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The Decisions Involved with Building a Customized Expediter Truck

By Sean M. Lyden - Staff Writer
Posted Jan 2nd 2017 9:40AM



If you're an expedite owner-operator--or in the process of becoming one--your decisions on how you build your truck directly impact your productivity and profit. But when you have dozens of options to consider for each section of the vehicle--from the cab and chassis, to the custom sleeper, to the truck body--how do you decide what's best for your business?

One way to learn is from the experiences of successful owner-operators who have done it a few times. So, Expedite Now recently spoke with veteran expediters Bob and Linda Caffee to give you a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their truck decision-making process. What changes did the Caffees make from their previous truck? Why did they make those changes? What do they plan to do differently for their next truck? Here's their story.

The Chassis
In September 2014, Bob and Linda took delivery of their current truck (which was their third since they started in expediting over a decade ago) from Stoops Freightliner-Quality Trailer.  It's a 2015 Freightliner Cascadia CA113, with a 100-inch Bolt Custom Sleeper and 22.5-ft. van body by Supreme Corporation.

Although the Caffees ran their first truck for 850,000 miles, they traded out of their next truck--a 2012 Cascadia--to their current truck after only 400,000 miles.

Why did they make the switch much sooner to the new truck? One of the key reasons, says Bob, was to get the Detroit DT12 automated manual transmission for smoother shifting capabilities, which he says contributes to better fuel economy compared to the Eaton Fuller Ultra Shift transmission in their previous truck.

"The DT12 is a lot smoother," says Bob. "The Ultra Shift, the way it was programmed, would have to go through every single gear. It would start out in 2nd or 3rd gear, or whichever gear, and then go up one gear at a time, from 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th up to 10. With the Detroit transmission, it might start out in 1st, it might start out in 3rd, it might start out in 5th. If it doesn't think it needs a gear, it will skip it. Our truck has actually skipped as many as three gears because it didn't need to utilize them."

What does this ability to skip gears have to do with fuel economy?

"It improves fuel economy because it doesn't waste energy having to go through every single gear," Bob explains.
The new transmission has also provided an unexpected byproduct: better sleep. "We realized that the shifting was so much smoother that it made it easier to sleep when the truck is moving," says Bob.

Another change the Caffees made in the new truck was to add the available collision mitigation system for improved safety. The system on the 2015 Cascadia is called OnGuard by Meritor Wabco, which is a radar-based active safety system that detects moving, stopped or stationary vehicles in front of the truck and measures the vehicle's position relative to others on the road to warn the driver of possible rear-end collision. And when necessary, the system will automatically apply the brakes to help avoid a collision or at least minimize the damage from an unavoidable collision.

"The collision mitigation system is tied together with your lane departure warning system, and the adaptive cruise control--all to help keep us and those around us safer," says Linda.

The Caffees also wanted to add a remote engine diagnostics system in the new truck that wasn't on their previous model. That system is called Virtual Technician, which is available for Freightliner trucks equipped with Detroit engines.

"Virtual Technician is a Detroit Diesel product that if you have [an engine] fault code, it sends a message to Detroit and they will actually send you a text message or an email within three minutes of that light coming on to tell you whether it's not a big deal to finish your load and to get it checked then, or to have it looked at the next time you get the truck serviced, or to stop immediately," says Bob.

This knowledge gives you greater peace of mind and enables you to avoid unnecessary--and costly--downtime that comes with taking the vehicle immediately into a service center for a minor issue that could have been addressed at a more convenient time.

The remote diagnostics system has already proven useful to the Caffees. "We were home one time and just as we were pulling out of the driveway we got a check engine light," Bob recalls. "The truck was still running fine, but the light stayed on. The email [from Virtual Technician] came across to tell me that the issue was a low fuel pressure indication."

He called their local Freightliner dealer to asked them if this was something he and Linda needed to have looked at right away because they were already enroute to pick up a load. "The technician got online with that code number to see what the code was," says Bob. "He told us, 'Nah, don't worry about it. It's probably just a hiccup in the fuel system. Cycle the key a few times, the light should go out, and you should be fine.'"

Another significant change for the new truck: fuel tank configuration. The 2012 truck had two 80-gallon fuel tanks; the new truck has a 120-gallon on one side and a 80-gallon tank on the other. And that was by design, says Bob.

"Since we run a generator, we ordered the new truck with the 120-gallon and 80-gallon tanks," says Bob. "We disconnected the 80 gallon tank [from the truck's fuel system] and used it just for generator fuel. This way, we can buy off-road diesel to power the generator if we have the opportunity. Or, we can apply for a Federal Fuel Tax back for any fuel we put in that tank. We get good enough fuel mileage that we can still go over 1,000 miles with the single 120 gallon tank for the truck."

The Sleeper & Van Body
The Caffees made a few changes to the sleeper, such as choosing hardwood floors over the laminate flooring that was in their previous truck. "The new flooring was more for aesthetics than anything else," says Linda.

They also chose lighter color cabinets "to make it a little brighter" and quartz stone for the countertops and table (over the standard formica material), "which I really like, but it definitely added weight to the truck," says Linda.

The van body, for the most part, remains the same, with a few modifications from the 2012 truck. It has the same length and standard wood flooring. But the Caffees changed the spec for the hardware on the rear doors. "On the back end, we had a lot of trouble with rust around the doors," says Linda. "That just drives me nuts, so we got stainless steel on this one. We also got stainless steel locking rods and all stainless steel hardware on the doors instead of galvanized or just painted steel."

Planning the Next Truck
A little more than two years after taking delivery of their 2015 truck, Bob and Linda have already started thinking about what they'd like for their next truck, which will likely be a 2018 model.

"The new Cascadia will have so much more aerodynamic improvements, with about 8-percent fuel economy improvement from previous models" says Bob. "When you're getting 12 miles to the gallon [which is what the Caffees are getting right now], that's going to put you over 13."

Linda also says they would want to add what's called predictive cruise control. "It's a cruise control that tries to make the world flat by anticipating hills and valleys."

How?

"It pre-accelerates before you start up a hill and then, just as you crest the hill, it will back off the throttle and let you coast all the way instead of throttling all the way to the top," Bob explains.

And since "pre-acceleration" builds the truck's momentum when approaching the hills, that allows the truck to power up and over hills with less fuel than with typical cruise control systems.

The Bottom Line
What's important to you in a new expediter truck? Start making a checklist of your must-haves.

If you're new to the truck-buying game, seek advice from seasoned owner-operators and truck dealers who specialize in building expediter trucks. Have them walk you through the pros and cons of the various options for each section of the truck--from the chassis, to the sleeper, to the van body. This will help you avoid costly rookie mistakes and get into a truck that's right for the job--and your budget.

Then, as you drive your new truck over the next few years, make a list of what you'd like to change and improve. This will help you continually refine your spec for each new truck you build--to maximize fuel efficiency, driver comfort, productivity, and your profit.

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