Public sector fleet managers are constantly looking for ways to stretch taxpayer dollars. Vehicle and equipment procurement can be the biggest expense for fleets, so finding ways to cut back on those costs can lead to savings.
Purchasing multipurpose equipment that can be used in all four seasons is one way to cut back on costs.
“There’s nothing that costs you more money than an asset that's sitting, if you're not using it. It’s costing you a lot of money. So whatever you can do to make sure it's a good year-round use is what you shoot for,” said Kevin Schlangen, CPFP, CAFM, CEM, fleet manager for Dakota County, Minnesota.
Taking on Winter Weather in the Snow Belt
Dakota County is part of the Snow Belt. Because of the heavy snow the area gets, the fleet department has to use tandem axle trucks to plow snow. Dakota County has 27 of them.
These heavy-duty trucks can be upfitted with front-mounted plows, wing plows, and underbody snow and ice scrapers. Additionally, the trucks can be used for direct liquid application to get snow and ice off roadways.
With interchangeable bodies, the trucks can be upfitted for different jobs throughout the year, taking on the job of four different vehicles or pieces of equipment. The equipment used to upfit a truck is cheaper than purchasing four separate vehicles to use for each job.
“You take maintenance tasks that could have you purchasing another $125,000 chassis, and now you're turning it into another usable asset to your fleet for a fraction of the cost,” Schlangen said. “Many times, even just the different components is $25,000 for this. So you spend $25,000 instead of $125,000.”
In the warmer months, trucks like this can be used as water trucks with a water tank, or for hauling equipment with a flatbed.
The trucks can also be used to create a barrier when crews are out doing work on roadways, with the addition of crash attenuators.
It’s important to remember that certain types of vehicles — like dump trucks — can be upfitted in a multitude of ways for various applications. If you don’t plan well, they can end up sitting vacant during the summer months.
“It requires more engineering and discussion of what you’re going to do,” Schlangen said.
Here’s one way to look at it: Dakota County has 27 dump trucks it uses as plows during the winter. Throughout the rest of the year, the county doesn’t need 27 dump trucks. Instead, the fleet management team uses those trucks to perform other jobs.
“For Dakota County around half the snow plow trucks are needed as dump trucks year round. The idea is to find a use for the other snow plow trucks in the summer. The other half, you convert so that you’re using them year-round," Schlangen explained. “It's just trying to make sure that that $300,000 snow plow truck doesn't just have one use.”
Utilizing Vehicles During All Four Seasons
Larry Campbell, CPFP, recently retired fleet operations director for Fort Wayne, Indiana, likes to call these multiuse vehicles ‘switch-and-go’s', which is the name of one brand that sells these units. In Fort Wayne, as many as 60 trucks of varying sizes are used in the winter for plowing and salting.
During the summer months, they are converted to be used for chipper boxes or asphalt pavers. During leaf season in the fall, different tarp systems are added for leaf collection bodies.
Because weather can vary throughout the year, not all trucks and equipment are converted as soon as a new season begins. It’s not uncommon to see some snow in the early spring in Fort Wayne.
Typically, the fleet team converts the newer trucks to take on jobs for the incoming season, and keeps the older trucks ready in case there is unexpected weather.
Using different bodies on truck chassis to collect things like leaves, woodchips, or other materials can also help fleets cut down on the number of trucks needed, by using a system like a 'switch-and-go' debris body. Once one box is full, it can be offloaded or replaced with an empty one for additional collection.
“They can go pick up the full box, empty it, and bring it back to the job site. So one truck is doing what two trucks would be doing,” Campbell said.
Purchasing attachments that perform specialty jobs can also help fleets avoid purchasing a specialty vehicle that is only used on rare occasions.
In Fort Wayne, brush chippers are generally only needed after storms to break down debris, so a single vehicle that performs only that task is not needed.
“You can have several different types of attachments to go on to that truck, but only have one truck. Those attachments could get twice the life out of them as a chassis would be able to,” Campbell added. "You need to track the attachment utilization just like you would the truck chassis."
What if You Don’t Get Snow?
Not every fleet is going to need a lot of winter equipment. But there are still ways to use vehicles for multiple applications. The city of Greenville, South Carolina, has a Multihog. The unit is an articulating, AWD vehicle that has the ability to utilize several different attachments, Fleet Manager Scott McIver, CPFP, said.
The unit can be used to grind concrete and asphalt, pressure-wash roads and sidewalks, vac up leaves and debris, water plants, and the list goes on depending on what attachment is being used.
The city does have a snow plow attachment, but it’s rarely used.
“This one machine has taken the place of at least six other pieces of equipment. It has allowed us to reallocate the labor force to more needed areas,” McIver said.
Retrofitting the Multihog doesn’t take long, either. The machine has a quick change coupling that makes changing attachments a one-person job and can be done in a matter of minutes.
Don’t Discount Off-Road Equipment
“You can make [use of them] for multiple seasons,” Schlangen said. “Most of our tractors have a snowblower, a sweeper, a plow, a mower, and it pulls a rubber tire roller. We end up with year-round use, [whereas] some agencies don't buy all those attachments and they only get one season or one area of use out of it.”
Cutting Maintenance Costs
Cutting down on the number of vehicles and equipment you need to purchase isn’t the only way multipurpose vehicles can lead to cost savings; fewer vehicles and equipment also mean less maintenance.
“You don’t have to maintain as many pieces of equipment, so your fluid costs drop, your parts on hand drop, and by extension, your part inventory carrying costs drop. Labor costs and allocation drop,” McIver said. “Fleet utilization goes up because if you have multiple units that can only do a single job, they sit waiting until they are needed. A multi-function machine has very little to no sitting because it can be used for all the jobs.”
Purchasing Multipurpose Vehicles
Before purchasing any asset — whether on- or off-road — Schlangen said it’s important to lay out how exactly it will be used. This requires talking to the department that will be using the asset.
“You have to have a conversation with your user group of what they want to get done. They always want to tell you what to buy. But the conversation has to be: what work are they trying to perform? And how can they do it safely? Sometimes they're going to ask for one thing, but the reality is, if you buy something else similar, they can still do their job, but it can be used for multiple areas,” Schlangen said. “If you only have that conversation after you’ve purchased the [vehicle or equipment], you've missed the boat already.”
It's also important to spec the vehicle chassis to ensure it can do the work of the attachment functions you intend to use the chassis for, Campbell added.
Here are a few things to consider when discussing and planning a new asset purchase:
- What specific jobs the asset will complete.
- How much horsepower it will need.
- How much weight the asset will carry – not only for the body, but also for what the body will be carrying.
- How many axles it will need.
- What attachments or equipment it will need.
Ultimately, Campbell said, it all comes down to two things: budgeting and utilization.