Custom ordering tanks and chassis for fuel oil trucks is common enough, but how many oil dealers draw up the specs in part to make sure the trucks will fit into their maintenance garage?
That’s what Servco Oil did for purchases of three International 7400 trucks, including the latest, bought this summer. “It’s thirty-five feet from the back wall to the door of our garage,” said Rick “Pappy” Papenfuss, the mechanic who looks after the fuel oil dealer’s tank trucks, service vans and various sales and other vehicles, including a rack-body truck.
The International 7400 double rear-axle trucks were spec’d with shorter than usual chassis and shorter, taller and bigger tanks than the company has on its other oil trucks. The main reason for the different specs is that they allow the trucks to “act bigger” – carry more fuel oil. The trucks’ 3,800-gallon tanks were custom manufactured by Amthor International, Gretna, Va.
That they can still fit into one of the two service bays in the garage is an added practical benefit. And then there’s a comfort factor for Papenfuss that is a bonus: the garage door can be closed in summer (for air conditioning) and in winter (for heat) – and still leave room so the hood can be opened.
Servco, based in Wilton, Conn., divides its service area into zones, some with greater customer densities. The higher-capacity trucks are typically assigned to the higher-density zones, which are closer to the company’s base, which is also its fuel oil depot. That means the trucks can return, reload and make more deliveries with limited time lost driving back with an empty tank.
The balance of the company’s oil delivery trucks are single rear-axle chassis International 4400 models, with smaller capacity tanks; they are used in the zones that are less dense with customers, and farther from the depot.
The tank trucks are equipped with Onspot automatic tire chain systems. The devices, mounted to the vehicles’ suspension systems, are activated as needed by the driver flipping a switch in the cab. The Onspot devices lower from the suspension to spin out lengths of chain that pass between the tires and the road surface to bite into ice and snow for enhanced traction, according to information on the supplier’s website. When the driver no long wants to use the automatic chains, he flips the switch and the devices retract.
The shorter chassis of the higher-capacity trucks enables them to go anywhere their six-wheeled counterparts can go, Papenfuss said, but the larger load capacity and shorter wheel base results in somewhat more tire wear, or “scrubbing.” Papenfuss works with Commercial Tire & Recapping Co., Norwalk, Conn., to manage the tires. The larger load also forces suspension components to work harder, so those parts need to be monitored more closely, Papenfuss observed.
As the one and only mechanic looking after ten fuel oil trucks, 15 or so service vans and various sales and other additional vehicles, Papenfuss said it helps that all the vehicles pass through the company’s depot on a more-or-less regular basis. He likes to listen to them.
“I get a chance to hear what they sound like as they’re going by,” he said, and sometimes he will be able to nip a problem in the bud.
The company had long used diesel-powered service vans, but when General Motors discontinued the units more than ten years ago, Servco began ordering Ford diesel-powered vans as units needed to be replaced. By 2006, the company had a dozen or so of the Ford units.
This year, in a departure, the company bought a gasoline-powered GM van. The new vehicle has been getting about three miles less per gallon than the diesel-powered units, but there have been compensations, Papenfuss said, including lower engine oil consumption, and less of a need for replacement parts. Maintenance requirements are less generally, he said, attributing that largely to the GM van’s fuel injection system.
“The combustion is so perfect, there’s so little waste, that we don’t have to do the maintenance we used to,” he said. “It’s a huge plus.”
The owners of Servco are husband-and-wife Andy and Lynn Morin. The business includes New Canaan Oil, a fuel oil dealer acquired some years ago, and Cannondale Heating & Air Conditioning.
Adaptability could be said to be a byword for the approach that Papenfuss and the company’s owners and other employees bring to work. For instance, during a very snowy winter of 2010-2011 when the volume of deliveries peaked, Andy Morin, who has a CDL with a hazmat certification, made daily fuel oil deliveries for two weeks. In a similar vein, many of the deliverymen switch to other roles on a seasonal basis, performing as service technicians, for example, or working with sheet metal for the company’s Cannondale Heating and Air Conditioning unit.
Outsourcing fleet maintenance
There’s “do it yourself,” and there’s paying someone else to do it.
Some fuel oil dealers don’t have their own maintenance garage, or just would prefer to hand off the care and repair of their vehicles to another party. Fleet Master, a company in Rhode Island, offers preventive maintenance, repairs and road service as well as fueling services to fuel oil dealers and all manner of businesses. Wendy Hawkins, vice president of the company, said Fleet Master’s fuel volume – diesel, gasoline and biodiesel combined – exceeds 1.5 million gallons per year.
The company’s 5,000-square-foot maintenance garage, at 9 Hylestead Street in Providence, has nine service bays and can fit just about any size vehicle, Hawkins said. There are two full-time mechanics who repair air conditioning and do wheel alignments and tire work as well as PMs and repairs.
“We’re almost a one-stop shop,” Hawkins said, adding that vehicle inspections are among its services.
Some of Fleet Master’s customers are operating 2012 model year trucks that have a small auxiliary tank for diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) required for the selective catalytic reduction (SCR) system that provides emissions control. Fleet Master keeps DEF on hand for customers with those vehicles, Hawkins said.
Besides preventive maintenance, repairs, road service, and fueling services, operators want something else, Hawkins said.
“What’s important now to fleet managers is the information we can provide to them,” she said. That includes “what we’re fixing, how many miles are on the vehicle” and more. She noted that when a fleet operates a number of vehicles of the same make, model and model year, “Sometimes something common will happen to all the vehicles. We’ll tell the customer that at a certain number of miles this has been happening and it’s going to cost this much money.” With that information, she said, fleet managers can plan maintenance and manage costs more effectively.
For more information about Fleet Master, visit its website, Fleetmasterri.com or call 401-467-8773.