step van, also known as the walk-in van, step truck, bread truck,
or forward control chassis, has been the standard of the mobile
tool industry for many years, and remains the most popular tool
truck body style. Step vans are known for their convenient interior
access. The driver can walk easily from the front to the rear
of the body without exiting. Step vans are great in all kinds
of weather because one can work inside the truck without exiting
the driver area to walk around to the rear. The truck body builders
also cite the safety of a step van because the driver exits the
vehicle on the curb side, away from traffic. Plus, the distance
from the ground to the stepwell is closer to the ground than a
box truck or cab chassis truck, so people with back or knee problems
seem to find them more comfortable to work out of.
Step vans are available in body lengths ranging from 10' to 26'.
Until recently, the mobile tool industry standard was the 16',
but there has been a gradual shift to the 18’ body. (Side
note: when we say 18', we mean the interior length of the body
or cargo area, from behind the driver's seat to the rear door.
The overall exterior length of an 18' step van, including liftgate,
is closer to 29 feet). While some tool dealers eventually move
up to an 18' or larger truck as their business grows, there are
also tool people who stay in their first 16' step van and buy
another. It really depends upon what works for you.
Building a new step van is a two-step process. A step van starts
out life as a frame with dual rear wheels, 2 front wheels, an
engine and steering wheel, and is appropriately known as a “strip
chassis”. Today there are two primary step van chassis manufacturers,
International (formerly Workhorse Custom Chassis, and formerly
Chevrolet/GMC), maker of the P30042 16’ and W52 18’,
and Freightliner, with their MT 45 and MT 55 models. If you were
to visit an International or Freightliner manufacturing facility,
you would see a storage lot full of strip step van chassis, some
being driven across the property without a body, like a giant
go cart. Eventually the chassis is shipped to one of several truck
body builders, where an aluminum body is constructed and installed.
The body is built both by hand and machine, and fits on and around
the chassis. Morgan/Olson (Morgan purchased Grumman Olson in 2005),
Union City (purchased by Utilimaster in 2005), and Utilimaster
are three long-time truck body builders (see the "Industry
Links" section for more information on these companies).
Union City is not currently producing step van bodies under it's
While a step van can have two front sliding doors, the tool step
van has only one forward sliding door on the curbside. The driver
side door is typically sealed for security reasons. It also has
dual rear wheels to accommodate greater weight and swing out single
or dual rear doors. A roll up door is available but its use would
eliminate valuable ceiling display space.
The P30, from Chevrolet to Workhorse to International
We give the P30 a separate spot in the step van section because
for years in the tool business, “P30” and “step
van” meant the same thing. P30 was Chevrolet's model name
for its 14' - 16' - 18' step van, the tool industry standard.
The 16' P30 is an all-around good performer - not too big, not
too small, reasonably good handling, has a decent weight capacity,
adequate room inside, and is cost effective. It's not considered
a medium or heavy-duty truck, so most parts are available at your
local Chevrolet dealer, at least through the 1999 model year.
After 1999, the Chevrolet step van chassis manufacturing factory
was purchased by Workhorse Chassis Corporation, disassembled,
and literally moved from Michigan to Indiana and put back together.
P30's are still being manufactured, with continuous upgrades,
and beginning with the 2000 model year, sold as a Workhorse P30042
model. With the purchase in 2007, the Workhorse step van is soon
to be introduced as the International step van. While you may
hear some tool dealers refer to their truck as a Grumman or Union
City, according to the title it is a Chevrolet or a Workhorse,
with a Grumman, Union City, or Utilimaster body.
There have been several power plant and GVW variations of the
P30 available over the years. Early 16' P30 tool trucks –
from 1976 through the early 1980's - were sold in a 10,000 lbs.
GVW version with 7.50" x 16" tires (GVW is Gross Vehicle
Weight, which is the total weight capacity of a truck, including
the cargo. In this case, a truck weighing 10,000 lbs would be
acceptable, 10,001 would be over-weight). The engine was Chevy's
reliable 350V8 (5.7L), with the Turbo 400 transmission. Around
1985 the chassis was upgraded to 14,000 lbs GVW with the addition
of heavier springs and other components, and later upgraded again
to 16,000 lbs. GVW, and riding on 19.5" tires. Most of the
1980's and mid 1990's tool trucks were powered by either a 350
V8 or 454 V8 (sorry, not the same one in the 1969 SS Nova, this
is the truck version). Beginning in 1982, Chevrolet experimented
with diesel power, starting with a 6.2L V8, then settled on a
6.5L V8 diesel, available from 1994 on. Today the diesel engine
is the 6.6L Duramax, and a 350 Vortec V8 gas version is still
available. When Workhorse took over, there was no diesel option,
but WH/International is rumored to be offering a diesel version
of it's step van in the near future.
Chevrolet also manufactured a heavier step van, the CX-950, or
P60, from 1980 until 1993. While loved by tool dealers, the truck
didn't sell in enough volume outside the tool business for Chevrolet
to maintain satisfactory production levels and was discontinued.
The P60 was available in 18' - 24' versions, and was powered by
a 366 or 427 V8 gas engine, or the 8.2L diesel engine. The GVW
was approximately 23,000 lbs. There are a lot of P60’s still
on the road in the tool business today, a testament to its ruggedness.
A used CX in good condition still has good resale value, too,
as you’ll see in the Classifieds section of ToolTrucks.com.
Freightliner Step Vans:
Freightliner offers a 16' and 18' step van in their model
MT-45, powered either by a 5.9 Cummins or a Mercedes engine (Mercedes
owns Freightliner). Because its GVW rating exceeds 19,000 lbs.,
technically this is a medium-duty truck. Prior to the Freightliner
purchase of the company, this truck was known as the Oshkosh,
and before that, the John Deere (you'll see both on ToolTrucks.com).
The John Deere was powered by a 460 Ford V8. The MT 45 is an excellent
vehicle, with enough room and tool carrying capacity for most
tool distributors, and is the standard new dealer truck for one
of the largest tool companies.
Freightliner also offers their model MT-55, with a larger 230
and 260 horsepower Cummins 5.9 diesel engine, Allison automatic
transmission, 25,500+ GVW, and body lengths of 18’ to 26’.
The step van sales leader in the tool truck business has shifted
over the past few years from Chevrolet/Workhorse/International
Recent Step Van Upgrades:
Step vans enjoy steady popularity as tool trucks, and
despite a simple design that has changed little over the years,
improvements have been ongoing. One area of improvement is in
the engine. The switch to diesel engines from gas has allowed
the elimination of a separate auxiliary power unit, or generator.
Through the 1980s and early 1990s, a gasoline-powered generator
was typically used to power air conditioning units. AC units can
be run off a gasoline engine with a large compressor (like your
car), but it’s not the ideal setup. Diesel engines can idle
easily for a long period of time and allow an AC unit to run.
However, the EPA has been pushing for anti-idling regulations
around the country, and the days when one can leave a diesel engine
running continuously while stopped may be coming to an end. Generators
may make a comeback!
are also getting better. The body builders have gone to great
lengths to eliminate water leaks and squeaks. To save weight and
conserve fuel, roofs are sometimes made of fiberglass. And aluminum
Having the interior of the truck open to all has caused some dealers
to worry about their inventory when leaving the truck in for service.
Tool truck interior builders are now able to construct lockable
sliding security doors or removable panels that block unauthorized
access to the rear of the truck. This is extremely useful when
the truck is in a service shop for extended periods of time and
the inventory left unattended.
What Step Vans cost:
New tool truck Step Vans for 2008 start in the low $80,000s
and can top $135,000 in medium-duty configuration.
The step van will undoubtedly be around the tool business for
a long, long time.
Truck Body Styles
Trucks, Cab-Chassis Trucks
Medium Duty Truck