To Dump, Or Not To Dump…
Do you need a dump truck, or think you do? Do you need a tandem dump truck, or a triaxle dump truck? Do you need a steel dump body, or an aluminum dump body? If you need an air lift third axle for your state, does it need to be a steerable axle, or a fixed axle? Does the body need to be heated, or not? These are just a few of the things you need to consider when getting ready to buy a dump truck. And we won’t even mention the various truck manufacturers. But if you want a Freightliner dump truck, Mack dump truck, Kenworth dump truck, Peterbilt dump truck, Western Star dump truck, or any other brand of dump truck, Tom Kelly has some tips for you below.
By Tom Kelley
August 01, 2007
If you’re a large contractor that operates dozens of dump trucks, you probably already have a good idea of your equipment needs, and you’ll likely have the resources of a maintenance manager and your truck dealer’s factory engineer to work out the specs for your next truck order. But at the other end of the spectrum, there are contractors whose jobs don’t typically involve site work, along with many smaller specialty contractors, who could benefit from adding some form of dump truck to their operations.
The good news is that, just like the contractor who buys 10 or more trucks per year, even the contractor buying one dump truck can still get access to the expertise of his dealer’s factory engineer to properly spec that first truck. Before heading off to the dealer though, it’s a good idea to evaluate your potential uses for the truck.
Can I Really Keep A Dump Truck Busy?
One popular application for the entry-level dump trucker is to add retail material sales to their business, acting as the middleman between their existing suppliers and customers, delivering mulch or topsoil for annual landscaping renewals, or parking lot de-icer for those in colder climates. Speaking of cold climates, equipping your dump truck for snowplow operation can be a great way to keep cash flowing during the typically lean winter months. Another frequent tactic is to make the truck available for daily hire through a broker when it’s not in use on your own projects.
Professionally operated, kept clean and well-adorned with your company logo, the truck will also act as a rolling billboard, promoting your company to thousands of passing motorists each week. By finding some alternative uses for the truck when it’s not needed at your own contracting projects, you can turn a cost normally paid to others into a profit-center for your own company, improving your bottom line.
Once you’ve worked up a list of potential uses for the truck, it’s important to resist the temptation to just go a buy the first stock dump truck you see on the dealer’s lot. While many stock trucks are well-configured for local conditions and regulations, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be configured for “your” conditions. So remember, even if you’re only buying one truck, it’s important to explain your needs thoroughly, and work with a factory engineer if needed to correctly configure your truck.
Bigger Isn’t Always Better
One mistake made by first-time buyers is to assume that more automatically means better. While it is a good idea to ensure the truck is built strong enough, and is equipped well enough to handle a variety of tasks, it’s important to strike a balance between durability and payload, as well as between flexibility and cost.
One key example involves the size of the fuel tank. While more gallons might mean fewer trips to the fuel station, at 6 pounds per gallon, plus the weight of the larger tank, every extra gallon of fuel in the tank adds up to 6 less pounds of paying cargo your truck can carry. Just enough fuel to get through your hardest day’s work is all you need to carry.
Other examples along these lines include frame size/strength and suspension rating. Avoid the temptation for overkill. Strong enough, maybe with a bit of headroom to spare, is the watchword here.
Even the lightest and easiest material hauling work can sometimes resemble an 18-wheel version of motocross, so look carefully at any options that reduce the cost and complexity of repairs. Good examples here include multi-piece hoods and bumpers that allow replacement of only the damaged portion, or “pod-mounted” headlights that are up above the fender, (somewhat) out of harm’s way.
Build It Tough …
Minimizing wear on the truck’s components can extend or eliminate the need for some repairs. This explains why more and more dump truck buyers are spending a bit extra up front to spec an air-ride suspension on their dump trucks and trailers. It’s not that the load needs protection, but rather, the protection is for the truck or trailer itself. Plus, the air-ride suspensions do a better job of coping with the all-or-nothing nature of dump truck loads. Just make sure to choose an air-ride suspension that is designed for vocational applications.
… And Capable
An option available for some applications that can improve operability while saving on tare weight is to spec the newer “wide base” tire and wheel combinations in place of traditional dual wheels. Along with reducing the weight of the wheel hardware, the wide base tires provide better flotation when operating in loose, uncompacted soil.
Getting Boxed Up
Once you’ve considered, chosen and spec’ed your dump truck’s chassis, then it’s time to look at the specifics of your dump body or dump trailer. Although a specialized dump body or dump trailer can bring added efficiency, it’s good to remember that flexibility is also important.
Choosing a lightweight dump box for a truck that predominantly hauls fine material might be great for keeping the tare weight low, but that same truck will likely be sitting still when the job involves hauling rocky material. Similarly, high-capacity bodies and trailers are efficient for moving high-volume, low-weight loads, but can be difficult to maneuver on crowded job sites and in tight urban areas.
When choosing dump equipment, it’s a good idea to spec the unit to capably handle a few additional operations beyond its main intended purpose. Many smaller contractors are combining an ultra-maneuverable low-cab-forward (LCF) crew cab chassis, a dump hoist and a flatbed body with fold-down sides, that allows the truck to carry a crew, along with loading or unloading virtually any type of cargo.
Getting In Shape
The regulations covering your operating area and the needs of your customers will typically factor in to the choices made regarding the shape and configuration of dump boxes.
If your goal is just to get the most volume in the least amount of space, then the optimum shape for a dump box is just that, a box. But there are numerous downsides to using the simple box shape. Perhaps the biggest negative associated with a square-cornered dump box is its propensity to retain material packed into its corners when dumping.
Strength is another problem with the square box configuration. Not only is the box easier to twist, but the flat panels are more susceptible to denting. On the positive side, the square bottom design provides the best weight distribution, and provides more even dispersal when used for spreading material.
Round or elliptical bottom dump bodies and trailers are less likely to retain material when dumping, and are also inherently stronger, resisting denting and twisting better than the square box configuration. But the rounded design also has a few of its own negatives.
The rounded bottom on a dump body or trailer tends to concentrate the bulk of the load toward the longitudinal center of the vehicle, raising the vehicle’s roll center, and with that, its likelihood to roll over during certain circumstances. This rounded design also proves to be more problematic in material spreading operations.
A hybrid configuration is frequently the answer to having the best of both designs. Some typical examples include square boxes with rounded corners, or elliptical bottom boxes that transition to a flat bottom at the back end to allow for more efficient spreading of material.
Recently, we surveyed the industry’s top dump equipment manufacturers to get an update on their latest products. Here’s a look at what we found:
J&J Truck Bodies
J&J Truck Bodies & Trailers manufactures steel and aluminum dump DynaHauler truck bodies and trailers that are used in hauling construction and paving materials and demolition debris. J&J’s ready-to-work features, include a full-length and full-width cab protector, a wear-resistant floor, dirt shedding catwalk with inside cleaner plate, side-mounted hydraulic tanks, and heady-duty steps, ladders and sideboards.
J&J recently announced that the company is now installing True Feather hoist controls on their commercial dump truck bodies. Air feather valves are quickly becoming the most popular mechanism to raise and lower the hoist on commercial dump bodies. In the past, controlling the speed or “feathering” the hoist with standard air feather valves when raising and lowering the dump body was often difficult and prone to unpredictable hoist behavior.
The new True Feather option allows the operator to have better control over the speed of the hoist to slow the descent of the body, gradually reducing the impact shock to the hydraulic system as well as the mechanical shock to the hoist, body and chassis. This new option is especially important to pavers and contractors who need precise control over material flow in the unloading process. From a maintenance standpoint, True Feather components are not prone to bind cables or freeze shifter spools on the pump that is common with cable controls in bad weather.
At the smaller end of the spectrum, Alum-Line of Cresco, Iowa, has expanded its line of aluminum trailers to include dump body trailers. The new line includes lengths from 10 feet to 20feet and 6-foot, 6-foot-8-inch and 8-foot widths. They are available in both bumper hitch and gooseneck models. Standard features include thick main frame construction, 1-inch extruded aluminum flooring with crossmembers on 12-inch centers. The standard hoist is an 8-ton double acting electric unit with marine battery and trickle charger. Other features include: walk-on fenders, seal beam lights and steel reinforced hitch. Standard axle capacity is two 4,800-pound axles, with optional 6,000-pound and 7,000-pound axles available. Popular options include permanent or removable sides in 24-inch, 36-inch and 48-inch heights, adjustable pintle hitch and two self-storing ramps to have the trailer double as a skid loader trailer.
Crysteel Manufacturing recently introduced the GateSaver, a product designed to change a standard dump body tailgate into a power tailgate. The GateSaver improves a truck’s operating versatility without the need to replace the entire body. The GateSaver increases the tailgate opening 15 inches higher than the tailgate itself. Provided with an electric motor and hydraulic pump, no PTO is required with the GateSaver.
Also available from Crysteel, the “Profit Maximizer Super Dump” features an air-suspension trailing axle from Silent Drive. The Profit Maximizer offers greater capacity, excellent stability and easy operation. The trailing axle does not interfere with dumping operations and raises and lowers with standard PTO. Cleanout is enhanced by an optional high-lift hydraulic tailgate that extends a normal tailgate a full 15 inches, allowing up to 6 feet of clearance, allowing large debris and bulky items exit quickly and completely.
Strong Industries has introduced an innovative, lightweight, high-strength steel dump bed to maximize the benefits of its Strong Arm trailing axle. Designed for all forms of hauling, the Superdump bed has three distinct characteristics: a conical, elliptical shape that gradually becomes wider toward the rear of the bed; an extended floor that eliminates the need for an asphalt apron; and low tare weight.
The Superdump bed has a unique elliptical-shaped floor and tapered, conical-shaped sidewalls that become wider toward the rear of the bed. This shape allows the payload to spread out and loosen up as it exits the bed, like it’s being poured out of the large end of a funnel. As a result, the driver doesn’t have to raise the hoist as high to get the load to break, and the material flows out of the bed efficiently, quickly and in a controlled manner.
With no apron to clean, the driver can be on his way quickly instead of having to contend with a messy and time-consuming job.
The design and shape of the Superdump bed, along with lightweight, high-tensile steel and aluminum materials, significantly lower the vehicle’s tare weight. The Superdump bed complements the Strong Arm axle, a durable, load-bearing trailing axle rated as high as 13,000 pounds. Trailing 11 feet to 13 feet behind the rear tandem, the Strong Arm axle stretches the outer bridge measurement, the distance between the truck’s first and last axles. This maximizes the vehicle’s legal gross vehicle weight under federal bridge formula laws.
Prior to dumping, the Strong Arm toggles up and toward the front of the truck to completely clear the rear of the vehicle. It does not interfere with normal dumping operations.