra money. They’re doing it on the highway truck side, but then when it comes to yard trucks it’s ignored and people forget they can have all the same issues as a highway truck, plus the problems that go along with hydraulics. It’s important to consider those warranties for sure.”

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