Delivery Truck Choices

How best to move cabinets: Truck or trailer? Purchase or lease? Or just hire a moving company? Shop owners kick the topic around. September 4, 2005

I'm thinking about getting a used box truck, like an Isuzu NPR, to store finished cabinets, do material pickups (when I have to), and deliver jobs. Something like a 14-16 footer. I know I can rent one, but they aren't always available, and I'm stuck with their schedule. I could use my pickup truck, but if the weather is bad, I'm stuck. And I would have to make lots of trips. What are you guys doing? What's a trusty truck?

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
Having your own truck is a big step forward. I recommend getting a liftgate if you can afford one. Also, outfit it inside with racks to strap finished work to, and get a bunch of blankets and tie down straps. We have a UD (Nissan) 14' box with liftgate, and it is very nice. Renting is an unbelievable waste of time. If you are renting more than once a month, get your own.

We struggled with the same issue about four months ago. I ended up buying a new GMC with a 16' box and added a pullout ramp. You do not need a liftgate to unload cabinets. It cost me $25,144.00 out the door and it is serving me well. I looked at the diesel motor trucks like Isuzu box trucks and they were 35000.00. If you are not running this truck more than two or three times a week up and down the highway, go with the gas motor. You never want to buy the wrong end of the vehicle. You put the upfront mileage on the truck and write it off.

It is a useful thing to have your own truck. Keep in mind the costs involved in having one, though. It is not just gas and oil. There is insurance, maintenance, tires, parts, repairs, taxes, and licensing. You might want to consider a trailer that has a comparable size box. In most places, if you are towing a trailer, it is covered under your vehicle's insurance, so there is no need for a separate policy.

This issue was well-addressed in a prior issue of Cabinetmaker magazine. I would think the benchmark is when rental cost per month equals the cost of the truck payment, maintenance and insurance. You should carry $1MM and will have to on commercial job sites. Cost will be affected by the driving record of all who drive it. The little diesels are good for about 250,000 miles. Look at a fleet unit from someone like Ryder. 100K units sell for about $18k or less and have a service history and short term warranty. Remember, if you own the truck, someone is likely to always be messing with it, wasting time and money.

We started out using an extended van. It was way too hard on the back to load and unload. Then we purchased a 1989 Ford FSuper Duty with a 16' box and the 7.3l diesel.

We found that there are a lot of hidden costs with the purchase of a box truck. For us, it's maintenance and insurance. We have to have each person listed with the insurance agency and their driving record can affect our policy amount.

With 3 listed drivers, all with very good driving records, our annual insurance is nearly $750. Our truck doesn't have a ramp or liftgate and that sucks. It's very hard on your knees and back. It also makes delivery a two-person job.

Last week, I purchased a 8.5'x20' trailer. It has a ramp door and is low to the ground. I can load right into the trailer and then deliver. I can eliminate the insurance on the box truck because my standard policy covers the trailer and my general liability insurance covers everything else. I can also drop the trailer at the jobsite and unload as I install and have a convenient place to store my tools at the end of the day.

I would recommend, if you have a pickup truck, that you buy an enclosed trailer. The insurance and tags are very inexpensive. Also, the trailers are much lower, so loading is not a problem. I would also suggest, if storage is an issue, renting a storage container. A large truck is expensive and in some cases requires a special class license to operate.

What has worked for us is hiring a moving company to deliver bigger jobs. We have an account with them and generally schedule a week in advance for a move. My last move for about 2 dozen cases, drawers, doors, misc. parts cost $651.00 plus $80.00 for a tip. The cost was $132.00/hr for 4 guys, $66.00 for travel time, and $90.00 for packing materials. The crew shows up at 7 a.m. and stretch wraps and blanket wraps everything. They pack and load everything while me and my guys organize the site tools, go over the drawings, and make sure that all the parts go out. When we get on site, my guys can get right to setting up their tools and laying out the installation. The big benefit is that on installation days, my expensive cabinetmakers are not spending their time wrapping cases. When they get to the job site, they are fresh, not having spent half a day humping cabinets in and out of a truck. The movers will wrap and move the cases in half the time that it would take us. Have not had any problems with damage in four years. We use a Japanese pickup and a minivan to haul around the small stuff. The movers are especially good to have when the job is on the 3rd floor with no elevator!

If you are looking into a used truck, don't be afraid to look at flatbeds. They are easy to remove and replace with a box, and this is relatively inexpensive. You can sell the flatbed and recover some of the cost of the box. It takes a little time to do all the footwork, but for me it was worth it. Saved a lot of money on a good, used cab-over-chassis.

From the original questioner:
I decided to purchase a 7X16 enclosed trailer today, partly based on the opinions posted here. Research showed my insurance would double, plus all the other maintenance expenses involved in owning a truck. My existing F-150 will easily pull the Wells Cargo, plus I'll have the pickup for small hauls of materials, using regular gas. Thanks for the many points to ponder.

I had a 2001 F350 and towed a 10ft trailer, but I didn't enjoy climbing into the pickup bed and it wasn't easy to turn around. I ended up with a new UD and the dealer gave me a used 14' box with the truck. I paid about 27,000 with taxes and registration and Nissan offered me 0% financing. The truck is great, always loaded with tools and it can turn around in the tightest spots.

The trailer was great for us to go a couple times a week. We had the pickup already, as most do, so the additional cost was nearly nothing. You can usually scrounge up enough cash to buy without financing and they hold their value fairly well if kept up. Then we bought a used NPR 14' that was a former Ryder. It had about 97k miles and lasted about 50k more. Local deliveries are okay, but over the road you will beat these little trucks to death in 175k miles. That's why we opted for the heavier duty big truck. We now use a 24' international and my delivery costs run about $30,000 per year with the payment, maintenance, fuel, insurance, and part time driver (he does other stuff). I charge for delivery, which just about makes up for the 30k. We used to deliver free all over the state, but it just got too expensive. No one expects it for free and as fuel prices keep rising, we adjust pricing more frequently.

If you do opt for the trailer, don't get it without a fold down ramp door. You would be surprised at the guys I know that just get the cheapest one they can find, which will be swinging doors. Big mistake!

I have had an 18 ft. bumper pull trailer with swinging doors for the last 5 years. It came with a removable aluminum ramp 40" wide x 72" long. The trailer is pretty low to the ground. I can usually back right up to the porch and extend the ramp over on the concrete. Roll the cabs right out the door with a small 4 wheel furniture dolly. No big deal at all. I paid $3000 for the trailer and spend less than $100 a year on it for tags, repacking bearings, etc. Still on the original heavy duty tires. If I need to run back to the shop or hardware store, I can dolly it off and keep my helper working. We made and installed 70 sets of cabinets last year using this trailer pulled by my 1 ton truck. It's a money maker even at 9 miles to the gallon.

We have to get about 2-3 jobs a month to the job site and at least 1-2 can be done with our pickup in one or two trips. With the bigger jobs, we have a local company come in and move everything, even the tools for the install. For 1-12' entertainment center, 1-13' bookcase unit and an 8' bookcase unit delivered and carried in the house, we paid $260.00. All I have to do is make sure they get it all in and where we want it. If you are delivering 5-10 jobs a month, buy one, but if not, I found it is cheaper to just lease it out.