Electricians need certain tools to efficiently and cost-effectively get the job done; trucks properly equipped to store and transport these tools, equipment and supplies can be an important factor and a valuable tool in themselves. Vans remain a popular choice as an all-purpose electrician vehicle, but box vans mounted on cab-over-engine truck chassis are growing in popularity, while pickup trucks provide another option.

Whatever the type of vehicle, upfit components come in a wide selection, including storage cabinets and boxes, shelving, racks, cargo barriers and self-contained utility bodies.

While the basic categories have remained the same over the years, manufacturers say new materials and design refinements make today’s products more versatile, easier to use and more durable than ever before.

Racks, cabinets and other upfits

Delta Consolidated Industries, Chad McDonald, senior marketing manager:

“Van interiors for electricians include combinations of drawers, shelves and cabinets that are installed to the contractors’ specifications. Drawer storage units located in the bed of the van are very popular. When the van’s rear doors are open, the contractor can slide the drawer open for convenient, organized access to parts and tools stored inside. In addition, materials still can be stored in the bed of the van on top of the drawer storage unit.

“There are even more storage options for pickups. Ladder racks are often installed for longer materials and tools, such as conduit and ladders. Crossover, inner side and topside truck boxes offer secure and organized storage for materials and tools and often act as the primary toolboxes. Similar to the vans, an emerging trend reflects the desire for a drawer storage unit in the truck bed.

“Locking systems for truck boxes and drawer storage units have greatly improved, making theft nearly impossible. The improved designs and better quality of these products have increased their durability. Ease of use has been a consistent factor in developing all truck storage products, but the most substantial improvements have been made in the drawer storage units for truck and van beds.”

Knaack Manufacturing Co., Todd Trocki, product manager: “We find the most important considerations for buyers of upfit products are convenience of use; durability to withstand the elements; thought placed on security; customer service before, during and after the purchase; and installation of the product.

“Most popular upfits for conventional vans are bulkheads to protect driving area and compartmentalized, welded shelving to store electrical fittings and wire. For box vans, extra deep shelving has dividers to store electrical fittings, wire and trade-specific tools. For pickups, they are combination of saddle, cross and side boxes and pull-out drawer units to store fittings, wire and tools. Roof and bed racks to transport ladders are used on both types of vehicles.

“Vehicle products have been redesigned for enhanced user convenience, increased durability and increased security. Examples for convenience include 90 degree cover openings, level storage and 12-volt access. For durability, there are improved mounting brackets and latch linkage protection. New locks and automotive style latches improve security.

“Newest design features include low-profile boxes, deep saddle boxes and aluminum racks for pickups. For vans, there are interior roof-mounted ladder racks and exterior hydraulic-assist drop down ladder racks,” he concluded.

Leggett & Platt Commercial Vehicle Products (Masterack), John Fischer, vice president, commercial vehicle products: “Commercial vans are the industry standard for electrical contractors; however, the van market has expanded in recent years to include vehicles that the contractor can stand in and are more efficient to work out of. The high-roof van and van bodies on van-cutaways are examples of this emerging trend. Van bodies for cab-over trucks are desirable in large metro markets due to their increased GVW and amount of equipment they can carry to a job site. Service bodies are also popular and have been joined by utility service bodies with an enclosed body.

“The biggest news in cargo vans has been the introduction of composite shelving and storage systems. These products are durable, will not rust and are lightweight, which contributes to better fuel economy—a big plus in today’s economy.

“The introduction of ergonomic ladder racks has made it easier to load and unload heavy extension ladders from the roof of vans, reducing back injuries. Examples are slide down and power rack, which electrically raise and lower ladders, popular for today’s taller vehicles. As van bodies have grown in market share, there are more new shelving systems and storage products coming to the market to take advantage of the increased capacity of these vehicles.

“The quality of most commercial vehicle upfits today are greatly improved, just as the chassis they are mounted on. When comparing products, check to see what the manufacturer’s warranty is—remember upfit products are not covered in the vehicle warranty. A good upfit product warranty will match the manufacturers’ warranties. The selling dealer will not recommend products that have generated problems. Finally, check on the reputation of the installing distributor. Many are members of the National Truck Equipment Association (NTEA), which has a member-verified quality program. NTEA members that meet certain quality and safety standards display the MVP logo.”

System One Modular Truck Equipment, Dave Christensen, president: “From our product line, the most in demand upfits are work winch racks, which make securing ladders simple and quick. For a pickup truck, a work winch and full-access toolboxes make a very efficient set up. By sharing the same hole configuration, our integrated tie-down system accepts work winches.

“Full-access toolboxes are very popular with electricians because they can accommodate plastic storage bins as well as dividers, offering more accessibility and organization than ever offered before. Practically all of the electricians who purchase these toolboxes get at least one box with the combination interior-with-bins option.

“Our customers are very interested in function and in quality. Many contractors have been the less expensive route already, but they all seem to understand that you get what you pay for, and they are willing to pay more for equipment that performs better and lasts longer. All of our equipment is designed with function and longevity as the most important considerations with cost being less important.”

Truck Bodies

Cargobody Products USA, Ken Morey, president: “Early this year, we completed a plant conversion to new foam core, vacuum molded, resin injection production system, providing products with the superior strength and rigidity combined with dramatic weight savings afforded by composite construction. The standard 210-cubic-foot truck body model and a 300-cubic-foot cab-over model are both designed to fit any standard-size, half-ton to one-ton domestic pickup model with either 6-foot, 5-inch short box beds or the standard 8-foot bed. The larger models have secure side-storage compartments as well as an overhead ladder rack, which does not restrict open access to the truck bed. The standard body with 5-foot interior headroom is most popular with electrical contractors.

“Most of our bodies are purchased on a factory-direct basis and because they can be installed in a few minutes with no special tools, customers usually undertake the installation themselves. If needed, we arrange local technical support, which involves providing access to a forklift to hoist the body onto the host vehicle.”

Reading Truck Body, Matthew Gaffney, marketing communications specialist: “The classic service truck body providing convenient, secure tool and equipment storage continues to be our signature product, and 2007 models have proven [it with] new features, including ‘galvanealed’ pressed-diamond floor plate and tailgate inner panel, hidden hinges with overlapping door construction, wider automotive-grade rubber door seals and modern rectangular tail lights. For durability, powder coat paint exhibits high degrees of resistance to salt spray, corrosion humidity and scratching.

“Options introduced within the past year include a remote wireless locking system, allowing the user to simultaneously lock all of the service body compartments by use of a single keychain-type transmitter. Also available with this package is compartment lighting and an integrated audible alarm system that is used in conjunction with the wireless locking system. Other options include an extendable 250-pound-capacity ball-bearing shelf unit and an aluminum tread plate on top of the tailgate.

“For vans, a low-profile enclosed body offers the same features as the pickup body and can fit in most commercial garages.”

Purchasing options

Major truck manufacturers offer upfit packages, and local dealers often work with suppliers to install the upfits. Most large contractors purchase through dealers, while smaller companies sometimes work directly with upfit suppliers.

Recognizing the importance of proper installation, many truck dealers depend on upfit distributors to make installations.

Masterack’s Fischer suggests buyers be alert to special promotions.

“Incentives for commercial vehicle upfits have become prevalent,” he said, “so it is advisable to inquire what programs are available when purchasing a new commercial vehicle. There has certainly become a larger choice in the types of commercial vehicle available for the contractor market, and dealers have committed to the commercial market by stocking these vehicles on their lots and working with local vehicle pools to deliver customer specified vehicles in short order.” EC

GRIFFIN, a construction and tools writer from Oklahoma City, can be reached at 405.748.5256 or up-front@cox.net.