Plumbing contractors play a significant role in ensuring water systems function seamlessly, preventing leaks, ensuring proper sanitation and maintaining the overall health and safety of customer’s homes and businesses. However, whether a contractor has three employees or 300, one of the keys to success is a properly outfitted truck.
These vehicles not only enable contractors to work efficiently but also contribute to a professional image, which is essential in attracting and retaining customers. With multiple makes and models on the market and an increasing number of technology and safety features, contractors are able to customize their vehicles to their business needs.
Hilliard, Ohio-based Eco Plumbers, Electricians, and HVAC Technicians has a large fleet made up of 231 vehicles, the majority of which are Ford Transit with about 10% Ford box truck style, according to Fleet and Building Manager Jonathon Misch. The company also has a few Dodge Promasters, Ford F-Series pickup trucks and Ford Escapes.
“Generally speaking, we choose Ford for reliability, availability and ease of acquisition, Misch notes. “However, during COVID, we were forced to purchase whatever was available in the marketplace. Our vehicle features are pretty standard. Depending on the type of work we are going to do with the vehicles determines some of the guidelines I use to make purchases. Factors like add-ons such as dump beds and towing capacity play into my decision heavily.
“Picking a vehicle that can carry enough of the right materials for the technician is the number one consideration when choosing a vehicle closely followed by reliability,” he adds. “If it can’t carry what you need to carry or if it constantly needs service efficiency and productivity will both be negatively impacted.”
Fuel efficiency is also important in terms of lowering operational costs for Eco Plumbers. As such, Misch has installed a telematics and camera system in each truck that allows him to set up custom notifications based on driver behavior. “One of the notifications is based on an idling policy that allows up to seven minutes of idling after which the technician's direct supervisor is automatically notified so that they can correct their technician. I also cycle trucks out of our fleet at five years or 100,000 miles. Statistically speaking, this is the point where the vehicle typically costs more to maintain and fuel efficiency dramatically decreases.”
Plumbing franchise Z PLUMBERZ, a BELFOR Company, has 75 fleet vehicles made up of Ford Transit Extended High Roof, Promaster Extended High Roof, Promaster City and Ford Transit Connect, according to Matt O'Rourke, president of Z PLUMBERZ.
“Ultimately, COVID effected this decision based on availability and lead time,” he explains. “Our growth outpaced our fleet planning the last three years. Both have been great considering the demands in vehicles and production issues the auto manufacturers have been experiencing. Our vehicles are fully upfitted with interior ladder and pipe racks, a 2000W Inverter to run all equipment and tools as needed, interior bolt locks with alarm and auto start, additional LED lighting in the back, a full safety package including fire extinguisher, safety triangles, first aid kit, safety grab handles, seat covers and many PPE items. Each truck also features a full PACKOUT system and parts keeper rack system.”
O’Rourke notes that ZPLUMBERZ gives special consideration to its vehicle choices when it comes to navigating and parking in urban and rural areas while running jobs.
“We have the Ford Transit Connect and Promaster City for our urban areas and for our plumbers that may specialize in certain areas,” he explains. “For example, our backflow experts, estimators and managers, or those that may not be carrying or needing a full inventory or equipment needs, drive smaller vehicles.”
The ZPLUMBERZ fleet contributes tremendously to the overall efficiency and productivity of the business, O’Rourke says. “These vehicles are our ‘offices.’ We spend a ton of time not only driving, but being sure we have the majority of the parts required to complete a job, having the right tools and equipment, ensuring all of our materials are in ‘like new’ shape, and knowing where everything is. These vehicles being upfitted, stocked and organized has also helped in attracting plumbers to join the team. Ultimately, it's our team that will make the largest impact on efficiency and productivity. As managers, we have to get our team the right materials, tools and equipment and this leads to a positive culture where our team with the best vehicles contributes to our overall efficiency and productivity. We feel it starts with the vehicles. It’s all about the first impression.”
YouTube Video: Z PLUMBERZ Utility Vehicle Walk Through
According to Misch, prior to an Eco Plumbers truck being given to a technician, it is upfitted with shelving from Ranger Racks, a non-slip floor and e-track straps. “Over the years, I have fine-tuned the placement of everything to maximize efficiency and payload capacity allowing our technicians to both easily find what they need and carry more of it at a time.”
After a truck is wrapped and upfitted, it is then passed along to Eco Plumbers inventory team who orders and stocks the truck based on the department the truck is going to.
“This saves the technician time when they get a truck so they just have to put their tools on it and allows us to ensure that everyone starts with the same department-specific items on their truck,” Misch says.
O’Rourke notes that ZPLUMBERZ adds as much as possible to its fleet vehicles in order to make them a premiere work truck for its plumbers. “We have interior wall systems installed so the dings from tools and equipment don't damage the exterior of the vehicle, which is very common. The interior ladder and pipe racks are awesome, especially for the winter months in the northern part of the country. The drawers, bins and rack systems really help keep the smaller items organized. The extended length allows for any larger drain equipment and helps protect the expensive tools/equipment like the camera and locator. They're large vehicles but it makes a huge difference.”
O’Rourke agrees that ensuring vehicles are organized and efficiently stocked starts right from the time you get the truck. “It is much easier to ensure vehicles maintain inventory levels and items are organized if you label and stock prior to giving to the plumber. We use CompanyCam to take before and after pics of trucks each week. We find you have to schedule time to help our plumbers keep a maintained truck. It's hard when you just schedule call after call and never schedule an hour or two to allow the plumbers to clean and catch up. It's a hard job as it is, scheduling "truck time" helps a lot. And they appreciate it.”
Many plumbing contractors are turning to Milwaukee Tool’s PACKOUT system to help keep tools and parts organized while on the go.
“It’s important that plumbers and HVAC contractors be organized, but it’s becoming just as important that their organization work efficiently for them,” says Matt Vargo, vice president, product management at Milwaukee Tool. “It’s not uncommon for a contractor to assemble kits or go-bags that have everything they need for specific or frequent tasks. For example, keeping their press tool, jaws, and press fittings in one toolbox to quickly grab for any press jobs. Modular storage, like our PACKOUT system, give contractors the versatility and the functionality they are looking for to increase their efficiency.”
Milwaukee PACKOUT Racking Kits enable plumbing and HVAC contractors to mount shelves and E-Track throughout their vehicle, allowing them to customize and build a PACKOUT system that fits their needs, Vargo explains.
“Contractors can then connect tool boxes, drawers and crates full of their tools, supplies and service parts,” he says. “The modular connectivity of these storage solutions not only keep the vehicle organized, but allow easy transport of tools from the vehicle to their workspace.”
New features for work trucks
According to Brian Tabel, assistant vice-president of marketing, Isuzu Commercial Truck of America, Isuzu’s N-Series gas models are the most popular models for plumbing and HVAC contractors.
“Some of them just need the class 3 NPR or for some who are hauling more weight we have our class 5 NRR,” Tabel says. “Our products give our customers choices and put the right truck in the right job. With most customers driving in neighborhoods, our low cab forward design has great maneuverability to navigate tight situations and unbelievable visibility to be able to see those unwanted objects that may pop out. The optional Advanced Driver Assist System (ADAS) is growing in popularity with customers to help ensure they are made aware of the driving conditions of the road around them.”
Isuzu has been building its 2024 vehicle models since January, but its biggest change will come with its 2025 models with the introduction of the NRR EV with a whole new design, Tabel notes. “The EV will be a great addition to our product lineup of N-Series Gas class 3-5, N-Series class 4-5 with a whole new cab design, and our F-Series Cummins-powered diesel in class 6-7.”
Plumbing and HVAC contractors can look forward to a host of exciting new standard features on the 24MY Ford Transit that are tailored to meet their demands, according to Kelsey Haines, Transit brand marketing manager, Ford Pro.
“The inclusion of a 12V power point as a standard feature provides convenient, on-the-go charging for essential devices, ensuring that contractors stay connected and operational,” Haines says. “Also, the 253-degree rear door now comes standard, offering easy access to tools and equipment, making work more efficient and safer. Additionally, Cruise Control is now standard, offering a more relaxed and fuel-efficient driving experience during long trips between job sites. Over-the-air updates are advancing alongside connected services, operators expect the vehicle to get smarter as they learn from the driver. These thoughtfully designed features not only add value but also significantly enhance the day-to-day operations for plumbing and HVAC contractors.”
Haines notes that contractors want features focused on making life easier on the job, more productive in day-to-day operations and improved uptime.
“For 24MY Ford Transit cargo vans, assorted styles of fixed shelving are available as optional features to hold racks and bins which help keep equipment securely stored between jobs,” she explains. “Additionally, bulkheads and front overhead shelving can be included. A standout feature has been E-Transit Pro Power Onboard, which allows contractors to power tools, laptops or any other necessary equipment before, during, or after a job directly from the van. Technicians are getting in and out of their vans tens of times a day, so the lower cab-to-ground ratio enables a more ergonomic experience for the operator’s joints and knees. They also do not want to hunch over while grabbing equipment or tools, so the high-roof Transit has been a great solution for them.”
Safety is also a paramount concern for contractors, Haines notes. “This is something we at Ford Pro hear all the time and it has been a major focus in designing the Transit lineup, which offers a comprehensive suite of standard and optional safety features,” she says. “Standard safety features on the Transit lineup collectively provide an extra layer of security, ensuring that both drivers and their assets are protected. These features include Forward Collision Warning, Hill Start Assist, Post Collison Breaking, Side Wind Stabilization, Ford Co-Pilot 360, High Resolution Digital camera, Advance Trac with Stability Roll, Autolocking drive away with crash unlocking, SOS post-crash alert system and more.
EVs and technology
Ford Pro has noticed a growing interest from service contractors in electric vehicles. The company is investing more than $50 billion in EVs globally through 2026, Haines says.
“One compelling reason for this trend is the financial advantage that comes with electric vehicle (EV) ownership,” she explains. “Service contractors can benefit from a variety of state, local and federal tax incentives. We strongly encourage businesses to consult with their tax experts or accountants to maximize these financial benefits.
“The E-Transit is not just about cost-saving incentives; it's also engineered for the job,” Haines continues. “With fewer moving parts compared to traditional Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles, the E-Transit requires less scheduled maintenance, reducing the likelihood of downtime due to unplanned repairs. The benefit of improved uptime for a fleet can significantly enhance productivity and profitability for our commercial customers. In fact, E-Transit owners can expect 40% fewer scheduled maintenance costs compared to their gas-powered counterparts, providing another boost to their bottom line.”
Contractors are also looking for new technology features in their work trucks. All modem-equipped Ford vehicles come standard with Telematics Essentials, Ford’s entry-level telematics service, Haines notes. “This complimentary one-year offering transforms the health and maintenance of your fleet into actionable insights. From near real-time engine diagnostic codes to odometer readings and recall information, you get a full-spectrum view of your fleet's health. And you can effortlessly schedule maintenance and repairs directly through the application, thereby boosting uptime and productivity.”
For those who require more robust data analytics, Ford Pro Telematics includes real-time GPS tracking, geofencing and driver behavior insights.
“If you're eyeing one of Ford Pro’s electric vehicles, E-Telematics has you covered,” Haines says. “It not only includes all the capabilities of Ford Pro Telematics but extends additional functionalities like real-time charge and range status, remote preconditioning, and tools for managing home charging reimbursements. Additionally, our Charge Insights dashboard lets you track your progress toward sustainability goals.”
Tabel notes that Isuzu’s new 2025 EV will be its first vehicle that will be connected so that the driver or fleet manager can monitor how the vehicle is operating at any given time. “The introduction of our EV will be a major step for Isuzu, but we have had our Gas or diesel options for customers to choose the right power for their business.”