As electrical contractors, you need a dependable vehicle in order to transport tools and valuable equipment to and from jobsites. It’s vital to have a vehicle with enough space to organize tool and equipment so you can quickly locate and access what you need when you need it. So one of the most important decisions is to choose the right vehicle to achieve the best balance of cost and performance.

Before even starting the search for a new or used work vehicle, consider the following points:

1. Will this vehicle be used mainly for business or will it double as the primary vehicle for the owner and possibly the family, too? Either scenario will definitely affect business taxes and insurance rates.

2. As fuel costs continue to fluctuate, consider the facts that while diesel, ethanol and hybrid options can lower operating costs down the line, the upfront cost may be more than you’re willing or able to afford.

3. New or used? If the vehicle is to be used specifically as a work truck, do you really want to drop thousands on a huge, shiny, lifted 4WD with all the bells and whistles? A solid, well-maintained used vehicle will do the job without sending you into sticker shock.
Size does Matter

Vans, pickups and service trucks are all useful work vehicles, but the height and length of the vehicle should be taken into consideration. Most commercial electricians have to maneuver trucks into crowded parking lots or tight alleys and driveways where the available turning radius can be next to nothing.

Additionally, many businesses feature overhanging awnings or low-hanging signs, which can become a serious issue when operating a full-size service truck. Even a pickup hauling long lengths of pipe or fitted with a ladder rack can be difficult to maneuver in such situations.

Construction and residential sites are usually friendlier areas for larger trucks; depending on the neighborhood, private parking is usually not at a premium and construction sites commonly have ample space for service vehicles.

Choosing a Vehicle

No matter where your service route takes you, consider some of the following points before purchasing a new or used work vehicle – especially when first starting out as an electrical contractor:

• Look for something you won’t quickly outgrow

• Consider choosing a vehicle you can also use as a traveling billboard

• Staying within your budget does not mean having to “settle” for a vehicle that doesn’t project a professional image

• Make sure to choose a vehicle large enough to transport you and one or two crew members (if applicable) and all of the tools and equipment you tend to use on a daily basis

• When looking for a basic work truck, keep long-term maintenance costs in mind

• When considering the cost of the vehicle, factor in the costs of organizing the cargo area

Vehicles and Organization

Fuel economy, hauling capacities and durability are only a few important factors when considering truck purchases. Unless you intend to half-hazardly toss tools and equipment into the back of a van or pickup, common sense dictates that you “upfit” any vehicle’s cargo space in order to make life easier and project a more professional image.

In a potential client’s mind, the guy who shows up with a huge, disorganized pile of tools and equipment in the back of his vehicle is basically saying, “This is going to be a messy and potentially expensive experience, mostly for you.” The “expensive” means that a great deal of often costly work time will be spent rooting around in the truck for the right tool or electrical components. Good organization not only makes your job easier, it helps establish an image of efficiency in the eyes of a client.

Cargo vans of various types and sizes remain popular choices with electrical contracting companies because they’re easily fitted with a wide range of storage options and often feature side door access to the cargo area. On the downside, they’re not insulated, so all that interior space takes a while to either heat or cool in extreme temperatures.

Pickups with installed storage units and racks or those equipped with complete utility bodies are other options, although the standard 8-foot beds somewhat limit the amount of materials that can be hauled. That problem can be partially solved by using a cargo trailer for organizing and hauling smaller components. The trailers can often be left on a secure jobsite until the work is finished, cutting back on fuel expenses.

Box vans mounted on cab-forward vehicles are gaining in popularity because they offer more cargo space and the option of a stand-up work area inside the vehicle.

A small to mid-size service truck, especially one previously owned by an electrician or contracting firm, might already contain the perfect setup for organizing tools, equipment, supplies and frequently used replacement parts.

No matter which type of vehicle you prefer, your best bet may be to try and find one at a government auto auction or a used commercial vehicle fleet sale, which will usually be well maintained and have service records available. Even a former fleet vehicle that’s 3 or 4 years old can save you a good chunk of change over buying a new work vehicle.