Integrator Technician Vehicle Guide

By Brian Rhodes, Published on Jan 23, 2017

Few assets are as commonly used by integrators and installers as their vehicles.

125 integrators explained to IPVM in detail about their vehicles, including:

  • Which Vehicle Types Are Most Popular?
  • Which Vehicle Brands Are Preferred?
  • What Specific Makes And Models Are Most Common?
  • Detailed commentary on Ford, GM / Chevrolet, Nissan, Mercedes and Dodge vehicles
  • What Accessories or Added Features Are Most Important?
  • What Is The Average Replacement Age?
  • What Is The Biggest Problem Or Complaint With These Vehicles?
  • Which Service Vehicle Will They Buy Next?

We answer and elaborate on each of these questions straight from integrator members inside.

Overview

By type, vans occupy the top three spots and account for nearly 80% of the total:

In contrast, trucks (typically pickups) account for 17%, and 'other' types typically representing sedans or other car-type vehicles.

Next, for make / model, the breakdown was as follows:

Vans Popular Overall

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In general, Vans registered nearly 80% of the vote for vehicles currently used by integrators. Even from those including pickups or cars/SUVs in their fleets, vans were typically cited as being the prime choice for installation and service calls, specifically because of van's enclosed and semi protected internal storage:

  • "We use vans. Pickup trucks are flat out no-go. With a cap, nobody can get in or out so they just collect garbage."
  • "Housing cameras and electrical equipment is better inside a van."
  • "I think the newer vans make better use of space than pickups."
  • "While we have cars, trucks, and vans the vans are indispensable to our techs who vastly prefer them despite some of the cons."
  • "We have used both pickups and minivans and later full-size vans.  We'll stick with the big vans, they can do so much."

Pickup Trucks Last Longer

While less than 20% of mentions were pickup truck types, several comments mentioned they tend to age better than vans, both in terms of overall better appearance and durability against normal wear:

  • "Our pickup trucks seem to last much longer and stay in much nicer condition than the vans."
  • "Half ton pickups last forever, and outlast our vans by a big gap"
  • "The full size vans get replaced around 150,000 miles; the pickups when the wheels fall off! (>250,000 isn't uncommon)."
  • "I am driving this 1998 Chevy pickup that never breaks down, even though it gets treated poorly."
  • "Vans are pretty delicate creatures. Trucks seem to take mild abuse and rough conditions much better at the expense of secured storage."

Brand Preferences

In terms of vehicle makes, Ford was reported as the brand used most often, although the feedback in many cases was mixed. General Motors, including the 'Chevy' Chevrolet brand was second, with Nissan third:

Of note, European members reported a higher preference for Mercedes vans, and Toyota/Hilux registered especially in the Middle East regions.

Ford Transit Vans

The most commonly cited series of vehicle in over 130 responses was Ford's Transit Van line, available in three full-sized models and one compact model named 'Transit Connect'.

A leading factor in responses was which of the four Transit variants are used, with generally favorable responses for the full-sized/largest Transit models, but with more negative comments about the small/minivan sized 'Transit Connect' variant, especially with regards to limited space and powertrain.

  • "The Transit Connect is too small, too underpowered, and the gas tank is tiny. We've had constant mechanical issues with the Promaster, and it has very odd driving dynamics. We've been very happy with the full size Transit."
  • "Fords, especially transits, are unreliable. At 100,000 miles they are useless"
  • "Transit: Low power, not for carrying heavy equipment/ladders."
  • "Transit have a lot of recalls especially below 50K -Tight on space -4 cylinder engine great on gas but engine works very hard to keep up with work demands"
  • "Technicians are not fans of the smaller Transits, and the larger version costs considerably more to use though and is harder to get around the city."
  • "Ford Transit engines require high revs to go up hills, very slow to get out of dangerous situations."
  • "The Transit Connect was just too small."

However, many are satisfied with the line, and positive sentiment was just as common as complaints.  

  • "Ford Transit Connects. They are perfect."
  • "The Ford Transit's have been solid and reliable vehicles. Can't say there's any reason to change at this point."
  • "Ford Transit, good interior size, reliable and fuel economy."
  • "Ford Transit Connect. Economy / reduced operating fuel costs."
  • "The Transits and Transit Connects have been good for us.  Hope the line stays good, we'll buy again."
  • "Looking at Ford Transit 150 or other brand van in that size. I think the newer vans make better use of space than pickups. I'd like the smallest van that can still safely tow a scissor lift trailer."
  • "After some trial and error, we use Ford Transits and are happy with them."

General Motors/Chevrolet Vans 

Next most cited were General Motors-based vans, with the smaller-sized City Express being mentioned most often.  Incidentally, the City Express is a rebadged Nissan NV200, but it was mentioned more often than the Nissan model:  

In addition to the smaller City Express, the full sized van series sold under the GMC brand as 'Savana' [link no longer available] was also commonly mentioned:

Reasons given included:

  • "The City Express has proven to be a reliable field service/installation vehicle when ladders or equipment hauling is required to a job site. "
  • "GM, since they still sell traditional full frame vans."
  • "GMC Savanas until they stop making parts for them, they are great."
  • "Chevy work vans - better power, more comfortable."
  • "Chevy Express. Durable and dependable."
  • "We prefer the larger GMC vans, the GMC Savannah."
  • "Would like to buy more GM cargo vans because they last forever with very few problems. But defying all logic GM has stopped producing their tried and true models. SHAME on them for abandoning a good product line."

Nissan Vans 

In addition to the GM badged NV200 line, Nissan cargo vans were notably mentioned on their own, who beside being a relative newcomer to the fleet market in the last 15 years have carved out a strong following among the classic 'top 3' automakers.

  • "Nissan NV2500, because of its larger size and competitive price."
  • "Nissan NV models - more reliable than Ford."
  • "The Nissan seems to work out very well for us."
  • "I like the Nissan Cargo vans and when ready will compare to other similar models."
  • "Nissan, We have had good service life with some of the vehicles reaching 300,000 miles."

Where's Dodge and Mercedes?

One interesting theme was that Daimler-Chrysler pickup and vans, often sharing mechanicals and styling with Mercedes, Volkswagen, and Frieghtliner models were not mentioned in any one individual brand as a 'top 3' pick. Granted, the 'Sprinter' style van is indeed popular, but acceptance was regionally tied to local brand presence. For example, while Mercedes vans had regular mentions in Europe, its use was not pronounced elsewhere.

  • "Mercedes Sprinter 3500. They are durable, dual rear wheel, affordable, and make a great impression on the customer as a high quality company."
  • "Sprinter - Can handle everything you need. You can even put a 24' extension ladder in side of it. You can build a work shop in there. Have a generator to power and recharge everything. More storage. Less trips to the Depot or Lowes."
  • "We like the sprinter."
  • "Volkswagen. Excellent and reliable vans."
  • "Mercedes Sprinter. Value, service intervals, diesel, longevity, and fuel economy. Also the service we get is second to none."
  • "Sprinter Van. Super dependable and a very good diesel motor."

Ladder Racks Most Common

In terms of feedback to "How are your vehicles specially equipped for your work?", nearly every answer included mention of ladder storage as critical to outfitting each vehicle. In general, external ladder racks sized to fit at least 9 foot/3 meter tall ladders are used, although shorter heights are often stored internally if able for easier accessibility:

  • "We always equip with ladder rack that can reach to 3 meter high"
  • "Ladder rack that holds 24' extension, 10', 8' and 6' ladders. Inside there is a 4' ladder."
  • "Ladder racks on top for an 8' step ladder and a 20' extension ladder."
  • "All install / service vehicles are equipped with ladder racks."
  • "Ladder racks for expandable ladders.
  • "Full length Ladder Rack with rear roller rail to ease with loading and unloading or ladders. Internal fast ladder storage on the roof for 6 or 8 foot ladder easy access."
  • "We need to be able to carry conduit, extension ladders and pole masts."
  • "7 meter ladder, telescopic ladder(3 meters) and a tool box. the most of our cameras we planned to install up to 6 meters."

Power Inverters Make Big Difference

Of the other various work storage or outfitted accessories, electrical power inverters - devices that turn vehicle standard DC voltages into AC voltage - are especially desired in order to power equipment like laptops and to charge cordless tool battery packs.

  • "Of all onboard equipment, inverters often overlooked but desired"
  • "300 watt inverter for recharging cordless devices"
  • "Our techs prefer battery equipment so they are equipped with inverter/chargers."
  • "Cordless tools and laptops absolutely need good inverters"
  • "12VDC -> 230VAC inverter for recharging batteries from powertools on the go."
  • "DC to AC converters - just enough juice to charge a 18v battery or lap top"
  • "Electrical inverter for 110 out."
  • "Power inverter in front to charge batteries and power laptop"
  • "a 400 watt inverter for charging power tools, or operating electrical tools"

5 Year Average Replacement Age

The most common replacement age the service vehicles are replaced is 5 years. Even installers who operate without a fixed schedule for exchanging vehicles, 5 years is a common duration before factors like unexpected repairs or decreased reliability become a factor:

  • "Every 4 or 5 years, or about 150k to 180k miles"
  • "Every 5 years due to use and better fuel economy from newer models."
  • "5-6 years due to wear and tear and financial benefits."
  • "Every 5 years due to safety reasons"
  • "Every 5 years. When leasing expires."
  • "5 years 200,000 miles per fleet contract"
  • "Are replaced every 5 years, after than period much repair is needed."
  • "5-7 years. We find with newer vehicles less problems, keeps the cost and issues down.

High Mileage Drives Vehicle Turnover

Another key factor in replacement was the overall expense to keep them running. In many cases, integrators noted that high mileage vehicles that have unplanned downtime and irregular repairs make prime candidates to be replaced:

  • "No specific interval, they are replaced when cost of maintaining exceeds cost of replacing or when tech crashes one. We cannot afford new vehicles nor regular replacement of same."
  • "Usually replaced around 200,000 miles or when they start to wear/break down."
  • "About 7-8 years. Wear and tear eventually make it costly to keep fixing them up."
  • "A vehicle in the maintenance shop does not generate revenue."
  • "150k miles. Cost to much to repair and down time to long."
  • "They typically get replaced when they end up with a lot of miles and have and hit a service issue that will cost more than it's worth to resolve."

Run Them Until They Die

A minority of integrators say they operate the same vehicle for the maximum length of time, until they are essentially forced to change due to age or economics:

  • "When they blow up, if it's not broke don't fix it. Once they start having frequent visits to the mechanic it's time to replace. If the truck is in the shop it is not making any money for the company."
  • "Never, we drive most until they die (unless they look bad from body damage or are unsafe)."
  • "We buy two year old vehicles, with low millage, as we need them and drive them for the life of the vehicle."
  • "Only when the repair cost is more than the vehicles worth."
  • "When they die." (Given in three separate answers)
  • "When they start to look bad or have frequent mechanical issues. It's really a judgement call, but we want to maintain a very professional image."
  • "Run them until they die or look bad. Have to maximize the investment especially considering a new one is over $30K now."

Lacking Space Biggest Complaint

The most common gripe about work vehicles is that storage space is tight and that vehicle load outs are complicated by the difficult in storing needed part and equipment.

  • "There is never enough room. (We keep a 4' and 6' step ladder inside.) The guys and I would love to be able to keep every tool and supply of wire and parts inside but we are not licensed to drive semi-trailers!"
  • "Space. Always need more"
  • "[Bigger] size and accessibility of cargo area"
  • "Sometimes we wish we had a larger area for storage"
  • "Vehicle bad for installation no real estate for a lot of wire or hardware"
  • "Techs still tend to cram the vehicle with stuff ... carry too much, which hoards expensive inventory, and subjects electronic equipment to damage."

Rough Rides and Noisy

However, several complained that despite whatever virtues their service vehicles offer, they still have rougher rides and louder driver cabs than their consumer-friendly appointed counterparts:

  • "The guys do not like the ride of the new Nissan vans, they're also not insulated very well for noise."
  • "Road noise, with all the equipment in vehicles rattling around, it get noisy."
  • "In the past people complaint about the stiffness of the cars, especially on those long rides. We now changed them to one's that have a softer suspension and the ride is much better."
  • "All vans are loud inside, so long trips get uncomfortable, but we take the good with the bad." 

Next Vehicle Choice: The Same Type

For many, despite occasional or minor complaints, the most common answer to "What vehicle would you most like to buy in the future?" was to stick with the current type being used:

  • "We would stick with Ford Transit Connects."
  • "For tech's the Ford Transit's have been solid and reliable vehicles. Can't say there's any reason to change at this point."
  • "Same, its a great van not bad gas mileage and holds a lot."
  • "Probably Transits again. They seem to work ok."
  • "Same or similar because it serves its purpose the majority of the time."
  • "We are fully satisfied with the value Skoda provides."
  • "Same as we currently do- Toyota Estimas. Will move to later models as they are replaced."

However, especially with GM/Chevy, existing users are being forced to look elsewhere as production wraps up:

  • "I would prefer to stay with the Savannah, but they are going out of production. We will take a long look at the Nissan NV2500."
  • "Chevy work vans until you can't buy them anymore."
  • "We will have to change over to the new The Chevy Express Van (Full Size) 1500."

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