Truck, Van, or Trailer?

Installation pros discuss the convenience, gas mileage, and security of various vehicle choices. October 8, 2005

Do any of you installers work out of a Dodge/Freightliner Sprinter van? I am currently driving an extended G30, but I would still like more room. A cargo van is too big and too tall, not to mention the gas mileage. I'm already paying 250 to 400 bucks a months in gas. The sprinter has a 5 cylinder Mercedes diesel they say is capable of 20+ mpg. It also is available with a 72" ceiling height, which means less bending over, capability of hauling longer L-shaped countertops, maybe overhead trim racks, at least one more shelf per side… It seems there would be a lot of advantages. They also claim maintenance every 10,000 miles. Of course, the price tag is 30 g's plus.

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor J:
I used to work out of a Chevy 1 ton StepVan. Hands down, the best work vehicle ever. Roomy, durable, a lot of capacity. Only reason I gave mine up was no A/C, a necessity in Texas.

From contributor F:
Truck with trailer works well for me. You can get a trailer with 6 foot high ceiling. I leave it at the job site when not needed back at the shop. That way, I'm not hauling everything everyday. Among the advantages of trailers: insurance is almost free, can convert into spray booth if needed, consumes no gas, is virtually maintenance free, is only 14" off the ground, plus you also get the use of your truck or van to haul additional stuff when needed. I can get an entire kitchen's worth of cabinets plus all the tools needed for installation all in one trip. It will save you about $25,000 over the cost of your Mercedes, and carry just as much.

From contributor L:
The Washington Post had a recent article that would not surprise anyone: Thefts from work sites are up. If you leave a trailer on site, how do you secure the trailer itself?

From the original questioner:
I really want to hear feedback on the Sprinter. It is a very unique vehicle that offers three things that are important to me - maneuverability, fuel economy, and more interior space than an extended van. A step van would be a close second.

A definite "no" to a trailer. For one thing, I am often already pulling a debris trailer (I do the complete job from tear out to mechanical, drywall, finish installation. That is why I need lots of room for tools). I do not haul the cabinetry. It is delivered to the site.

The downside to a step van is that I always have a worker with me, and in my limited experience, they do not have a comfortable cab-like feeling. My trip from one job to another is often my only unwind time, so I would like the cab to be comfortable (am I a big baby or what?).

From contributor P:
I have been using a 14ft box van for the past 7 or 8 years. Although it has plenty of room for tools, shelves, materials, and cabinets, it's killing me in operating costs (5-6 mpg!).

I looked at the Sprinter and really liked everything about it, except the price. A new model, equipped with AC, automatic, radio, and not much else priced out at almost 38K! I talked to a subcontract driver for FedEx who owns one and he loves his. He gets 24mpg. But by the time he rigged it out including shelving, bulkhead, and required FedEx logo on sides, he paid 43K! Although I have seen a few used ones listed on EBay for quite a bit less, I still can't justify that much money for a work truck. I am currently looking for a smaller box van, one without dual wheels and about a 10 ft body. Should be a good compromise.

From contributor G:
Sounds like you're already sold on the vehicle. Personally, I do not haul trash. Are you going to haul that dump trailer with the new vehicle? I either get a dumpster or hire a hauler from the local paper. I use a trailer and leave it on site. It is locked and insured. I must admit the freightliner is a pretty cool looking ride, but the rides only cost you money.

From contributor P:
Contributor G, just wait. One of these days you're going to drive up to start work and your whole trailer is going to be gone. It happens all the time. Happened to a GC two weeks ago here. They stole his 24 ft enclosed trailer containing tools and office equipment. Took it off the blocks, disconnected the electricity, put the tongue back on and drove off. Another trim carpenter thought he would be safe and lock his trailer inside the garage. Thieves broke into the garage, then the trailer. Left the trailer, but took everything inside it. Numerous trailers are broken into overnight and tools and equipment stolen. The aluminum skin on those things won't stop a 2x4 from being rammed through it, then pried open like a can of sardines. Insurance or not, just the time lost and inconvenience isn't worth the risk. Besides, you're going to spend money on some kind of a vehicle driving to and from the job everyday anyway. If it is a dedicated work truck, all mileage or expenses are deductible. If you use your personal vehicle, only mileage when pulling the trailer is allowed. A vehicle allows you to claim mileage or expenses year after year on your taxes. A trailer is a one time deduction.

From the original questioner:
Contributor G, your trailer may be insured, but I seriously doubt the tools inside it are (at least adequately) insured. I have been robbed three times. The last time I was totally cleared out. I lost over 30 grand just in equipment. And my van. Trust me when I say I have pursued every avenue to cover the tools in my van. To adequately insure the contents of a work vehicle is 6 grand a year and is a separate rider on either your auto or liability policy. I have a rider on my liability, but it only covers a fraction of the value of my tools. I realized the protection of my tools is my responsibility - and knowing how easy it is to break into or haul away a trailer makes it a poor choice of "tool box." I am glad you have not been robbed, but believe me, brother - it only takes once. Do I plan to haul trash? No, but occasionally things happen and I need to. If I am already pulling a trailer, what (uncomplicated) options do I have?

Back to my original question. I am 80% sold on this vehicle, but because it is so unique and new and expensive, I was just wondering if there was any input out there in cabinet land. I remember years ago when Hitachi first came out with the sliding mitre saw. It was expensive, but I bought one anyway. I have never regretted taking that risk.

From contributor D:
I think they look really cool and have a ton of space inside. I have heard that the diesel is not turbo, and that they are a little doggy on the hills. This is a secondhand comment, though. My lettered van brought in last year over 50K in sales. We use a 14' trailer and 2 vans. The trailer is too long for the work that we do, and I can't send an employee out to use it because it's pulled by my truck. I have a Chevy extended van and it works great. My most recent purchase was a GMC cutaway, similar to Uhaul's smallest van. Same dimensions as a regular van, only square with a roll door on back.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
Finally after 3-4 years of dreaming to buy a sprinter, I just purchased the 2500 144' Diesel model and I absolutely love everything about it. I can carry and haul everything that I could give it. It performs excellent, and the acceleration, braking, cornering is great. Fully loaded I still average about 18-20 miles per gallon. 20 bucks lasts most of the week for me.

Comment from contributor B:
I have driven the Sprinter 2003 and put 300,000 miles on it and loved it. I got 23mpg and there was room for everything. There were some drawbacks. Getting anyone to work on it was a pain and expensive too. The biggest problem is that the body is steel and rusts like a Brillo pad. The side door is prone to jamming and the turbo hoses blow about every 50,000 miles.

I am now in a workhorse platform step van with a 5.9 Liter Cummings and a 6 speed Allison transmission. I get 19 mpg (highway) on a 16 foot step-van with more room than ever, A/C, I can walk in it, and sleep in it. I moved the partition back three feet and made an office complete with a computer and printer for invoicing and demonstrations. I do heating and cooling and can carry an entire house full of equipment in one haul (furnace, A/C, ductwork, and everything I need to do a complete home). I couldn’t do that with my Sprinter.