Small truck, big service

| December 12, 2008

Picking the right equipment
The staple trailer-pulling hotshot trucks are made by the Big Three U.S. automakers – Ford, Chrysler and General Motors – and by Sterling, a Daimler Trucks North America brand.

Brooks Transport, a mostly expedited hotshot business in Collinsville, Ala., is running three 2007 Chevy Duramax 4500s with painted diamond-plate flatbeds for light freight not requiring a fifth wheel. With a West Coast bed and fender fairings, “you’ll get better fuel mileage, generally,” owner Melvin Brooks says, but he prefers the hauling versatility of flatbeds. The boost in braking power you get between the 3500 and 4500 models, or Class 3 and 4, Ronnie Brooks says, is significant as well.

“You’ve got to have the truck to control your load,” says 42-year veteran truck driver Tom Graham. “Electric brakes linked by just a wire don’t have near the capacity of air brakes.”

When pulling trailers, hotshot models 3500 and smaller are apt to be overloaded for the amount of braking power they have, Graham says. Before heart surgery temporarily sidelined him, Graham hauled expedited loads with a Class 6 Freightliner FL60. “If you’re not legal and safe, you get somebody hurt,” he says.

For hotshotters just starting out, equipment choices are key, Graham says. “Start with the right truck for the market you want to target and design your trailer around it,” he says. “With everything changing so quickly, your market will change several times over that trailer’s life. You might start out hauling cars, but if you have a wedge trailer with no deck on it, you won’t be able to change to do anything else.”

Be aware of state length laws, too. Maximum length for a one-ton with a trailer in Texas is 65 feet, Graham says. “Florida’s real bad about that, too.” Graham ran one-tons in the past, hauling oil-field equipment and other freight for Texas pipe maker Isco Industries, but by the time of his surgery he was hauling hotshot freight on a 53-foot step deck with his FL60, which he says gave him much more hauling versatility.

Brooks Transport owns four deck trailers, two of them gooseneck decks by EZ Haul Trailers, with 40-, 32- and 21-foot decks, purchased for around $10,000 apiece.

The 2008 Duramax cab and chassis lists between $27,000 and $42,000, depending on configuration. Brooks paid $45,000 for each of his, including the beds.

Owner-operator Mike Marvel, hauling freight brokered by M&H Logistics of Phelan, Calif., bought his Dodge cab and chassis for $34,000 and his Hefty Products 53-foot gooseneck lowboy for $10,000 just under a year ago. He went without any bed, as his LTL loads typically max out the 45 feet of usable deck space on his trailer.

Former hotshotter Robert Leonard swears by Dodge’s in-line six-cylinder Cummins. “It naturally has more low-end torque without requiring higher horsepower,” which produces the best fuel mileage, Leonard says. He has 212,000 miles on his 2004 model so far.

When Ford launched its 2008 Super Duty F450, it tested the design with 12 business owners, among them oil-field hotshot owner-operator Rusty Whitson of Elk City, Okla. It lists around $39,000 and up.

At the 2008 Mid-America Trucking Show, Daimler Trucks North America stressed its light- and medium-duty truck offerings, including the Sterling Bullet, available in Class 4 and 5 cab and chassis configurations.

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