Things to Consider Before You Buy
As with any major purchase, today more than ever companies must do all they can to maximize their dollars. Likewise, however, it’s also important to remember that the lowest price is not always the lowest cost alternative.
Such is the case when considering a shuttle van or bus.
Unlike “over-the-road” applications, where vehicles are operating at a more consistent and constant level, a shuttle operation is subject to a much higher duty cycle of several critical components. The following are some examples of where spending a little more on the front end can save significant dollars on the back end.
Electrical charging system – When a vehicle is subjected to low engine speed and a lot of engine idle time, the alternator can be really taxed trying to keep the battery properly charged. Therefore, a higher output alternator should be considered. When vehicle specifications are created, an amperage load requirement should be calculated to determine what size alternator is needed. Important considerations for doing the calculation would be size of HVAC system, wheelchair lift if applicable, lighted signs, radio communication components and typical operating climate, to name a few. Also, the charging system output should be noted “at idle” to more accurately reflect the real-world application of the vehicle.
Engine hour meter – Over the course of its life, a shuttle vehicle may not travel as many miles as an over-the-road vehicle. However, it can easily and more rapidly exceed hours of operation. Therefore, it’s critical to measure service intervals and component life in terms of time and not mileage. Installing an hour meter is a relatively inexpensive but effective way to help keep a shuttle bus in proper working order.
Brake retarders – Granted, brake retarders are a relatively high cost component. However, depending on the severity of the shuttle application, it can provide a significant reduction in brake repair and replacement cost. Keep in mind as well that it’s not just the component cost; it’s also about keeping the vehicle in service longer through reduced downtime for repair. Perhaps even more important, it can mean a greater margin of safety when emergency braking is required.
After-market rear suspension systems – If your application often requires you to operate near or at full payload, you may want to consider some type of after-market rear suspension system. Essentially, there are two types: air and rubber. In brief, air generally will cost more than the rubber type and requires a pump, lines, valves, fittings, etc. However, air may offer a zlittle more stability and softness than rubber. In some instances, both can extend brake and tire wear. If it’s something you want to consider, it is recommended that you test-drive vehicles with and without the system to determine if it’s something you feel adds value.
Aluminum wheels – Typically, a person might believe that aluminum wheels are more about enhancing the aesthetics of a vehicle. While true, there are actually functional benefits as well. First, obviously they are free from rust and corrosion, and in that respect, essentially maintenance-free. Second, their attractive appearance eliminates the desire or need for wheel covers, which allows an easy, clear view for checking lug nut tightness, wheel end discharge, mud, debris, etc. Third, because aluminum absorbs and dissipates heat more rapidly than steel, it can also mean extended brake life.
Performance history/testing – Sometimes a person may feel inclined to go with the latest and greatest when it comes to new components or systems. However, typically there’s greater benefit to consider designs that have been thoroughly laboratory or field tested in this specific application. Be sure the manufacturer you’re working with has a thorough understanding and experience in your market to make certain he’s providing the best and most proven designs for your application. Also, if testing documentation is available, ask for copies of the results. In some instances, self-certification by a manufacturer may be fine, but as a matter of prudence, you need to verify the results.
Service accessibility – It’s important to remember that a shuttle van or bus is a piece of equipment that will always require preventive maintenance and repair. Being able to more easily access primary components, particularly those with high duty cycles, will encourage proper, regular service intervals and reduce downtime as well.
Purchase locally – With the advent of the Internet, today a person can literally buy anything through that means. Although pricing may in fact appear better, you are strongly encouraged to buy as local as possible. As noted previously, a shuttle van or bus is a piece of equipment that needs proper care and maintenance. The best way to accomplish this is to have your vehicle supplier as close as you can. They can provide operator training, parts and technical support that helps you keep the wheels turning.
Sheldon Walle, President and General Manager of ElDorado National - Kansas, can be reached at Sheldonw@enconline.com.