trucks used in the business of selling automotive hand tools
and equipment to auto technicians, dealerships, shop owners,
aviation hangers, and wherever specialty tools are used, are
known simply as “ Tool Trucks “. To the casual eye
they may look like just ordinary step vans or box trucks with
a tool company logo on the side and liftgate on the back. But
once you take a peek inside, you will see why a new tool truck
costs more than most luxury cars: tool truck interiors are literally
rolling showrooms, a mobile tool store. The best are designed
to efficiently display and demo tools and equipment for sale,
while carrying a large inventory to allow for ongoing and impulse
Tool truck interior designs are based upon input from
the tool companies and their dealers and distributors. Standard
additions to the basic bare truck body include insulated walls
and ceiling, shelving, lighting, a security system, and creature
comforts such as AC, propane heat, and Liftgate. More optioned
vehicles can include a diesel furnace, security cameras, DVD
players and LCD flip down monitor, chrome pegboard ceiling,
glass and chrome display cases, and much, much more. Everything
has to be heavy-duty and competently constructed to withstand
the continuous weight load of the tools and the steady foot
traffic and constant looking around of customers, while offering
a good shopping experience. In a well-designed tool truck, the
interior display area is as user-friendly and functional as
any good hardware or retail store. Sometimes the truck is a
technicians only refuge on a hot summer day, and a welcome break
from a hard job.
What makes the tool business unique, of course, is
the way tool dealers and distributors take their products directly
to their target customer, the professional automotive technician.
Rather than renting a store in a strip mall and waiting for
customers to walk in, the tool dealer drives the store, literally
a rolling showroom, a mobile tool store, to his - or her - customers.
Properly laid out, it is literally a store on wheels, and it
offers a complete sales environment every time, everywhere it
goes. Tool sales interiors are also being built in trailers
such as Pace and Featherlite, so a tool distributor who owns
a dually Ford or GM pickup for his boat or camper gets double
duty out of this vehicle.
Running a regular route, most tool distributors stop by their
customer’s workplace at least once a week, usually on
the same day and the best stop at approximately the same time.
Tool Truck construction
The manufacturing process of tool trucks has evolved from the
industrious do-it-yourselfers of the 1960’s into the capable
hands of a dedicated and technologically-sophisticated group
of interior manufacturers, or tool truck “builders”.
Literally the first tool trucks were often put together in the
dealer's backyard. Today there are approximately 10 specialized
tool truck builders across North America. Tool truck builders
start with an empty step van, box, or cab-chassis truck, and
customize it to an extent that compares very favorably to the
best RVs and motor coaches on the market, albeit a commercial
Starting up front, the driver's area is of high importance.
R elatively little modification of the cab in a cab-chassis
truck is done; after all, who does it better than the original
truck manufacturer? The driver’s area of a step van has
to be a little more "built out" to make it comfortable;
the walls and roof are bare aluminum. The builder usually builds
a shelf across the engine cover and one across the front of
the truck above the windshield, and finishes the walls and ceiling
with carpet or pegboard. With either style of truck, the real
work begins in back, in the cargo area, known in the industry
as the “interior” (a common question at tool meetings
is who built your interior?). And because tool truck bodies
range in size from 16’ to 28’, there is a lot of
work to do. Sidenote: when someone says they have an 18' tool
truck, by industry practice they are referring to the inside
dimensions of the cargo area. In a step van, this is the measurement
from the driver’s seat to the rear doors. In a cab-chassis
truck, the number we are quoting is the length of the “box”
itself, i.e., 24’. The actual measurement loses about
6" due to interior pegboard and insulation.
When a tool truck order is received, some sort of computer-drafting
drawings are produced with exact specifications, also known
as a build sheet. The cabinet makers and assemblers pore over
the plans and begin the conversion process. Holes in the body
are cut as needed, modifications made, and special durable flooring
installed over the standard aluminum floor, usually on a plywood
sub-floor. The exact locations and techniques of the various
modifications are closely guarded tool truck builder company
secrets, hard- earned over years of experience. Because everything
is custom, there aren't usually any wiring diagrams or assembly
manuals available, but because the truck builders are in a very
competitive business, they will usually provide this information
Hundreds of feet of wire are pulled and run from end
to end of the interior to accommodate all the electrical functions
of a modern tool truck: lights, security system, auxiliary power
outlets, liftgate, furnace, backup camera, and sound system.
Then the larger components such as the AC units, hydraulic lift
gate, and auxiliary generator are installed. At this point it
still does not resemble a tool truck, with wires dangling everywhere
and various underwall support structures under construction.
Usually the pegboard ceiling, in white or chrome finish, with
bungy laced throughout the holes, is the next installation.
The insulation and then pegboard or carpeted walls are put in
place. Finally, ceiling lights are installed in the pre-wired
Now the interior is taking shape, and it is time for final assembly.
While the truck was being wired and prepped, the cabinet shop
was busy building the shelves, desks, and drawers. Today there
are two primary methods of shelf construction, shelves that
are supported by and hang from the wall, or shelves that are
built in a cabinet section where the weight sits on the floor.
A third new trend, based upon retail stores, is slowly emerging.
The shelf itself is usually plywood, and the shelf front some
kind of hard wood, such as oak. Some of the more creative truck
builders offer other wood selections for shelf fronts such as
maple, and several have experimented with aluminum fronts, which
failed to catch on but seem to be making a minor comeback as
of this writing.
shelves set the weight of the tools on the floor versus the
walls, but often have support poles that can hinder the view
of the product and usually cannot be adjusted. Wall-hung shelves
often have no visible support poles and can be adjusted height-wise.
Wall-supported shelves are more flexible to change and can be
removed without dismantling the shelf section. Both work equally
well, so it's really a matter of personal preference.
With the shelves in, finally it is starting to resemble a tool
truck. After final installation of a million and one little
things like drawer locks, undershelf lights, display racks,
and other miscellaneous items, and a good vacuuming of all the
sawdust, the interior process is complete. Finishing up outside,
there’s installation of the company decals, an entry assist
step, and the modern tool truck is ready for delivery.
The construction process usually takes place over a 5 to 21-day
period. Prices for a new tool truck range from the high $70,000’s
to over $150,000, and 50% - 60% of the cost of the truck is
for the interior and its related accessories. Constructing a
tool truck may appear simple on a surface level, but it’s
every bit as sophisticated and specialized as any vehicle manufacturing
going on today. And when considering a new or used tool truck,
what you don’t see under the pegboard or carpeted walls
is every bit as important as the shelving, lights, drawers,
etc., that you do see.
you have read this far, and you are considering entering the
tool business, you probably would like one more question answered:
what is the right truck for me? Your tool company will recommend
and may require the truck they would like to see a new distributor
start out in. It will usually be a 16' - 18' step van or a 16'
- 18' cab chassis truck. These sizes allow you to take the starter
inventory and make the interior look full, and they are easier
to drive than a larger vehicle. Sure, a larger truck will hold
more inventory, but it also costs more $$$ to buy more inventory,
and your business budget may not allow it at first. It is better
to have a smaller truck that looks full than the appearance
of a larger truck with light inventory. When your business outgrows
it, buy or lease a larger truck!
Truck Body Styles