Maintaining a fleet of vehicles has become a bigger cost than ever before. Whether you’re a commercial, residential, or industrial HVAC contractor, the types of trucks you purchase or lease and their maintenance costs are impacting your bottom line in a big way. See the results of our 2013 HVAC Service Vehicle Survey
Once upon a time, you could roughly gauge the revenue of an HVAC company based on the number of service vehicles used in their daily operations. Today, with fuel prices high, insurance rates higher, and the cost of doing business climbing, that “rule of thumb” doesn’t necessarily apply anymore.
With that in mind, Contracting Business.com magazine decided to find out more about contractors’ current truck needs, the trends in their buying habits, and how those buying habits differ between market segments: commercial/institutional, industrial, and residential.
So in early March, we launched a web-based survey of our readers. Invitations were sent to HVAC contractors working in those market segments. This report is based upon the results of their input.
It’s interesting to note that of the 343 respondents, 86% were in the residential sector, 80% worked in the commercial/institutional sector, and 33% focused solely on industrial. The types of trucks and vehicles that these respondents are most likely to own or lease (Figure 1) are pickups (more than 71% across the board), followed by box/cube trucks.
This was surprising in that the respondents’ use of vans was only 22 to 23% depending on market sector, flying in the face of other studies done over the years that showed a fairly consistent and even split between pickups and vans in the commercial and residential sectors.
From a brand preference standpoint (Figure 2) our contractor respondents told us that Ford vehicles were the most popular brands (59%) followed closely by Chevrolet/GMC (55%) and then Ram (14%). Brand preference doesn’t differ based on market sectors.
The market sectors did show some difference with regard to the size of the fleets the respondents maintain. For example, contractors working in the industrial sector report the largest fleets (an average of 12 trucks) followed by those involved in the commercial/institutional sector (nine trucks), and residential (eight trucks).
In addition, the lifespan (Figure 3) of the typical truck used by respondent firms is nine years. We found that the durability of trucks doesn’t vary as a function of the market sectors our respondent contractors are involved in.
Buy Vs. Lease
Figure 4 shows that virtually all the respondents report that their companies prefer to purchase their vehicles (93%) rather than lease them. When purchasing a new truck, the typical respondent pays an average of $23,600.
In this age of Internet monitoring and high-tech vehicle tracking, it’s surprising to find that relatively few of the respondent firms track their vehicles, and even fewer have plans to start doing so within the next year. Figure 5 shows that those in the industrial sector are most likely to track their vehicles (34%).
Of all the respondents who do track their vehicles, the vast majority of them use global positioning systems (GPS) to do so (85%).
Another interesting fact is shown in Figure 6: the vast majority of contractors allow their field personnel to take vehicles home (75%). Another 3% are considering this option.
Surprisingly, 76% of the respondents also allow their field personnel to use their work vehicles for private use. This is surprising because of the high per-vehicle insurance costs contractors are paying (Figure 9).
For fun, we wanted to know how work vehicles influenced contractors’ choice when buying a personal vehicle and the results were not surprising. Between the three market sectors (residential commercial/institutional, and industrial) an average of 63% (Figure 7) of our respondents are influenced by the performance of their work trucks in personal vehicle purchases.
We wanted to know how contractors choose to maintain their vehicles. Figure 8 details their responses.
Just over half of the respondents (59%) report they do at least some of their own vehicle maintenance, including 14% who conduct all vehicle maintenance in-house. Companies that outsource vehicle maintenance are most likely to use an independent vehicle repair shop for this service (83%).
For those companies that either do some or all service in-house, we were interested in knowing how many maintenance professionals they had on staff. Figure 10 breaks this down as follows:
The number of full-time maintenance professionals employed varies somewhat by market sector. For example, the average number in the residential sector is three professionals. In the commercial/institutional sector the average is five professionals and in the industrial sector it’s eight.
Respondents whose firms conduct their own vehicle maintenance employ an average of one part-time maintenance professional.
It’s interesting that fuel efficiency doesn’t seem to be all that important (see Figure 11), which is a fairly significant change from other surveys done over the last five years. The focus is on keeping trucks running longer.
So, whether you see vehicles as rolling billboards or tools of the trade, costs and maintenance are more important than ever.
Safe travels, everyone.