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The Medium Duty Truck
This page last modified 6/17/10

Most new Tool dealers start out in a 16' - 18' truck with a GVW from 16,000 to 19,500 lbs. The Medium-Duty truck, with its heavier GVW rating, strong truck engine, longer body, and rugged chassis, is the next logical upgrade as your tool business grows. The "classic" tool business medium duty truck has a 20’ body or longer and a Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) rating of more than 20,000 pounds.. (Side note: Mac Tools bought a large number of 16' and 18' International 4700s with 20,000+ GVW for their employee-distributors in the late 1990's, and many are still providing excellent service).

Air brakes and air ride suspension are options in the medium-duty truck line. Air ride alone is seen more often than Air Ride/Air Brakes. The heavier Allison transmission in a 4, 5, or 6-speed automatic is also available. Allison is a storied name in the truck market and very reliable. Most medium-duty trucks ride on 22.5 tires, and some have Alcoa aluminum wheels to save weight.

Medium duty trucks are available in Step Van, Box truck, or cab-chassis body style. Freightliner, International, Kenworth, Peterbilt - the glamorous American truck names - are all examples of medium-duty trucks used in the tool business. Chevrolet and GMC used to compete with their 6500 C7500 Kodiak and Topkick models, but they were discontinued in 2009.

Engines in the mediums are almost always diesel with high torque ratings. Torque measures an engine’s pulling power, or “grunt” and is usually 500 pounds or more. Exotic-sounding engines abound, like the CAT (Caterpillar) 3126 and the DT466. These diesels are rugged. In over-the-road use, it’s not uncommon for these engines to go 250,000 - 500,000 miles before a rebuild is necessary. This long life expectancy translates into a higher fair market value. They cost more new and are worth more used. Where some buyers avoid the smaller trucks when they exceed 100,000 miles, the perception is that a medium-duty truck is just getting broken in at that same mileage. To be fair, there are many P30s, W4s, and similar tool trucks on the road today with 150,000 – 175,000 miles and more. It’s all in how they are taken care of.

Advantages of a medium duty truck are many, and the consensus in the tool business appears to be that the mediums are worth their additional cost. They last longer, carry more weight, have greater power, and of course, allow you to display more inventory in the longer body, the main reason so many tool dealers prefer them. It stands to reason that the more tools you have in your truck when you pull into your next stop, the greater opportunity you have to make a sale, especially an impulse sale. Disadvantages of the mediums are the higher initial truck cost – typically mediums range from $100,000 to $150,000 new – and the fact that this truck just might be physically too big for you. Your stops may be in congested areas and your turns too tight to accommodate a medium-duty. Some distributors have said that they couldn’t get a large medium duty truck into some of their customer’s parking lots. And due to local ordinances, some dealers have reported they can’t park a truck as large as a medium in their driveway. Plus, maintenance-wise, bigger brakes, tires, etc. all cost more to replace. Still, when you’re ready and able, a medium-duty truck is a great way to go.

GVW - we keep saying it - what is it?

GVW stands for Gross Vehicle Weight (technically it’s “GVWR”; the R stands for rating). Think of gross vehicle weight as the most a vehicle is “rated” by the manufacturer to legally weigh, including the weight of the truck, the driver, all fluids, and the cargo. GVW is thus the amount a fully loaded (but not over-loaded) and fueled truck will weigh if it is driven across a scale. Subtract the weight of the truck and driver from the GVW and you’re left with the cargo capacity in pounds. For example, a Chevrolet Kodiak with a GVW of 25,950 lbs. might weigh 17,000 lbs. with an interior, leaving a cargo capacity of 8,950 lbs, which all adds up to 25,950. Because the federal floor for a CDL – commercial drivers license – is 26,001 lbs. GVW, most tool truck GVWs come in just under 26,000 lbs. Some manufacturers will even allow you to spec a higher GVW truck, for example a 33,000 lbs. GVW, and then "de-rate" it on the title to get under the CDL limit for titling purposes. You get the heavy-duty benefit without the need for a CDL, and you won't pay as much for your plates. Unfortunately you cannot "up-rate" it later if you decide to load it to it's total capacity. In other words, if your 26,000 GVW truck weighs 28,000 lbs, you can be unofficially under the weight capacity but still overloaded per the DOT (and subject to fine).

More on GVW. There haven’t been any tool trucks sold with a GVW less than 14,000 pounds since 1984, so we’ll start there. In general, trucks are grouped into different weight classes according to their GVW:

Class 4 is 14,000 – 16,000 GVW
Class 5 is 16,001 – 19,500 GVW
Class 6 is 19,501 – 26,000 GVW
Class 7 is 26,001 – 33,000 GVW.

In the commercial truck world, medium duty trucks start with Class 4. In the tool truck world however, Class 4 -where the Chevrolet/Workhorse P30 and the GMC W4500 sit - is considered a light truck, more suitable for beginners with a smaller inventory. Class 5, with a maximum GVW of 19,500, is just starting to get there as a medium-duty truck. For our purposes, a medium-duty tool truck begins with Class 6 and stretches into Class 7.

Tool Truck Body Styles

The Step Van; the P30

Box Trucks, Cab-Chassis Trucks