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It’s all in the box

CALGARY, Alta. - If you're a dump truck operator, you put a lot of thought into making the right spec'ing decisions when purchasing a new truck, but what about the box? After all, it takes a pounding...


CALGARY, Alta. – If you’re a dump truck operator, you put a lot of thought into making the right spec’ing decisions when purchasing a new truck, but what about the box? After all, it takes a pounding every day and is subjected to more abuse than any other part of the truck.

And with more than 200 dump body manufacturers in North America, it stands to reason that not all dump bodies are created equal. As with most components, the type of dump body you choose will depend primarily on the commodities you plan to haul.

“When you set out to spec’ a dump body for a customer, the first two questions are: ‘How long are you going to keep it?’ and ‘What are you going to do with it?'” says Craig Thomas, sales manager with Heil Truck Equipment. “From there you can build a product that should give the customer the life expectancy that he wants.”

A perfectly square dump box may be the old standby, but if you’re hauling asphalt then you may find a square box segregates the material so it doesn’t mix as well in the paving box.

“A lot of guys stick with square boxes because that’s all they’ve known,” says Dick Todd, a sales rep with Pennsylvania-based J&J Truck Bodies and Trailers.

However, a dump body with radius in the corners can make for smoother unloading and prevent debris from getting stuck in the corners, he says. Sloped corners may boast a better slip-factor, but tub-shaped boxes generally come at a premium.

Gary Williams, product specialist with Lethbridge, Alta.-based Renn products, says other considerations may include: your cab to axle length (which determines the need to lengthen or shorten the frame); the body style of the truck (whether you have side- or rear-mounted stacks); and the GVW rating of the truck (which helps determine the optimal size of the box).

“Customers need to keep in mind, when matching the box capacity to their truck, that they have to remain within the GVW limits of the vehicle,” Williams explains.

Some manufacturers, such as Renn, offer high-sided boxes which help maximize payload if hauling a light product. Another way to maximize payload is to spec’ an aluminum box, but that too will cost more money at the outset. That initial investment can soon pay for itself though, Thomas insists.

“Once you get into that Class 8 market segment, weight becomes extremely important,” he says. “As little as 900 lbs. in weight savings in the body alone can pay back in excess of $5,000 over a five-to-seven year life span.”

Not surprising, since a 20-foot aluminum box can weigh as much as 3,000 lbs. less than a comparable steel body.

The skyrocketing cost of steel is helping to narrow the price gap between steel and aluminum dump bodies, but Todd suggests it’s only a matter of time before the price of aluminum follows suit. Still, more customers are spec’ing aluminum bodies if they’re hauling commodities like sand.

“If you’re hauling tonnage such as sand, gravel, asphalt and dirt, you can look at aluminum, but if you’re getting into rock that’s bigger than a basketball you might have to look at steel,” Todd says, noting there are some lightweight steels available. “You’re not going to haul rocks as big as a Volkswagen in an aluminum box!”

Todd admits lightweight steel boxes have been slow to gain acceptance, but they are beginning to win the trust of customers. He says lightweight steel boxes offer a happy medium between high-tensile steel and aluminum.

Longevity is another consideration while spec’ing dump bodies. In most cases, they should last as long as the truck itself but Todd says the box can sometimes even be fitted to another truck when the first one is retired. Still, it’s not always necessary for the box to outlast the life of the truck, he points out.

“A smart operator will usually upgrade the body and chassis both at the same time,” he says. “Guys think that if they pay the truck off it’s going to make them more money, but it never happens that way. They end up putting the same amount as a truck payment into repairs. We’ve had bodies that have been on two to three different chassis but it generally doesn’t need to last longer than the chassis.”

Heil’s Thomas says customers operating in cold weather climates such as Canada should choose a dump body with minimal exterior welding.

“It lessons the chances of corrosion and provides a much stronger product with a lower overall weight,” he says.

Thomas says truck sales reps are becoming better educated about the different dump bodies on the market.

But Thomas still suggests a customer consult a dump body product expert when spec’ing a box. The customer should work with both the truck sales rep and a dump body expert, says Thomas. “But the truck dealer sales reps are becoming very well-acquainted with dump body specifications and what fits best for the customer.”


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