So here we have it, the age old question….truck and trailer or work van/box truck. That is a heavily loaded question, but I will do my best to answer it with regard to my experience. There are many considerations when it comes to which route is best for you and your business. There is no single correct answer or seamless solution. I have owned both and experienced pros and cons with each setup.
Pros for Trailers
There are many benefits to operating with a truck and trailer. The main consideration for myself when I started my business was that I did not need to own two separate vehicles. I had a personal/work truck that I could transport the family as well as tow a trailer for work. I only had one vehicle payment and insurance for one vehicle. It kept my operating costs low and put less financial pressure on myself and my family. The other nice thing about a trailer is that you can leave it on a jobsite if you have to run errands or are not able to be on-site that day while others are working. Another huge benefit to a trailer is that if your main vehicle needs service or unexpectedly breaks down, you can still continue to work. Trailers are relatively inexpensive to purchase compared to an additional vehicle and the operating costs are low. You can also own multiple trailers with various uses and need only one vehicle to transport them if you plan accordingly. They are roomy and can be configured in every shape, color, and size imaginable.
Cons for Trailers
A few issues come to mind with operating out of a truck and trailer. There may be nothing worse than hooking and unhooking a trailer. Maybe if you are running late. That would make it worse and oftentimes seems to be the case. It is a hassle and eats up time day in and day out. They are also difficult to drive in tight neighborhoods and require larger areas to park. Towing a trailer consumes a lot of fuel and creates additional wear and tear on your tow vehicle. Errands become more difficult and time-consuming with a truck and trailer. I do not have any data to support this, but trailers seem to be more prone to theft than a van or box truck. If you have employees you are taking additional risks having them tow a large trailer. I would be more comfortable having an employee drive a van than tow a trailer.
Pros for Vans
Vans make bouncing around from jobsite to jobsite incredibly easy. You can simply hop in and head on your way, no hooking or unhooking required. Parking is much easier and you are not confined to working in areas where you can maneuver a larger rig. They generally fit nicely in residential driveways and you can drive them around busy cities with no issue. You always have your tools with you when you are in a van. I personally feel they are less prone to theft or break-ins. You do not have to worry about transporting your family in your work vehicle. Vans allow you to create less impact during renovations by freeing up parking spaces and driveways for customers.
Cons for Vans
The largest hurdle for owning a van is generally the cost of ownership. When you are new in business it means owning a personal vehicle and a work vehicle which may be difficult or impossible to swing. You have twice the insurance, twice the vehicle payments, twice the maintenance, and need twice the amount of space at home for storage. The other concern I have with vans is that if they require maintenance or break down, you are absolutely screwed. There is no way of getting your tools to the jobsite or you are required to offload the vehicle and transport what you think you may need while the vehicle is in the shop. Another hassle is that if you only have one van and you need to run errands, or cannot be on the job that day, your employees may not have access to tools, materials, or consumables needed.
When I first went into business I operated out of a truck and a trailer. Actually, multiple trucks and multiple trailers. My first truck was small, and when I outgrew that I purchased a small enclosed trailer. When I outgrew that setup I purchased a full-size truck for the family/work. I eventually needed a larger trailer, so that was the next move. I still own a truck, and two trailers, but they are used sparingly. I use the pickup for transporting heavy material, picking up cabinetry with my enclosed trailer, or transporting my dump trailer. If I owned a larger van that could tow the dump trailer, I may not require a full size truck, but we do use it for transporting the family and of course dirtbikes, so all of this was considered when going this route.
After a handful of years using a truck and trailer for my primary work setup, I was tired of jockeying a trailer around to each and every job. I started working in tighter/older neighborhoods and it became a nuisance. I purchased a box truck and made that my primary work setup. Other than the lemon of a truck it has been, this would be my preferred setup. Assuming the vehicle runs as designed, you would only need to deal with a lack of a vehicle when regular maintenance is needed, and you can account for that with adequate planning and consideration. After a few years and business continuing to grow, I purchased a smaller van to supplement my operation. I really liked the smaller van as well, but found for general remodeling it was not large enough to suit my needs. I would have to spend considerable time loading and unloading tools and materials that were project specific on a daily basis and it was not worth it to me. I did enjoy how nimble it was and the cost of ownership though. Eventually I sold that van in order to remain as lean as possible.
At the end of the day if I could only choose one setup, it would be to own a van that was big enough to tow a trailer. With my operation, I only tow a trailer sparingly, so I would not be concerned if I had to use the van to tow something once or twice per job. This would alleviate the need for owning a full size truck as well as a van. I could have a personal vehicle and a single work vehicle. In my opinion this would be ideal. At this point I do not commute much for work, and my van is paid off, so there is no need to make a switch. My van is a 2015 and I just rolled 60,000 miles on the odometer, so as long as it continues to run and look clean, I will roll with this setup.
There is no single perfect setup. It all depends on your financial situation, your work area, your market, your trade, and what works for you. Just because a van works for others, does not mean that it is the best choice for you and vice versa. You must weigh all of the considerations listed above and considerations unique to you, your business, and your family. I personally love operating out of a van, but I was not able to afford that until I made some money and established my business. If I worked in a more remote area, worked larger projects, or had more employees a trailer or two may make a lot more sense for me. You have to make the decision that works for you. Whatever choice you make, keep it clean, organized, and looking professional!
- Tyler Grace