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Truck Tips for Contractors

The service truck or service van is ubiquitous. We see these for all the shop trades, including plumbing, HVAC, and electrical work. Whether your business is industrial, commercial, or residential, your service truck is probably an underutilized resource. The tips below will help you get more from that investment.

  1. Organize. Open the typical truck, and you find a jumble of junk. Some of it hasn't been used in years. You need to set up your truck as a mobile crib. Include on it the most commonly needed parts. Think of ways to store sawhorses and other fixtures, so you can slide them out to set up on location. Buy wall-mountable bins that allow you to neatly stow everything, and mount them on one wall, labeling everything. On the other wall, weld brackets for hanging ladders and other items.
  2. Economize. If you're not using synthetic engine oil, you're wasting money every mile you drive. Don't use "blends," as they negate the primary advantage of synthetics (all molecules are the same size, vastly reducing internal lubricant friction).
  3. Advertise. Your phone number, e-mail address, and Website URL should be prominently displayed on your van. Hire a pro to stencil  or brush these on, because DIY looks bad.
  4. Securitize. Upgrade your locks and alarm system. The last thing you need is to come out of a restaurant to find your tools are all gone because someone drove off in your truck.
  5. Maintain. Don't let your skilled trades drive around on bald tires or in any other way drive a poorly maintained vehicle. Set up a service contract with a garage you can trust, and give them all of your business for the servicing on the schedule they recommend. You should spot check things and ask smart questions, but remember that you're delegating to this garage a responsibility the same way you delegate responsibility to the people driving those trucks.
  6. Manage. Create checklists for maintaining the storage area, and enforce the rules. Daily would include restocking and cleaning. Weekly would include inspecting brackets and bins. Time spent here is well-worth it.
  7. Track. Install a hidden tracking device, in case your rig gets stolen.
  8. Ventilate. If you store any volatile compounds in your truck (and it's very likely you do), install a suitable locker for these and consider installing a ventilation duct.
  9. Extinguish. Have a fire extinguisher in the front cab, and one in the storage area. These need to be checked monthly.
  10. Facilitate. Consider installing an RV potty and sink. This provides advantages for efficiency, safety, and security. And rather than give your skilled trades the unpleasant task of tending to these, outsource that or hire someone to do just that job (making sure you pay well and not worry about keeping that person busy).

On September 11, 2001, we learned a lesson about communication. That lesson is that cell technology can be brought down by a single event.


Keep it looking sharp

How can you keep your truck looking like new? If it's a used truck, it's probably already damaged and you can use the tips here to stop further damage. If it's a new truck, you will be able to take it back to the truck dealer and show them that it looks better than the trucks and trucks on the showroom floor. I'm not exaggerating. I do mean better.

And in my own case, it's the salesmen who have taken me aside and quietly asked me why my vehicle looks better than the new ones they are selling. Did I have it repainted? Nope.

The main thing to understand is that it takes about six months for the finish on the truck to truly dry. Many people make the mistake of waxing their truck before the 6 months have passed, or they use one of those godawful carwash soaps that contain wax. The truly paint damaging people use the "dry wash" sprays, a sure way to ruin the finish.

Here's what you do. When you get your truck home from the dealer, park it in the sunlight. Be sure you put towels on the dash, to protect the dash. Otherwise, it may fade or crack. What you want to do is bake the exterior finish, not destroy the interior.

Before you bring the truck in for the night (if it's a new truck, you are garaging it, correct?), hose it down with cold water. No soap. Don't use a sprayer, either. In fact, don't wash your truck until it's had several days of good sun-baking. After the truck's had several good days of sun-baking, you can wash it with a wax-free car soap. Follow the directions on the container, and keep your truck clean.

When washing the truck, use very gentle pressure. The harder you scrub, the more you abrade the paint. The abrasions will show.

After six months (see the door sticker for the actual date the truck was built), your truck is ready for prep and exterior sealing. This is a grueling job, one that's best done with a friend to help you. It will take an entire afternoon, at the very least.

Here are the basic steps:

  1. Rinse the truck. Use a sprayer set on "shower" or no sprayer at all. You do not want to use high water pressure. This just jets particles into the paint.
  2. Wash the truck. Mix the soap per the directions on the container, don't guess. And use a good soap, not some cheap stuff and not something with wax in it. Wash from the top down.
  3. Rinse the truck.
  4. Dry the truck, using first a "California blade" (a sort of squeegee) and then a chamois.
  5. Apply a paint cleaner. This is a product that often comes in a multi-step detailing kit, like the high-quality one Maguire makes.
  6. Wipe the truck down, using diapers or similar cotton cloths that have not been home-laundered. Do not use these again (you can wash them and use them for something else). Always work from the top down.
  7. Apply a paint polish.
  8. Wipe the truck down, using diapers or similar cotton cloths that have not been home-laundered. Do not use these again (you can wash them and use them for something else). Always work from the top down.
  9. Inspect the truck carefully. Use a very bright light to inspect every surface from multiple angles. Now that your hands have had the oils dried off them, you can touch the paint with your bare hands (you will just need to wipe the truck again with a clean cloth as you go). Run your hand over every square inch of the truck. When you come to a place that doesn't feel silky smooth, apply the paint polish to that area.
  10. When you are sure you have the truck all polished, wipe it down again with clean cloths.
  11. Now, if you are still standing, you are ready to apply the sealer, wax, or polymer. Follow the directions on the container. Typically, you will do a panel or area at a time. Always work from the top down.
  12. Let the wax or polymer dry. Then buff it out with soft cloths. You might want to use a car polishing cloth made just for this work.
  13. The next day, inspect the truck using a strong light. Buff out any remaining wax that you didn't get yesterday. Use an old soft-bristled toothbrush on the places where a cloth won't work.

This finish will be so deep that it should seem like your reflection is coming from under several layers of paint rather than from the surface of the truck. Dealers seldom see the trucks they sell look this good. And when you bring your truck in for service, you will get respect. Your truck shows you care about your truck, and the dealer mechanics will notice this right away.

Tips for avoiding truck paint damage:

  • Never touch any painted surface with your bare hands.
  • If "friends" close your truck door by putting their hands anywhere other than the door handle, ask them to use the handle next time. If they touch the paint, their finger oils will damage your paint. If they push by the window glass, they will distort the window glass rail.
  • Remove bird crap right away, but not by rubbing with a wet hankie or other abrasion-maker. Just gently use a sponge and soapy water, after first running water on the affected area. Run water while cleaning, too.
  • Never use bath towels to dry a truck. Unless you are one of those very rare people who actually uses a good laundry soap in the right amount, your towel is loaded with abrasive particles from the laundry soap.
  • Never sit or lean on the truck. Sitting on it deforms the panels, causing minor defects in the paint. Leaning on it pushes dirt particles into the paint surface.
  • Do not park under trees. It's not just sap that you have to worry about.


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