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Box Trucks, Cab-Chassis Trucks

Updated 5/17/10

A box truck, also known as a “cab-chassis” truck, is different than a step van, primarily because the body, or “box”, sits on the chassis instead of being built around a strip-chassis (the frame). A cab chassis manufacturer such as Chevrolet or Freightliner supplies a road-ready truck which includes a completely enclosed cab. Picture a Ford F-150 pickup truck with its bed removed. You see the cab, then frame rails behind it. The truck is drivable as it is but needs some sort of body to be complete.

The two main cab chassis truck styles are the straight truck (GMC Topkick, International 4300) and cab-over(Isuzu W5500) or tilt cab (UD/Nissan). Side note: when people say box truck in the tool business, they usually mean an Isuzu cabover or it's GMC and Chevy versions, although an International 4300 and GMC C5500 could also be considered a box truck. Gets a little confusing. Also confusing is GM's exit of the medium-duty truck market in 2009. The C5500/6500/7500 series was a well-respected truck line, we're sorry to see it go.

Back to the cab-chassis. After purchase by a Tool Truck builder, the cab chassis is shipped to a body company such as Supreme Industries or Utilimaster. An aluminum or FRP - "Fiberglas reinforced plywood" - body is built and installed on the chassis. It's bolted down to the frame and sits on the frame rails.

Box-type bodies are separate units and can usually be built in advance of the chassis arriving. Go down to Supreme and you will see completed bodies sitting on racks, waiting for a chassis.

Some advantages of the box truck are a comfortable driver area that was designed by the truck manufacturer, better highway driving, flat body interior floor (no wheel wells), and interchangeability of the box to another truck. Another advantage is greater availability at truck dealerships, which sometimes results in faster delivery than a step van. Truck dealerships can stock a cab-chassis without a body and configure it after the sale in different ways for the purchaser, whether it is for landscaping, wrecker service, or tool sales. A disadvantage of the Box truck is the lack of access to the cargo area from the cab unless an opening is cut by either the body company or the truck interior builder. Some box trucks, in particular the tilt cabs such as the Isuzu/GMC/Chevrolet W4/W4500/W5500 series, and the UD 1200 – 1600 series, cannot be modified for access at all because of the tilt feature; you have to walk around.

Opening access to the rear cargo area from the cab is accomplished by cutting a hole in both cab and body. The opening can be either a full walk-thru – about 60” – 66” tall - or crawl-thru, an opening about 42” tall. Many tool dealers want to be able to make the move from cab to rear and vice versa without leaving the vehicle, especially on rainy days.

Compared to a step van, the drivability of a box truck is usually smoother and almost always quieter due to the enclosed cab. On the highway they are pretty decent to drive.

Cab-chassis trucks are manufactured by all the major truck builders (except GM), and are available in a wide range of GVWs, from 14,250 lbs. GVW to over 33,000 lbs. GVW. The box truck is used more often in the commercial truck world outside the tool business, and as mentioned above, has greater availability on dealership lots. New box trucks for 2010 for the tool business start around $76,000 (Isuzu/GMC). The larger trucks are in the $100,000 - $125,000 range (International/Freightliner M2) and can exceed $140,000 (Kenworth, Peterbilt, International 26' ) in medium-duty configuration.

Tool Truck Body Styles

The Step Van; the P30

The Medium Duty Truck