A trash hauler should buy a collection vehicle based on his needs, but those needs vary from region to region and from application to application. Other factors also affect the decision. Trends have changed: The truck that was popular 10 years ago is not the most popular now. Emissions regulations have shaped the game. State and local laws impact choices. So do federal bridge laws.
So where does a hauler start?
Cost of Ownership
First, says Geoff Apthorp, vice president of business development and engineering for Heil Co. Environmental Solutions Group, think about the application: route, route density, and setouts. Next, consider the cost of ownership, durability, longevity, maintenance, safety, and environmental (emissions) attributes. “Traditional specs may not always include important performance indicators like cost per ton, cost per hour, emissions, and maintenance cost,” he says. “We always apply these to our customer’s routes or applications solutions.”
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Cost of ownership is an important consideration. That includes service, repair, and warranty. Warranties should cover at least one year and can be vital because reliability varies; breakdowns are common with some makes. But, cautions Zach Martin, vice president of sales for Big Truck Rental, don’t base future costs on the warranty. “The first year of life is cheaper than the second, due to the warranty.”
To help lower the cost of ownership, Isuzu offers support through warranty coverage and maintenance programs. Their service maintenance program addresses scheduled maintenance costs and generates “health” reports at every service interval, according to executive director of marketing, Brian Tabel.
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“This report shows the owner the current operating status of the engine, transmission, brake, and emissions systems; brake usage history; fuel economy history; and driver operating habits, including acceleration and deceleration frequency, speed history, and more,” he says. In addition, it allows fleets and operators to identify potential problems while observing the operating status of key major components.
Service is a key element of the cost of ownership, making location of the dealership critical. “If there’s no dealer within 500 miles,” continues Martin, “you’ll never recover warranty costs.”
Support from the manufacturer is important, but if there’s no dealership in the area, argues Louis-Charles Lefebvre, RSM, Labrie Enviroquip, ask if your mechanic has training to work on your truck and if the shop is authorized for service.
The goal is to have as little cost in a truck as possible, claims David Stafford, vice president of operations for Big Truck Rental, and to own it a short time. That makes reliance on quality service and support critical.
Stepping on the Scale
While warranties are valuable, they can be invalidated if changes are made to the truck. That’s why Autocar works with a body company to configure a truck according to customer specifications. With the old way of building a truck, it went to the body company, where they moved components before mounting the body. Autocar works with the company to put things where they’re needed. There’s no generic truck anymore. There’s no stock truck; there’s no chassis waiting for a body. They are built to order.
This method maintains the integrity of the frame and components, saves money on mounting and keeps the warranty intact. It’s also a fail-safe that keeps the customer legal. Every order is reviewed to make sure it will work.
Weight laws are very different across the nation. Some states rely on federal bridge law for OTR tractors, with exemptions for refuse trucks, such as allowing extra axles for more weight. State and local laws have also been implemented to address wheel base, the number of axles allowed for spreading the weight, and other things such as footprint laws that affect tires.
“Prohibitions complicate things,” states Apthorp. In order to comply with federal regulations for axle weights, manufacturers must address weight distribution by optimizing the design to maximize payload.
Careful consideration must be given to distribution of the load weight in order to determine how much of the total, including chassis, cab, body, and payload, will be carried on the front axle and how much will be carried on the rear axle, on the trailer axles, and the total, Tabel explains. Moving a load a few inches forward or backward on the chassis can mean the difference between acceptable weight distribution for the truck or an application that will not do the job satisfactorily.
“Every truck has a specific capacity,” he says. When loaded, the load distribution should remain within Gross Axle Weight Ratings and the truck’s Gross Vehicle Weight Rating or Gross Combination Weight Rating for the weight laws and regulations under which the truck will operate.
Improper weight distribution can cause problems:
- Excessive front end wear and failure (tie-rod and kingpin wear, front axle failure, overloading of front suspension, wheel bearing failure)
- Rapid tire wear (When the weight on a tire exceeds its rating, it wears faster and can result in failure.)
- Rough, erratic ride (If the center of the payload is directly over or slightly behind the rear axle, the lack of sufficient weight on the front axle creates a bobbing effect, very rough ride, and erratic steering.)
- Hard steering (When loads beyond the capacity of the front axle are imposed upon it, the steering mechanism is also overloaded and hard steering will result. Excessive overloading can result in steering component damage or failure.)
- Unsafe operating and conditions (Poor traction on the steering axle affects the safety of the driver and equipment, particularly on wet, icy, or slippery surfaces. Approximately 30% of the total weight at the ground on a truck or tractor should be on the front axle with a low cab forward vehicle. An overloaded truck can be dangerous because minimum speeds cannot always be maintained, directional control may not be precise, and insufficient braking capacity can extend braking distances.)
- High maintenance costs (premature failure of parts and excessive wear are caused by improper weight distribution. Additional stresses may cause the frame to crack or break.)
Having a conversation with the customer can prevent many of these issues. Autocar suggests asking whose body will be placed on the chassis, what options have been selected, details about the route, and information about the state’s weight laws.
“It’s easy to design a heavy truck, but it’s hard to design a truck that can carry the best legal payload without breaking,” observes Lefebvre. He calculates a weight distribution chart to check legal payload of every order, using chassis empty weight as well as front and rear weight in order to work within the buyer’s parameters, including each state’s or province’s regulations.
The key is distributing the weight between the axles properly. Tabel says that if the body is too long for a wheelbase, the center of the body and payload is placed directly over the rear axle. This places the entire payload on the rear axles, resulting in overloading the rear tires, rear axle springs, and wheel bearings, and potentially exceeding the rear axle legal weight limit. In this scenario, the front axle is carrying no part of the payload and can easily be lifted off the ground when going over rough terrain, creating a very rough ride and temporary loss of steering control.
Conversely, if the body is too short for the wheelbase, frame stress may be increased and can result in excessive loads on the front axle. “Excessive front axle loads increase wear on the kingpins and bushings, wheel bearings, and steering gear,” says Tabel. Excessive front axle loads also overstress the front axle, springs, tires, and wheels. All of these contribute to higher maintenance costs and hard steering.
Optimizing weight distribution saves tire and brake wear, which becomes both a safety issue and a financial one.
Making use of a Heil Chassis
Fueling the Weight Debate
Calculating weight on a refuse truck is a sliding scale as the payload varies over the course of the route and can change each time a route is covered. “Inorganics are heavy,” observes Lefebvre.
Choice of fuel can also affect weight distribution. While LNG in not used in waste any more, according to Lefebvre, natural gas is a clean option that many haulers find attractive.
“CNG is cleaner burning for less air pollution,” says Chad Gentry, product manager at Heil. In addition, it’s quieter, producing less noise pollution. Other benefits of using CNG include lower cost, consistency, and predictability.
Today’s haulers want a truck that delivers good fuel economy while also being easy on the environment. According to Tabel, lower mileage routes may be more efficiently operated with a gasoline-powered truck. Industry estimates indicate that less than 5% of the collection vehicles on the road are powered by gasoline, and they are typically smaller, single axle vehicles.
“Natural gas fits the refuse industry well, but there are challenges,” cautions Autocar Trucks’ director of sales. Tanks are bulky and expensive and can be difficult to place. Placed on top of the body, they can be damaged by trees, but in front on the frame rail might be too low for landfills.
A front mounted Curotto-Can
CNG is lightweight, Stafford acknowledges, but the tanks take up space and affect weight distribution. Therefore, location is critical. “East Coast bridges are lower than West Coast bridges, and the trees are bigger. The West Coast is built for transportation,” he says by way of explaining the difference in choices from one coast to the next.
Tanks can pose a weight issue, too. Heil’s CNrG CNG system with tailgate fits on the back of AFL, FEL, and ASL trucks so it doesn’t overload the front axles. Apthorp says there is no weight increase; in fact, it improves the overall weight balance.
It’s important to size the tank appropriately for the route. Adding larger CNG tanks enables the hauler to cover a longer route; however, it reduces capacity for payload. “If you have a long drive, it’s not a good idea,” Autocar Trucks’ director of sales advises. “You have to consider how much weight you are picking up and the distance to the dump. It’s a matter of performance vs. fuel economy.” Natural gas produces less torque, he adds, so it’s also important to consider the topography of the route.
It’s also important to think about the size of your fleet. Weight is an issue, but infrastructure is the biggest challenge. If refilling stations aren’t convenient, is it worthwhile to build a $4 million compressor for only a few trucks? Lefebvre suggests searching for grant money to help cover costs, but says to evaluate the economy and your fleet.
Where you refuel and the size of the compressor are factors to consider. Will you do a slow or fast fill? “CNG is pressure-fed,” the Autocar Trucks’ director explains. “When pressure is low, the engine will starve and you’ll get less performance.” CNG is plentiful and it’s cheaper, but you need the infrastructure.
Diesel prices are driven by cyclical supply and demand factors, Apthorp says. Even though diesel prices have been at record lows during the past few years, he says everyone in fleet management expects prices to increase again. Control of and relationships with OPEC affect prices and Apthorp expresses concern about where diesel prices will go under the current administration.
Diesel engines use compression as the ignition source, as opposed to spark in a traditional gasoline or CNG engine, Gentry notes. Compression versus spark ignition is a more efficient energy conversion method.
Diesels can go farther and have more horsepower at higher elevations, so the hauler’s location also affects his choice. “Arizona and New Mexico are flat desert,” points out Stafford. “Horsepower is not as important there.”
About the Route
Hilly terrain isn’t the only aspect of the route that influences vehicle choice. Climate can dictate some decisions, such as tires. “Temperature is a factor,” says Lefebvre. “In Texas, you don’t need an engine block heater.” Conversely, in Canada, many haulers prefer electrical valves over hydraulic valves that are air-activated so they don’t freeze.
In regions that put down salt during the winter or coastal areas, anti-rust protection is a must. In small neighborhoods with tight turns, opt for a short wheelbase for a better turning radius; that can eliminate backing incidents. Right-hand stand-up cabs may be more efficient for residential take-all routes because not everything is in a can and the driver may need to hop out quickly. A three-man cab on a smaller rear loader may work better on a municipal route.
A low cab forward design features the cab over the front axle, giving the driver an unobstructed view of the road ahead. “The entire cab tilts forward when it’s time for service,” adds Tabel, “which is a real advantage compared [with] conventional cab trucks.” In tight quarters, the LCF is more maneuverable and nimble than conventional cab trucks.
A selling point is the choice of model and power plant. Knowing the route helps specify the truck that will deliver the best total cost. For instance, an automated side loader is a reasonably productive one-man operation with a cycle time of 12–17 seconds to collect from 900–1,100 homes a day. But, there can be additional costs that should be factored into route economics that will affect choice of truck. Does the route require a chase truck because the contract specifies that all items, including bulk items, must be picked up? A chase truck adds substantial cost to an ASL route.
With some ASLs, the operator must wait for the packer cycle to activate the arm, which can be a problem on dense routes because it takes too long. Another consideration with an ASL is maintenance intensity. “ASL arms can require a lot of maintenance,” says Apthorp.
In addition, ASLs provide poor visibility of the container. “There are a lot of contaminants in waste that reduce the waste stream’s value,” points out Apthorp. You can’t always see them before they’re picked up and an operator cannot safely remove them from the hopper once the can is tipped. And, he adds, it’s possible to lose a can in the hopper when using as ASL. Cans are costly to replace.
The Curotto Can is capable of handling both types of routes. Other benefits include its eyes-forward operation that keeps the driver safer, 30% increase in efficiency and 22% fuel economy, and the fact that it’s not heavy.
Automated front loaders are popular on residential routes, but with a five-second wheel stop-to-start cycle time, they work just as well on urban and rural routes as suburban ones. They can pick up 1,200–1,500 homes a day, Gentry calculates, can retrieve dropped carts, and don’t need a chase truck because they can carry it all. Plus, arm maintenance is easier and less costly.
If an arm on a Curotto can goes down, customers can remove the can and the truck can be utilized on commercial routes or the crew can quickly swap out the can. This way, the truck can be sent back out on route while the arm can stay in the shop for maintenance.
Check the contract to determine whether you need a split body or if it’s a single-stream collection route. What are you picking up? Organics leak so you will need a watertight body. “Recycled items are abrasive,” says Lefebvre, but you can add wear liners. Remember that it’s possible to “max out” with recycling on capacity, not just weight. Bulky items take up space.
Know the size of the containers being lifted and buy the proper arm, Lefebvre continues. How far are containers set out? Be sure to have enough reach on a side load truck.
There is an emerging trend of digital solutions to fleet management. Onboard systems let the manager know where the truck is, its condition, and how the system is operating. The telemetry is more advanced today, improving productivity and maintenance while increasing return on investment.
Most customers want telematics for GPS and routes, Big Truck Rental’s Martin believes. However, he adds, some haulers spend too much money for data they don’t use. “It can cost more than it saves.”
Stafford says they don’t use it. “Some customers want telematics, but the majority are large customers who already have data.” J-box data systems can record the number of stops, number of lifts, number of homes collected per hour, and the time it took to complete a route.
“We like telematics as an aftermarket solution, but we’re not the typical customer,” adds Martin. They use it to track hours, miles, speed, truck location, and the check engine light. It’s also great for tires, fuel, lights, and preventive maintenance notifications.
Isuzu has an optional Controller Area Network Interface Converter for all 2017 and newer N-Series and 2018 F-Series diesel chassis. It provides standardized CAN data signals to a customer-installed telematics device or other control unit, including body control units to support unique body operations. Data from the CAN Interface Converter module is a read-only SAE J1939 broadcast. The SAE J1939 communications network is a high-speed ISO 11898-1 CAN-based communications network that supports real-time closed loop control functions, simple information exchanges, and diagnostic data exchanges between Electronic Control Units vehicle.
Labrie offers a special data monitor for electrical systems. Customer GPS reads a Labrie cart-counting device as well as body and chassis information. It also tracks where the truck goes, truck speed, braking, and the number of times the parking brake is applied. “It’s very popular,” says Lefebvre. “Driver behavior translates to down time, fuel consumption, and repair costs, so knowing what is going on in the truck helps save money.”
Using onboard diagnostics to track headlight circuits, electrical systems, and fault codes does more than merely help with maintenance schedules. There’s a tax exemption for fuel use in PTO, that the software tracks.
Autocar’s Fuel Sense 2.0, a new, proprietary programming system through Allison Transmissions, monitors performance v. fuel economy for fuel savings. The specific characteristics are specified by the customer. You can program transmission control mode to change shift points infinitely and how engine load is engaged for load, terrain, driving style, and idle. It can achieve as much as 6% savings in fuel costs.
When a truck is empty, it has different characteristics. The Fuel Sense 2.0 program figures that out. It removes load dynamically when coasting to a stop—one of the biggest fuel savings. It changes how the converter engages and removes load. It also knows when to shift for best fuel mileage.
Playing It Safe
There are dozens of features a hauler should consider when purchasing a trash truck, but doesn’t always think about. Customers look beyond traditional specs such as cylinder size and steel containers to total cost of operation and safety, Apthorp believes.
Safety features are important. Labrie features strobe lights for safety and back-up cameras for better visibility.
Simply placing access to controls at the ground level for maintenance is a valuable safety measure.
Heil’s 3rd Eye MobileVision is an onboard safety monitoring system. “It’s the best integrated camera vision system in the refuse collection industry,” says Apthorp. “When you’re able to monitor driver safety, it provides visibility to address issues such as near-misses, accidents, idle times, unsafe behavior like speeding, and productivity issues like missing set-outs.”
Safety drove ESG to acquire 3rd Eye, Gentry says, adding that onboard monitoring systems can contribute to decreasing customer insurance claims and costs.
“It pays for itself in safety,” adds Apthorp, not to mention in productivity enhancements, driver retention, and eliminating service fraud.
Making the List
Reliability, service, and weight distribution are the keys to the right collection vehicle. The right truck not only gets the job done, it also saves the owner or operator time and money. That’s because the ideal truck is strong enough to handle the day-to-day duties of the job while also delivering state-of-the-art technology with vehicle support programs that keep the truck on the road instead of in the shop.
However, the right specs depend on the customer’s needs and the application. That’s why Autocar Trucks’ director of sales says a dealer should ask a lot of questions before the customer chooses body or transmission, CNG or diesel—body or rail mount, body, size, service hoist or lift.
Questions raise topics that may not be so obvious, such as the fact that while hydraulic components may save fuel, hydraulic controls, and designs are high-maintenance items.
It’s not always a good idea to cut costs, Lefebvre cautions. “Look at the long term.” For example, he says a crusher panel that squeezes cardboard like a compactor is an option that pays for itself over 10 years. In addition, he points out that lightweight tempered steel lasts longer.
Versatility can enhance value. Isuzu offers a vertical exhaust option on the diesel chassis to allow for clean frame rails behind the cab. This provides a wider range of body up-fit options, Tabel indicates. Isuzu class 3–5 trucks provide of upfitting options in GVWRs from 12,000 pounds to 19,500 pounds, with wheelbases to accommodate bodies up to 24 feet.
But, in the end, Lefebvre acknowledges that some “just want a good-looking truck.”