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Buying a Service Vehicle

Downtime in the field during the heat of harvest or the middle of planting can be costly – both from the amount you may have to pay a dealer to get equipment up and running and by having equipment sit idle during prime fieldwork weather. With a dedicated service vehicle, you can fix equipment quickly at a lower cost.

“This truck was expensive,” says Roger Wacha about the service truck he bought in 2013 for his farm in Toledo, Iowa. “By having it on the farm and having the labor to fix equipment, I can save a large amount of money compared with having a dealer do repairs.”

Service vehicles, particularly trailers, can also haul large amounts of fuel to keep equipment running.

As I-80 Farms acquired larger tractors and combines, fuel tanks in pickups were no longer adequate to meet the increasing fuel needs. “When we had fuel tanks, we caught ourselves running back and forth from the field multiple times,” says Elden Van Zee, who works on the Colfax, Iowa, farm. “We realized that in order to remain efficient, we needed to have a trailer capable of hauling larger amounts of fuel.”

Service and fuel vehicles will only become more important as equipment and farms grow in size. “With the acreage some farmers manage today, they may not be close to their home base,” says Tim Worman of Iowa Mold Tooling Co., Inc. (IMT). “If you have an issue in the field, you want to fix it quickly so you can get back to work.”

Trucks vs. trailers
Deciding how you want to use a service vehicle will help you choose between a truck or a trailer as well as the necessary components.

“You need to sit down and assess what you expect the vehicle to do and how productive you expect to be,” says Worman.

Trailers have the capacity to hold more fuel, while trucks provide other options, like a crane. With a trailer, you have to hook it up and haul it back and forth to the field, but you also have the option to leave it in the field if you have to pick up parts.

“A lot of trailers go into an application where they complement a service truck,” explains Luke Van Wyk of Thunder Creek Equipment. “If you have a truck with tools, a welder, and parts, you will most likely take a basic trailer for fuel storage. If you don’t have a service truck, then our trailers provide a great option that can be hooked up behind a regular pickup to bring fuel, diesel exhaust fluid (DEF), tools, a welder, oil, and other items to the field.”

The first thing you’ll need to decide when selecting a trailer is how much fuel you will need.

“Harvest is when you use the most fuel,” explains Van Wyk. “If you have two combines, two grain carts, and a tillage tractor, you’ll go through 600 to 800 gallons of fuel per day. Most likely you’ll want a trailer that can haul 990 gallons. If you have one combine, a grain cart, and you aren’t doing much tillage, you would be better served with a trailer that holds 500 or 750 gallons.”

If you’d like the capabilities of a crane, that’s when you need a service truck, because it provides stability and safety, says Worman. Crane sizes for agricultural applications will typically vary between 3,200 pounds and 7,500 pounds, depending on what you would like to lift.

A crane is an expensive investment, so make sure you’ll use it enough to get your money’s worth. “If the crane is only going to be used once every six months, you may want to rethink it,” says Worman. “If you believe you will use it a lot within a season, it might make sense to go with one.”

Then, you’ll need to decide between an electric- or hydraulic-driven system.

“If you have anything hydraulic-driven, your truck will have to be set up with a hydraulic system,” says Worman. “If you can stay away from that, you will save payload. An electric crane works well with a gas- or diesel-driven air compressor/welder/generator that you can run off an existing fuel system. It takes up more bed space, but it’s more economical.”

Three-in-one compressor/welder/generator units can be incredibly useful for fixing equipment or daily maintenance. “The air compressor is really handy for cleaning out air filters, for blowing out cabs, and for inflating flat tires in the field,” says Van Zee.

If you want your service vehicle to be a full-on portable shop, you can do this by adding toolboxes, oil tanks, lube, antifreeze, and so on.  Service vehicle manufacturers are constantly increasing the available options by adding innovative features, such as Thunder Creek Equipment’s light tower, which can be mounted on new or existing trailers to provide more light for nighttime work.

Decide on DEF
If you have equipment that needs DEF or will soon, you need to invest in a safe way to transport the liquid. “You have to think about DEF differently than other fluids,” explains Van Wyk. “DEF is used with a catalyst to facilitate a chemical reaction. That’s why it’s an ISO-regulated fluid – because purity standards are incredibly high.

“The system you use to transport DEF, the tanks, even the openness to contamination will have a big risk on the end-use equipment,” he adds. “Our systems are built to ISO standards and our pumping system maintains purity, so there are minimal risks of contaminants affecting the tractor or combine.”

Typical sizes for DEF tanks on trailers range from 40 to 100-plus gallons. With most trailers, you will need to decide if you want DEF when you order the trailer. However, with Thunder Creek Equipment’s new line of FST trailers, you can add DEF, as well as a variety of other components, at any point and have it field-installed.

Truck size
For a service truck, if you just want a bed to haul tools, any platform of pickup will work. However, smaller chassis trucks are less stable with cranes. “You will most likely want a ¾-ton or a 1-ton truck with a crane,” says Worman.

A ½-ton pickup truck will work towing a smaller trailer. “As you get into a 750-gallon trailer or anything larger, you will want a ¾- or 1-ton truck,” adds Van Wyk.

Build vs. buy
You may be tempted to save a few dollars and build a service vehicle with equipment you already have on the farm.

Be warned, this may not be the most cost-effective or safest approach.

“I’ve talked to farmers at trade shows and dealerships who have built their own trailer and got more cost into it than they expected,” says Van Wyk. “It’s not just pulling parts and pieces together to put a fuel barrel on a trailer. The risk to farmers is much greater today with the liability of hauling fuel on the highway, enforcement by DOT, and risk if there is an accident.”
Van Zee tried the homemade approach before purchasing a trailer.

“I put a 500-gallon tank on a couple axles,” he says. “It just wasn’t safe. Not too many miles later, I was seeing cracks and small leaks. Without baffles, it didn’t pull as well. It was time to get a trailer that was built for the purpose.”

There are also risks associated with building your own service truck.

“A pickup truck that comes out of the factory has been through crash testing, so it’s considered a finished vehicle,” says Worman. “If you modify that vehicle, say take the box off and put it back on, you are putting yourself at risk because, technically, you have to recertify that crash test.

“It’s more affordable to buy a dedicated truck that is built from the ground up and everything is meant to work together,” he adds.

A new service truck will range from $60,000 to $120,000. Service trailers run from $15,000 to $25,000.

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