So you want to upfit your service vehicles? Read this first.

Your customer base is growing and you need more rubber on the road.

You’ve hired new technicians and you need to get them to the job.

Your old one broke down on Hwy 45.

Whatever the reason, making the decision to upfit a new plumbing service truck is an important one, and therefore should not be taken lightly.

In this article we’ll discuss what you need to know when looking to buy and customize a new vehicle for your business.

Taking Stock

What’s the biggest mistake a contractor makes when he purchases a new van or truck? Using the “homemade” approach.

“Many buy an empty box, and then try to add shelves, or off-the-shelf units that ultimately don’t fit,” says Mike Pearson, national sales manager for Hackney Specialized Vehicles Corp. “They underestimate their need for inventory organization in putting together a productive and efficient service vehicle.”

Your truck is more than a rolling billboard for your company. It’s your warehouse on wheels. As with a bricks and mortar warehouse, it’s the racks and shelves that make the difference and affect the return on investment.

Also, your trucks are much smaller than a warehouse, so the need for good organization and space utilization is even more important, Pearson points out. “The concept is to literally move the warehouse to the service truck, and make a one-stop call with all the parts and tools necessary to finish the job.”

PM columnist Maurice Maio agrees. “Carrying minimal inventory may require the technician to leave the jobsite, with all the accompanying risks of customer dissatisfaction, work delays, and the expense of traveling around to supply houses,” Maio says. “The more you can make the truck self-sufficient, the better off both the company and the technician will be. The risk of not having the right part far outweighs the cost of stocking the truck.”

Contractors can find assistance with upfits through their dealers, advises Todd Trocki, product manager for Knaack Mfg. Co. Companies such as Ford and Chevy offer incentive packages when you purchase through them. The van shelves are installed and the work is done before you pick up your vehicle. However, don’t expect it to be completely tailored to a plumber’s needs.

“There is definitely an advantage to customizing a vehicle’s interior solutions,” says Trocki. “Invest in the future of the vehicle. Take it to an upfitting distributor and have it tailored to your trade. The more specific you get, the more efficient you are on the job.”

Here are some of the accessories and specialty storage that plumbers find useful:

  • High dividers and slope dividers in bins help keep individual fittings from intermingling as the truck rolls.
  • Drawer compartments with rubber-grip at the bottom keep items from shifting.
  • Trays should be heavy duty and high quality to stand up to the abuse caused by mobile storage and heavier parts.
  • Assorted brackets can be used for hanging tools on the rear doors for quick and easy access.
  • A pipe vise receiver can be built into a bench or the rear bumper, with a slide-out mounting plate for storage overnight.
  • And don’t forget a Class III trailer hitch to tow a jetter, backhoe and more.

Tie It Down

Nothing organizes a plumber better than a 5-gallon bucket, right? But where do you put this tool when it’s time to hit the road and keep it from overturning or sliding around?

“Either build a space into the layout for a specific piece of equipment or provide track to attach strapping to hold it,” says Pearson. As an example, Hackney trucks provide an open space on either side for water heater storage, and a retaining angle on the floor to keep toolboxes and buckets from sliding about.

Hackney shelving is also attached to vertical unistrut midsections, so the tracks are already a part of the storage system, making it easier to tie down large items and equipment.

Securing pipe lengths and ladders is another plumbing concern. WeatherGuard gets the ladder off the floor of your van with its Sliding Ladder Rack (model No. 250). It uses a unique tension-locking system that runs along a rail, which is attached to the interior roof of a vehicle. No need for buckles, latches or straps.

It holds up to an 8-foot step, extension or multiposition ladder. Once secure, it doesn’t protrude further than the thickness of the ladder, and a simple push disengages it for use on the job.

If you decide to utilize the exterior of your vehicle for storage, watch for metal-on-metal friction - a sure-fire way toward rust, wear and corrosion.

“A ladder that’s exposed to the elements can get condemned by an inspector, leaving you without a ladder on a project and costing you time and money,” warns Michael Sover, senior product manager for Knaack.

For safety, liability, security, cleanliness and design aesthetics, Hackney prefers to keep everything possible inside the truck and off the roof. “We provide pipe and ladder racks inside the body, as well as an exterior swing-out rack mounted low in the side skirt for 20-foot pipe lengths or long extension ladders,” Pearson says.

WeatherGuard's Pack Rat features long, low storage for pick-up trucks, which can make finding secure locations for your tools tricky.

“Pork chop” boxes, too, utilize wasted wheel well space and become additional storage.

Ergonomically Speaking

The industry is ripe for back, knee, leg and neck strain. Upfitting a truck to address the wear and tear on your body as well as your equipment is time well-spent.

Ergonomics on board can be addressed through a variety of ways:

  • Install a crane for lifting unwieldy equipment, such as drain cleaning tools, boilers, PEX rolls or cameras.
  • A rear or side ramp in a pull-out design can take the backache out of loading and uloading, as well as climbing up and into the truck. (Pearson says the ramp can also be used as a “legless” workbench when partially pulled out.)
  • Reduce rear-entrance clearance with a recessed stepwell for a walk-in body.
  • Low storage (either exterior or interior) keeps items off the roof and within easy reach.

Design And Conquer

WeatherGuard Vehicle Solutions® software makes designing a storage system around your vehicle easy, fast and flexible. An online version can be accessed through, where contractors can use the company’s 3D Design Tool to customize their trucks in four steps. Its interface requires no measuring, or advanced technical or product knowledge - just choose your vehicle, your trade, drag-and-drop your accessories, and view your virtual truck from all angles.

“So through the Web site, a plumber can get a vehicle storage solution for his truck in no time,” Trocki says. You can automatically request a quote, or send your creation to a local WeatherGuard distributor to turn your wish list into a reality.

Hackney is a custom manufacturer, and strives to provide - within reason and budget - what its customers need.

“A contractor commits a sizable investment in time and money to purchase and properly upfit a body for professional-level service to his customers and his image in the community,” Pearson says. But what happens when his truck wears out? It could mean selling it off, purchasing a new chassis, and starting the upfit process all over again.

However, Hackney bodies are designed to be re-mounted. “So move the body to a new chassis and it’s back on the road with minimum downtime and expense,” Pearson says. “It is at this point that return on investment becomes a very clear concept regarding service trucks.”

Trocki urges contractors to think of their trucks as business tools. “Take the time to plan what you’ll need. One or two days in the beginning might seem unnecessary, but it pays off in the long run.”

Pearson agrees. “There is an old saying: ‘A quality tool doesn’t cost, it pays.’ We think this is certainly the case with a properly designed and equipped service truck.”

More Truck Tips

  • Keep it off the floor and out of the aisle.
  • Get it in a box, bin, tray or tie it down.
  • Divide and label - the more the better.
  • Have enough inventory to do the job on the first call.
  • Have enough space in your truck to store the inventory you need.