Slide-in camper-type truck bodies are making pickup trucks a viable alternative to the cargo van for plumbing, HVAC and refrigeration contractors. ?The guys lease the trucks and then every couple of years they just slide the body off and put it on the next truck. And if they want to go fishing on the weekend, they can slide it off, put on their camper and take the family ?? reports Jeff Engelland, president of Horizon Fiberglass Products Ltd. of Delta, B.C. manufacturer of Fibermold truck bodies. Pickup trucks have a number of other advantages, adds Jean-Marc Bayard, sales and marketing manager for Fibrobec, the manufacturer of SpaceKap truck bodies in Beloeil, Que., east of Montreal. Pickup trucks are generally more comfortable. The driver?s compartment heats up quickly and stays warm. The driver is separated from tools, equipment and chemicals in the back. There are more engine options and four-wheel-drive models are readily available. They have a higher resale value and can be used as a personal vehicle on weekends. Cargo vans have become the vehicle of choice because they can carry a lot of stuff and they can be locked to at least discourage thieves. Slide-in bodies address those issues on a pickup. Windowless models prevent thieves from looking inside. They can be outfitted just like a cargo van. However, quick removal remains a key attraction. Some models can be mounted without drilling holes in the pickup body or frame, making them easy to switch over to a rental truck if the contractor?s regular vehicle is in the shop, added Bayard. The contractor simply jacks it up, disconnects a plug-in electrical cable for lights, etc., and drives the truck out. Once the contractor or technician gets the hang of it, it?s a simple 15-20 minute one-man job. Shelves, ladder and pipe racks, complete with tools and supplies, remain in place, as do graphics. Slide-in bodies weigh about 500 lbs. (227 kg) and are designed to carry, depending on model, from 2,000 to 2,500 lbs. (910-1,135 kg). As a result, when the contractor purchases a new truck he can very quickly switch the body over and get back to business. During the initial installation, it?s important to obtain the kit for the particular brand of truck, adds Bayard. There is no longer a ?standard? pickup box. Today?s pickup box sides can be higher or lower from one brand to the next. Typical first-time installation takes about 45 minutes, report the manufacturers. The tailgate must be removed and the wiring installed. Mounting systems differ from model to model. The SpaceKap system uses four rubber plugs that wedge under the lip of the pickup rails in each corner. ?You don?t damage anything ? you don?t make holes,? notes Bayard. The whole mounting system can be simply pulled out and dropped into a replacement truck, he adds. The Fibermold bodies are either bolted down through the floor with a cross member or frame mount or tied down with camper-type chain mounts.
Outfitting a fiberglass truck body is similar to outfitting a cargo van. However, the high canopies with standing room offer a few additional options. Some utility companies are using truck bodies that are heated, insulated and outfitted with a work bench ? basically a workshop on wheels. But that probably goes beyond what the typical contractor requires. Manufacturers offer shelving packages specifically designed for the plumbing and HVAC/R contractor that can be customized to suit individual needs. They are tied to reinforced anchorage points built into the walls. Plastic bins help organize the parts. ?The old day of seeing a plumber with a bunch of greasy boxes washing around the back of the truck is long gone,? notes Engelland. ?Every contractor that we see today gets totally organized. They put in shelving, racking ? everything ? so that they ? can go to every bin and see if they need parts or not before they get to the job site.? Conduit (or pipe) and ladder racks are similar to those used on vans. A small workbench with a swivel vice is a popular feature, notes Bayard. The contractor must keep in mind the same weight distribution rules as for a cargo van. The heaviest objects should be placed as low as possible and over or in front of the rear axle, with the weight equalized as much as possible from side to side.
Slide-in caps will generally outlast the truck. Many contractors keep the truck body through three or four new trucks. There is little that can be damaged. Fiberglass construction with aluminum or stainless steel hardware means that rust doesn?t occur. Just about any body shop is equipped to repair fiberglass in the event of an accident. ?It?s like a fiberglass boat. If you take care of it, you can keep it for life,? notes Bayard.
Horizon Fiberglass has a strong dealer network in the West. Fibrobec has dealers across the country. SpaceKap models are also available through a ship-through program with Ford, Dodge and GM dealers. The contractor can order his truck with the body installed and outfitted. Pickup trucks may be unlikely to replace cargo vans as the vehicle of choice among plumbing and HVACR contractors anytime soon. But slide-in canopies and other specialized equipment have gone a long way to making them a practical alternative.
Click here to access videos of interest to Canada's mechanical contractors, from trade show highlights to new product introductions, expert interviews and contractor profiles.