Photo courtesy of Wild Ridge Lawn & Landscape

Landscape truck or pickup? The wheels you give to your team can make or “brake” your productivity, and there’s a lot that goes into a vehicle decision. What services do you offer? How are the weather conditions in your region – and what about the traffic? Do you have certified technicians on staff who can repair vehicles or do you need the support of a dealer that can turn around repairs quickly?

At Wild Ridge Lawn & Landscape in Indianapolis, owner Joe Wildridge has considered these factors and he’s making a switch. Right now, he has six cab-over trucks for sale. Those landscape trucks are “phenomenal,” Wildridge says, citing their ability to maneuver in traffic and covered storage as benefits. “With the cab-over, you don’t have a hood or engine in front, so you can turn tighter and the visibility is great.”

The issue Wildridge ran into was the cost of replacing a turbo engine on the cab-over. For one, diagnosing the problem was costly and the time to get an engine imported was about four weeks. “That’s lost productivity,” he says. “So, we have our whole fleet for sale.”

With the miles Wildridge puts on his trucks (at least 20,000 per season) he figures he can put 100,000 miles per engine. That means he’d have to replace the expensive part every five years. On the other hand, with the 2-ton dually his team now runs, crews have the space on a 14-foot flatbed to haul equipment and supplies to the commercial properties they serve. And the parts won’t break the bank. “I can go onto virtually any after-market diesel performance website or to Cummins Engines and pick up a turbo,” Wildridge says.

Landscape trucks range in configurations. The dualie Wildridge now operates functions differently than a smaller pickup truck, allowing space for large zero-turn mowers and other equipment. The cab-over landscape truck design he used to buy is available with closed storage, an open flatbed or even a dump configuration. And the trusty pickup truck is a popular part of most landscape companies’ fleets – even if they also have landscape trucks – because of its versatility. As Michael Holley, president of Turf Care Land Management in Fort Wayne, Indiana, points out, “We do a lot of snow management, and our ¾- or 1-ton pickups are easy for the guys to maneuver and can manage the plow.”
Thinking trailers.

Corey Soirez likes his dually 1-ton truck and says this vehicle handles 80 percent of the landscape jobs served by his company, Perfection Landscape in Liberty Hill, Texas. A couple of smaller pickup trucks in the fleet are ideal for in-and-out mowing accounts, he says. “Plus, fueling those trucks is typically cheaper, and maintenance is definitely less expensive,” he says.

Another benefit to the pickup trucks is that Soirez can swap out enclosed trailers, depending on the job. “I have a trailer for almost every need – a dump trailer, a long landscape trailer, a shorter single-axle trailer, a tandem-axle,” he says. “If I’m mowing yards, I use an enclosed trailer. And we use a flatbed trailer if we’re moving river rock or boulders, or pallets of soil.”

Every truck isn’t pulling a trailer every day. “Sometimes, you’ll be ‘empty’ because you’re checking up on jobs or running to grab a part across town,” Soirez says. “So, for us, a pickup truck is the most fuel efficient.”

Wildridge echoes that “compact, low cost of operation” sold him on the dualie trucks he now operates. They do not require a trailer, and are still classified under CDL, he says. “We can put mowers on the back of these, along with trimmers, blowers and all of the accessories on racks.”

This type of versatility is what sells some owners on the landscape truck with a cab-over design.

Turf Care Land Management uses pickups in all seasons since 3/4- and 1-ton trucks can handle plows well.
Photo courtesy of Turf Care Land Management
Before you buy.

“Test drive before you purchase,” says Holley, relating that a seemingly great deal on a truck he didn’t test drive was a hard lesson learned. “I took it home and I’ve owned it for three years – and we’ve only put 5,000 miles on it,” he says.

Then the motor blew.

Now, Holley always makes sure that he takes a used truck to a mechanic for a thorough once-over before making a purchase. And, now that he works with one dealership, the salespeople there know what he’s looking for in a truck and are always keeping an eye out. This saves Holley lots of time and frustration. “I used to find trucks wherever I could, but now I have someone doing that for me,” he says.

Wildridge adds, “No matter what business you are in, whether it’s landscaping or operating a restaurant, you need to have strong support if you’re going to be successful,” he says. “It’s no different than a relationship – if you’re in a good relationship with a supportive partner, they’ll offset your flaws.”

As with trucks, the support system is critical because timely repairs and parts deliveries keep crews up and running productively and profitably.

“If the weak link is that I can’t get parts for a truck, then I won’t use the product.” Joe Wildridge, Wild Ridge Lawn & Landscape

“If the weak link is that I can’t get parts for a truck, then I won’t use the product,” he says.

Before buying any vehicle, get to know the service department and price out the cost of typical repairs and common parts – and the big stuff, too, like a turbo engine.

For example, Wildridge knew that water pumps could be a challenge on one of the trucks. So, he priced out the part and realized that it’s a reasonable fix if an issue arises.

“Know the product. Get familiar with it inside and out,” he says. “Talk to the service department, and a mechanic you trust who works on engines.”

Also, be sure your people are supporting the vehicles you provide them, Wildridge says. “Make sure employees respect the tools, whether it’s a Ford or a mower,” he says. “And, when you’re buying vehicles, think about whether you’d put your wife or children in it.

“Take care of your employees because they are taking care of you – and they can only be as strong as your weakest link, so be sure the asset you’re providing them is reliable.”