Cool Tools: Vehicle Upfits

By Jeff Griffin | Jul 15, 2013




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In the April issue of Electrical Contractor, several truck companies described features of their latest models marketed to electricians, electrical contracting companies and other construction trades.

Fuel economy, payload and hauling capacities, and durability are only a few important factors when considering truck purchases. To be an efficient work vehicle, a van’s cargo space or open pickup bed must be “upfitted” to meet a contractor’s specific needs.

Vans of various types and sizes still are the most popular service truck choice with electrical contracting companies. Pickups that have storage and rack upfits or are equipped with complete utility bodies are other options. Box vans mounted on cab-forward vehicles continue to grow in popularity because they offer more cargo space and the option of a stand-up work area. A wide range of storage and other upfits also are available for cargo trailers.

An upfitted service truck helps the EC organize tools, equipment, supplies and frequently used replacement parts, enabling an electrician to work more efficiently and productively. Vans with storage can be stocked for easy access, avoiding wasted time spent searching for items and reducing trips back to the shop or supply house, so there’s more work time for actually working.

Truck dealers are prepared to assist buyers with upfits and may offer some upfit products, but specialist companies who work with truck dealerships often provide the tool boxes, cabinets, storage spaces and racks. From the buyer’s perspective, many truck and upfit customers prefer the single-source, turnkey delivery provided by commercial truck dealers. 

Companies with 25 or fewer vehicles typically purchase vehicles from dealers and take them to a local upfit distributor for equipment installation.

Most commercial truck managers understand vehicle needs for various trades, including electricians, and they maintain working relationships with both vehicle dealers and upfit distributors who carry quality upfit products and can correctly install them. Working with the commercial truck manager, the truck dealers and upfit distributors can provide quality products that meet all customer needs.

Truck manufacturer assistance

“Upfitting is available through all GM truck dealers,” said Joseph Langhauser, product manager for vans and mobility, GM Fleet and Commercial Operations. “Some options, like ladder racks and bulkheads, are available directly from General Motors, and savvy business customers know to look for a Business Elite dealer to help facilitate acquiring customized solutions to meet the specific business objectives of the electrical vocation. Upfitters are reporting that essential upfit products for electricians are wire-storage products like reel holders.

“Most electricians are having a lot of drawer units installed to store small electrical components like connectors, fuses and fittings. Electricians almost always have a ladder rack on top of their van and a conduit carrier on that ladder rack for safe transportation of conduit to the job site. Pull-out drawer units also are popular to easily access cargo from the side and rear doors. Cargo, such as expensive power tools or testing equipment, is locked in these drawer units for security.”

Another essential upfit, Langhauser said, is vehicle graphics. Work trucks make a great source of inexpensive advertising for any business.

Ram works with a number of upfitters to help support dealer inventory needs, said Mike Ring, head of small business sales and operations, Chrysler Group LLC.

“These partnerships allow us to offer various upfits to meet the needs of contractors,” he said. “This minimizes the amount of time our customer has to wait for a truck upfitted to their spec. All regular cab versions of the Ram 3500, 4500 and 5500 Chassis Cab models come from the factory with instructions for upfitters on proper removal of the rear panel. Because the instructions were created and approved by Ram commercial truck engineers, the cutaway design retains the structural integrity of the truck. The new cutaway option is an important feature for upfitters who build vehicles that require walk-through applications.”

Ram 1500 and 2500 trucks also are available with RamBox, a cargo-management system. Ring said two weatherproof, lockable, drainable, lighted storage bins run the length of the pickup bed and are as wide as the wheel well, creating a total of 8.6 cubic feet of space. These side bins are large enough to hold toolboxes, cable, chainsaws, or beverage cans and ice. RamBox side bins create storage along the sides of the pickup bed in space previously untouched due to wheel-well intrusion. Lids include swing hinges with intermediate and full-open positions that lift the lid 90 degrees perpendicular to each side.

Specialist upfitters

Truck companies and dealers have arrangements with various upfitter specialists, including Leggett & Platt (Masterack), Knaack and Adrian Steel. Upfit manufacturers websites are a good source for information about available products and for comparing features.

The Masterack Division of Leggett & Platt has a network of more 350 distributor/installation partners who support local and regional fleets with upfit requirements. The Masterack van upfit product line includes steel, composite and wire cargo-management systems and accessories. Prepackaged van interior components are available for various trades. An electrician’s van package contains lockable cabinets with plenty of drawers for small parts and wire-spool storage. Masterack upfits installed by approved distributors are warranteed for three years or 36,000 miles.

Jenn Voelker, marketing manager for Masterack, said that most truck buyers today are seeking ways to increase fuel efficiency of their trucks.

“Vehicles that operate on alternative fuels is one solution,” Voelker said. “Another way is to reduce the weight inside the vehicle, and cargo-management systems made of aluminum, wire and composites can achieve that. ­Masterack currently offers many such options, including QuietFlex and CSS product lines, which are composite systems and weigh up to 30 percent less than traditional steel systems, resulting in significant fuel savings. Coming to market in the fall of 2013 is an all-new composite cargo management system, SmartSpace, a highly configurable storage system specifically designed for use in the new high-cube cargo vans coming to market in fall 2013, including the Ford Transit and Ram ProMaster, as well as smaller fleet vehicles such as the Ford Transit Connect and Nissan NV200.”

Voelker said customers order ­Masterack upfits through vehicle dealerships or from Masterack distributors. A popular option is ship-though services with the vehicle shipped from OEM to upfitter and on to the delivering dealership.

“Many OEMs offer cash upfit assistance of up to $1,500,” she said.

Knaack Weather Guard truck cargo products include van roof racks, bulkheads, shelving and special storage options and accessories equipped with drawer organizers, cable reel racks and conduit carriers. Weather Guard pickup accessories include new low-profile side boxes that complement a complete line of low-profile saddle boxes that mount just above the bed rail to keep rear sight lines open. Automotive-style latches provide one-touch opening. Pickup truck ladder and conduit racks also 
are available.

Adrian Steel ( cargo van equipment and accessories include safety partitions, shelving, drawers, cabinets, files, hooks and accessories. Trade packages are designed to best use interior spaces. Packages for box and walk-in vans include shelving, bins, drawers, cabinets, interior ladder racks and various accessories. New is the EZ Load ladder rack that moves the ladder off the end of the crossbow and lowers it for easy handling. A large selection of cargo trailer accessories includes shelving units, drawer and cabinet modules, lockers, storage bins and ladder racks. The company also offers an online design tool that allows creation of personalized identity programs for vans 
and pickups.

Unconventional upfits

For many electricians, vans and pickups are much more than a vehicle to carry tools, supplies and equipment; they are offices on wheels. With today’s wireless networks and smartphones, tablets, and laptop computers, field personnel are in immediate contact with the office and vendors and can download plans and other documents wherever they are.

Jotto Desk ( offers a full line of laptop desks, mounts and stands for major truck brands, and they install in minutes with simple hand tools. The desktop can be adjusted to different positions and can be quickly removed when not needed. The base can be easily exchanged among vehicles. Available accessories include screen holders, side tables for compact printers, night lights, table stands, and mobile phone holders. Talking on mobile phones while driving is discouraged and texting while driving is outlawed in many states, but hands-free phone devices are useful when using the computer or doing other tasks when using a truck as a mobile office.

Finally, GPS devices can save hours by quickly directing service and delivery trucks to their designations and are available today for $100 and up.

About The Author

GRIFFIN, a construction journalist from Oklahoma City, can be reached at [email protected].





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