Equipment

Test Drive: CNG F-650 Dump Truck

April 2015, TruckingInfo.com - Test Drives

by Tom Berg - Also by this author

The F-650 offers the same cab choices as other Super Duty trucks. This one’s long crew cab required a lengthy wheelbase, but the steering gear’s tight wheel cut allowed great maneuverability. 
The F-650 offers the same cab choices as other Super Duty trucks. This one’s long crew cab required a lengthy wheelbase, but the steering gear’s tight wheel cut allowed great maneuverability.

Out in my front yard, off to one side, is a money pit — not a sinkhole like down in Florida, but a new two-stall carport. It’s “stick-built” out of 4x4s, 6x8s and other pieces of strong wood, the vertical posts concreted deep into the mid-Ohio clay soil, and has a four-sided hip roof with textured Timberline shingles to match the roof on our house. Before it was erected, I had a pad of ¾-inch stone prepared. And by coincidence, Ford Commercial Truck was planning to send me this F-650 crew-cab dump truck to try out.

“OK if I haul some stone with it?” I asked Mike Levine, Ford’s public relations guy. “Sure, that’s fine,” he said. My excavating contractor, Jerry Perkins, said the F-650 would be ideal for this because it wouldn’t be so heavy that it would break up my asphalt driveway. And I observed that it was maneuverable enough to make right-angle turns from the driveway onto the new path leading to the pad.

He used the backhoe bucket on his small Kubota tracked excavator to scrape sod off the lawn and load it into the dump bed. I took it to a materials dealer in Westerville, about 6 miles south. From there I made several trips hauling nearly 20 cubic yards of number 57 crushed limestone to my building site.

While driving I checked the truck’s fit and finish, which were rather good, and noticed that its Super Duty crew cab was trimmed much like an F-350’s. In fact, this F-650 cruised along a lot like a big pickup, at least while empty, and I punched on the cruise control and enjoyed the ride. At 45 mph the engine loafed at about 2,000 rpm, and at 65 mph it spun at 2,400. It was quiet except when I had my foot on it, but even then wasn’t noisy.

Five tons was the correct payload, because the Class 6 truck’s tare weight was about 15,500 pounds. While loaded it definitely felt heftier; the engine had to work during acceleration and its beefy 11R22.5 tires whined on the cold pavement. The 6.8-liter V-10 had plenty of power but, like most gasoline engines, it had to rev, often to 3,500 rpm or so, and 4,000 out on the highway, to make the horses. I got the 6-speed TorqShift transmission to upshift sooner than that by easing off the go-pedal each time. With 10 cylinders working it sounded busy but was always smooth, as was the tranny.

The big V-10 is strong and fairly quiet, though it revs high, well above 3,000 rpm, to make power. 
The big V-10 is strong and fairly quiet, though it revs high, well above 3,000 rpm, to make power.

But in this case it wasn’t running gasoline, but compressed natural gas. The V-10 engine was made to run on gasoline, but it had the “gaseous preparation package” with hardened valves and valve seats, so will also burn propane or natural gas, according to Todd Kaufman, the F-Series chassis-cab manager.

Approved vendors have conversion kits for either. The gas system in this truck was made and installed by Impco, a prominent upfitter. It included the engine fuel system and three Type 1 steel tanks for compressed natural gas in a cabinet behind the cab; the fuel could also be stored in liquefied form, but a cryogenic tank is more expensive and the extra range possible with super-cold gas would not be necessary in this type of truck, which would run locally.

The big ten in my demo truck ran fine. The PTO for the dump bed’s electric hoist was a little fussy, but it did work: The engine revved up a bit and the bed rose and poured out the sod and stone. It did so only when the tranny was in Park and the parking brake set, and it cut out if the brake or gas pedal were touched. That meant the truck couldn’t spread the stone, but the contractor preferred to move the stone with the blade on his excavator, so no problem.

A 5-ton load of stone was about right for the just-over (by 807 pounds) Class 6 truck. Volvo loader’s operator was one of four folks who admired the Ford’s looks.
A 5-ton load of stone was about right for the just-over (by 807 pounds) Class 6 truck. Volvo loader’s operator was one of four folks who admired the Ford’s looks.

Before sending the truck back to Ford, I made it a point to find a CNG station and pump some gas into its tanks. I’d never done that before, so I watched a couple of YouTube instructional videos beforehand. It was easy, and less messy than pumping gasoline or diesel, too. I paid $2.30 per GGE, which was a little high, as the other six or so stations in the Columbus, Ohio, area had it priced at $1.80 to $2.00, according to an online listing. (Those prices have dropped, along with gasoline and diesel, since last year.) The catch
was, the other stations weren’t open to the public. The lesson here is to secure a fueling source and get a long-term commitment before buying any gas trucks. Then drive to the bank.

By the way, the gas station attendant remarked: “That’s sure a nice-looking truck!” Those are almost the same words used by the guy who loaded the stone at the materials yard, and Jerry the contractor, and my wife, who eyeballed the truck when it arrived in our driveway. What do you think? Not so incidentally, the carport cost me about $5,500, and it’s not done. One estimate to cover that stone with concrete was $3,200, and it’ll be another $2,000 to $3,000 to enclose it, making a garage. And I might lengthen it a few feet. What have I gotten myself into?

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