One consumer reviews several service truck chassis he has operated in his portable restroom business. Do you agree with the reviews?
The Internet is full of useful reviews on the products you use every day, including televisions, automobiles and personal computers. But what about the equipment you work with on a daily basis, like service trucks, vacuum pumps and hose? Let’s see what Brian Schmidt, a portable restroom operator and owner of Rent-A-John Portables in Santa Rosa, Calif., has to say about several service truck chassis he’s put to the test over the years.
Review: Portable Restroom Service Truck (Isuzu)
NPR, NQR, W3500, W4500, W5500 – 1999-2004
Though uncommon, the Isuzu NPR (NQR, W Series) makes for a fantastic portable restroom delivery or service truck. This body style, introduced in 1995, became much more in 1999 when Isuzu introduced a new 175 hp version of their 4-cylinder inline diesel (up from 145 hp). Unlike the 1995+, the 1999+ had a new Asin automatic transmission compared to the unreliable Jatco version. More power and reliability was the game, which made this truck the most recognizable LCF (low cab forward) in North America.
These trucks are tanks; they are incredibly reliable more than almost any other truck I have ever owned. These trucks have proven themselves so valuable that we switched our entire fleet to them from the Ford, Fuso, UD, IHs we were using. There is truly no comparison in terms of reliability. The list of mechanical repairs for the entire fleet is so short I’ll list them in order of occurrence right now … rubber brake line burst, AC belt snapped, radiator cracked, radiator cracked. We’ve bought these trucks used with 100,000 miles on them and owned them for around 3-4 years now and driven some of them over 100,000 miles and that’s all that’s gone wrong.
LCFs are known to have great turning radiuses, which is quite handy for portable restroom service, however, when compared to other LCFs like the UD and Fuso, the Isuzu turns slightly worst. However, it’s still much better than a standard truck. It’s a bit easier to get in and out of than other LCFs and the cabin is a bit roomier, especially when compared to the UD. When doing maintenance/repairs (as infrequent as they are with this type of truck), it’s very nice that the entire body of the truck simply lifts out of the way of the motor; this makes the entire engine completely clear and easy to access any part of – very nice indeed.
Another common complaint I hear of these trucks is that they are slow. This truck isn’t a speed demon, but it’s certainly sufficient in most scenarios, especially in hilly California. I would definitely say that if you were going to let an employee drive then this truck certainly would keep them out of trouble – speeding causes accidents anyway. The truck is slightly faster than a pre-Powerstroke (turbo) 7.3lL Ford diesel.
Fuel economy is surprisingly low at around 12 mpg, and because you’re riding over the front wheels it’s a bit rougher than a comparable F Series, however you do get much better visibility and maneuverability than most other trucks on the road. One concern is that because you’re sitting literally at the front of a vehicle, the crumble zone for a head-on accident is almost non-existent.
Isuzu also makes a gas version, though gas itself isn’t that practical; it’s suitable for a CNG conversion. A couple of tanks and a regulator later, you’re buying fuel at 80 cents to $2 a gallon. That’s a huge savings compared to gas and diesel, much better for the environment, as well.
In conclusion, I’m surprised that this is such a rare truck for portable restroom suppliers; this truck has everything a portable restroom operator would need and then some. Portable restroom truck manufacturers take note. This is the truck you need to be designing tanks for.
Review: Toyota Tundra Delivery/Pumper
I know what you’re thinking … a Toyota Tundra for portable restrooms? Yes, this extremely rare combo is a match made in heaven. These trucks take so much abuse it’s unimaginable. We purchased a 2002 Toyota Tundra V6 5-speed brand new from the dealership as a delivery vehicle. Unfortunately, a few weeks later our old Toyota pickup got into a wreck so we put the slide-in tank into this vehicle and turned it into our new pump truck. So from around 5,000 miles to 250,000 miles this truck had a 300- to 400-gallon waste tank in the bed – far exceeding its 1/2-ton rated capacity by the way!
We did have to modify the suspension with airbags for safety reasons (too much body roll). You might think that the V8 is the way to go, but not so. The V6 had plenty of power to climb the hills here in northern California and at the time was the only option if we wanted a manual transmission (we did). Compared to Fords and Chevys, these trucks are cheap to buy – they’re not as popular as the Fords and Chevys around these parts.
I have come to hate manual transmission trucks since owning this one. Employees tend not to know how to drive them, so the clutches always burn out. However, Toyota has engineered this truck to be a cakewalk to fix. We can have a new clutch installed in about an hour or two.
Speaking of reliability, this truck rarely let us down. There was one problem that lead to a wheel coming off, but that didn’t damage the truck, it just left us on the side of the road (Toyota issued a recall the next year for them). All we did was change the fluids as we desired, replaced the battery at 200,000 miles, spark plugs at 150,000 and alternator at 220,000.
By the time we were done with this truck, the bed was rotting away, every panel was dented and scratched, the seat was worn to the foam, but the motor ran like new, the truck passed the smog test and shifted great – mechanically it was in great shape. Let me be perfectly honest with you, we (mostly employees) abused this truck very severely, fluids weren’t changed on schedule, we never even replaced the timing belt (it’s supposed to be replaced every 100,000 miles). It looked like it was used to play bumper cars, it was overloaded for its weight class, it was driven on horrible potholed roads, and it didn’t skip a beat. It’s hands down the most reliable vehicle I’ve ever owned.
In conclusion, if you’re just starting out, you can’t go wrong buying a new or used Toyota Tundra. They make great delivery and pump trucks for the company on a budget. You can easily find parts at the dealer or junkyard, and they have the most important feature of anyone looking to buy a service truck – RELIABILITY.
Review: Portable Restroom Service Truck (International)
International has a reputation for building reliable commercial trucks with the venerable DT466 diesel engine. However, this reputation has proven to be unfounded, at least with their newer trucks from 2003 and newer.
This truck’s Achilles heel has proven to be its reliability. The truck has had several recalls and some problems that should be recalled. There have been issues with the cab actually coming off to computer updates and more. If you like the coffee at your local service shop’s waiting room then this is a best bet. One of the most expensive yet common failures of this truck is a cheap seal located on the cylinder sleeve; it failed between 50,000 and 150,000 miles, however, though the seal is cheap, it cost $7,000 to $12,000 to replace as it’s essentially the same work as an in-frame kit rebuild.
Other minor mechanical faults like leaky air tanks, air brakes that lock up, and transmission failures all add to the list of mechanical problems we’ve had with the DuraStar. There have been times when driving this truck that the wiring goes wild and lights blink and gauges start bouncing. You shut off the truck, restart it and everything is good again. Very strange indeed.
What seems to have happened is that they switched to more environmentally friendly materials for gaskets and the like (speculation).
Some of the better features of the truck are the cabin and exterior. They’re decently attractive and modern. The interior dash is especially nice when compared to the 4700, which this replaced. The ride is a bit rough on potholed roads but that’s expected with a truck like this. It’s common to hit a bump too hard and fly off your chair. The radio is nice, with good-quality speakers, the A/C blows ice cold and there’s plenty of storage overhead and around for any work-related paperwork. Fuel economy has been a modest 8-12 mpg due to the variable vain turbo charger.
To conclude, though attractive and modern, the DuraStar/4300 lacks the most important feature of a commercial truck – reliability – the last thing you want in the portable restroom business is to leave your customers hanging.
Rent-A-John Portable Toilets – Santa Rosa, CA
You’ve had a chance to read some truck chassis reviews, now tell us what you think! Send us your own truck chassis reviews on the truck bodies you own or have used in the past for your septic service or portable sanitation company. Did the truck meet your expectations? What features could have been improved or added? Would you recommend the unit to other pumpers? Email your truck chassis reviews to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I promise to respond.
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