Friday, June 1, 2012

Balancing Cost and Performance When Purchasing Vehicles

By Mary Jo Welch 

Not that long ago, pickup trucks and cargo vans were basically “one size fits all” and making a choice was as simple as finding the lowest price. Today, with more than 100 combinations for pickup trucks and cargo vans, getting the best value requires balancing cost and performance. Often the difference between the lowest price and that of the right size vehicle is 10 percent or less, but costs for maintenance and repairs, poor fuel economy and lower resale value can end up being much greater in the long run.    

Selecting a pickup truck or cargo van should begin with an honest assessment of the weight and volume the vehicle will be hauling, including aftermarket equipment such as bins and ladder racks, as well as the estimated weight of the driver, passengers, carry-on toolboxes and other routine variables. Other factors include whether the truck will be driven mostly on the highway, off-road or in stop-and-go traffic, as well as if it will be used for towing.  

While today’s manufacturer’s warranties usually cover everything except normal wear-and-tear items like tires, brake pads and filters, failure to comply with a truck’s recommended weight can end up voiding the warranty on components that fail due to overloading.  

Manufacturers determine the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) and tow ratings based on the rating of the axles, body/bed, frame, suspension, tires, engine and transmission. Operating a vehicle above the GVWR creates a potential safety hazard by affecting the way the truck handles and stops; it also affects performance and reliability.   

Although drivers may be tempted to continue to load materials into their trucks if there appears to be space available, it’s important to remember that the frame, suspension, brakes and tires are not designed for weights above the rating the manufacturer has established. Overloading a truck can cause premature mechanical failures on driveline components such as axles, drive shaft universal joints, transmission, and suspension parts and brakes.  

The easiest way to determine how much weight a vehicle is designed to carry is to subtract its net weight (found in the owner’s manual) from the GVWR (usually found on a placard on the door jam). The remaining number is the maximum weight the vehicle can safely carry, including the driver, fuel and cargo. Aftermarket accessories and equipment also increase the weight of the vehicle and must be added to the net weight listed in the owner’s manual. The best way to check the net weight is to take the vehicle to a certified scale and weigh it as normally loaded with the driver and passengers.  

While a truck or van certainly will be loaded to 100 percent capacity from time to time, a good rule of thumb is to spec vehicles to operate at 80 percent of their GVWR. This will reduce operating costs and help extend the service life of pickup trucks and cargo vans.     

Mary Jo Welch is assistant vice president of Fleet Operations, Vehicle Acquisition and Licensing for Enterprise Fleet Management. For more information, call (877) 23-FLEET or visit or      

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