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Six things to consider when shopping for a shunt truck


If you’re in the market for a new terminal tractor, you’re in for quite the shopping trip. The task of selecting a shunt truck for your operation isn’t a quick decision anymore, at least that’s what dealers are telling us; gone are the days when shunt trucks were simple pieces of equipment. Today, they can be spec’d every which way and those spec’s can make or break your business.

We spoke with shunt truck dealers and experts and asked them what those in the market should be paying attention to when they are thinking of purchasing a new terminal tractor.

Buy or lease?

When it comes to buying versus leasing your shunt truck, dealers are finding that more customers are seeing the benefits of leasing and opting to go that route.

“It really depends on the application of the vehicle,” said Michael Kirby, v.p. of sales and operation for Capacity of Ontario. “But we find a lot of private motor fleets lease these trucks because it puts all the onus on the dealer.”

George Cobham Jr., v.p. of sales and marketing for Glasvan Trailers, said the move to leasing (and it’s not just private fleets) is because business owners don’t want to own that asset and don’t want to maintain terminal tractors as well as their highway fleet.   

“They just want to put fuel and DEF fluid in and put a driver in it,” he said. “They don’t want to deal with the disposal of the truck…so leasing continues to be something that is of interest to people. There’s more interest in it, we’re seeing now. Especially with all the upcoming emissions compliance, people don’t want to maintain them themselves. Those who used to purchase now leave it up to those who sell them to maintain them.”

Aidan Bolger, president and CEO of Tico of Canada, said he believes leasing is the future because having full-service leases gives customers “more bang for their buck.”

John Uppington, sales manager at Kalmar-Ottawa for the Tallman Group said sometimes the decision to purchase or lease has more to do with simple accounting than anything else.

“I don’t know that there is a trend one way or the other when it comes to buying or leasing,” he said. “It’s almost entirely an accounting decision. One year a customer will buy and the next year they’ll lease.”

Think of the driver

More shunt trucks today are being spec’d to better accommodate the driver. And a happy driver means a successful business.

“We are bringing in all of our stock with air-conditioning now. In the past, some people didn’t like the idea of drivers going in and out of the air-conditioned cab into the heat,” explained Cobham Jr. “There were health concerns about that. But now with the driver shortage, drivers are less likely to drive a truck that doesn’t have A/C so that is a trend we’re seeing – keeping drivers comfortable. I wouldn’t say it’s something people need to have, but it’s something they should look at. Adding A/C after the fact adds $3,000 to the price tag.”

In addition to air-conditioning, more fleet owners are looking for ergonomic seats for their drivers.

“We are finding that certain companies are investing more money in the actual seat itself,” said Bolger. “One that has lumbar support and is more ergonomic. Before, they would just buy the cheapest seat and put it in because that was the way a number of people operated…but soon they realized at the end of the day if you have a happy driver, you have an individual who is going to do a better job.”

Uppington said he also noticed a trend towards more comfortable seat options at Kalmar-Ottawa and added that it recently introduced a Bose Ride seat option on new shunt trucks.

Kirby said that to add extra cushion for the driver, Capacity is noticing more customers are requesting to have the truck spec’d with an air ride rear suspension in addition to the cab air ride.

Get techy

Telematics isn’t going away anytime soon. Predictive maintenance software is becoming a major asset for Class 8 vehicle owners and now that trend is trickling down to shunt trucks, according to the dealers we spoke to.

“In terms of trends, we as a group, we’re doing a lot with telematics integration,” said Kirby. “It’s a hot industry topic and everyone is big on reporting predictive analytics so we want our customers to have that in the shunt trucks.”

Uppington added that computers and telematics are for the shunt truck of the future and will be a central point on the dash.

Just recently, Glasvan Great Dane announced that it is offering Geotab telematics on Autocar shunt tractors. The system will provide: engine and emissions system-related alerts; engine idle reports; event logs such as rough hook-ups, harsh braking and cornering at excessive speeds and truck-specific time-stamped performance and operational data.

Just like fleets that use telematics for their on-road fleets, plugging those telematics into their shunt truck will give them the same benefits, dealers explained. Telematics can help owners save on fuel consumption, reduce downtime and can extend the life of equipment.

Remember the maintenance

When it comes to maintenance, it’s important to stick to a preventive maintenance schedule, said Kirby.

“On the maintenance side, we highly encourage customers to pay attention to their DPF cleaning,” he said. “Typically what we’re finding is that customers are extending that for too long. We’re advising customers to have it inspected bi-annually as a best practice. They really need to stay on top of their PM schedules.”

He added that when thinking about maintenance it’s important to keep in mind the environment the truck will be operating in. Will it be dusty, for example? If it is, “you will turn air filters more frequently, so keep that in mind,” Kirby warned.

Finally, he said, an important factor when maintaining your vehicle is to ensure your driver knows how to operate it.

“Make sure your driver knows how to use the shunt truck. Don’t just assume because they are a driver they know how to use it,” he said.

Don’t forget the fifth wheel

The fifth wheel is another important aspect of the terminal truck that shouldn’t be overlooked, Cobham Jr. stressed.

“The fifth wheel is an item that people glaze over,” he said. “But you’re asking that fifth wheel to couple up to 50-75 trailers a day, so it will wear out. You need to be spec’ing one that’s stronger and one that’s designed for shunting and will last longer. You don’t put the same fifth wheel on a shunt truck that you put on a highway truck. You can, but it doesn’t last and it is what everybody does.”

A smart buyer is up-spec’ing the fifth wheel, according to Cobham Jr.

Know your dealer

Finally, knowing your dealer is a major component of buying or leasing a new shunt truck.

“The knowledge of the dealer is important,” explained Cobham Jr. “Think about how important shunt trucks are to the dealer. Look to see if offers rentals. Ask if they offer leasing. Equipment can go down and what is the ability to access other trucks, when they go down? Fortunately, they are breaking down on your doorstep, not out in the middle of the road, but still, there isn’t a shunt truck provider on every corner, so you want to be alongside a dealer that has a strong rental fleet so that even if you’re purchasing your truck, if something puts that truck down, you know you can get another one without it affecting your business.”

Kirby echoed this point saying: “Make sure you have a maintenance partner…make sure your service provider has the hours that are in line with your hours to make sure you can get that thing back on the road as soon as possible. Shunt trucks are critical pieces of equipment for the supply chain, so don’t ignore them.”


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