Take Your Business to the Next Level with a Service Truck

— by Lynne Brandon

For HVAC and plumbing contractors, a service truck with the equipment, parts and tools needed for repair and service work is crucial to going to the next level in business.

To go to the next level in business, having the right tools of the trade at your fingertips is imperative. For HVAC and plumbing contractors this means having a service truck equipped with equipment, parts and tools needed for repair and service work.  

Tyler Woods is busy. At 28, the master plumber is the third-generation plumber in his family. He works with his father at their business, Complete Plumbing, on residential new construction projects, works as the plumbing supervisor at Interstate Mechanical Service, and finds time to teach apprentice classes for Tennessee PHCC two nights a week where he emphasizes that doing a good job will result in a lucrative career. “I tell students that if they can perform the job right, they will make money, live well, and most importantly, improve the sanitation and well-being of our customers,” said Woods.

Woods believes in the importance of work trucks and that they are a key factor to having a successful business. He points out that different specialties (residential versus commercial, service vs installation) will require different tools to be stocked.


Plumber Service Trucks

A plumber’s truck is a work or service vehicle that fits the unique needs of a plumbing contractor. Plumber’s trucks are usually organized with bins and shelves that hold tools, hardware and materials needed to complete repairs.

Woods is a fan of press tools over flame. “It eliminates a lot of time regarding hot permits and full system draining,” said Woods who uses press on copper and gas lines. Press technology may also eliminate the need to outfit trucks to transport cylinders of flammable gas for brazing.

Having a well-stocked truck is also crucial and he recalled a project for Kroger and having the right inventory was key. “I had nine service requests one day filling in for a contractor,” said Woods. “I had everything needed for repairs on the truck: wax rings, flush valves and more. By having what I needed to dissemble and rebuild/replace fixtures, I finished at the end of the day with 45 minutes to spare. Not having what I needed would have cost me an hour or more that day.”


Residential service work

According to Woods, a well-organized plumber’s truck will boost productivity by including these basics, among others:

  • ½ inch to 4-inch PVC pipe and fittings
  • Flush valves, flappers, fill valves
  • PEX, copper, adapters, etc.
  • Press and expansion/crimp tools
  • Light drain cleaning equipment
  • Hand tools – wrenches, screwdriver, etc.
  • Handbag – power tools, headlights to keep hands free
  • Other tools


Commercial Service Work

  •  ½ inch to 4-inch supply pipe and fittings
  • 1 ½ inch to 6-inch drainpipe and fittings
  • Chrome flush valves – frequently rebuilt requiring O-rings, speed seals, and vacuum breakers.
  • Heavy drain cleaning equipment (drum augers, hydro-jetters, etc.)
  • Pump seals, bolt flange gaskets, isolation valves, etc.
  • Additional hardware to protect and support copper pipes and other costly equipment
  • Large press tools, pipe wrenches, oxygen/acetylene and B-tank torches
  • Diagnostic devices such as; multi-meters and manometers 
  • Submersible and transfer pumps
  • Pipe stands and chain vices
  • Power tools; drills, saws, etc.

“I think contractors have to be more ‘pick and choose’ with commercial service trucks,” said Woods. “Commercial plumbing is so extensive, it’s impossible to have a truck stocked with every possible repair part. It’s always smart to inspect and map the buildings of our customers, to help us be as prepared as possible.”

Woods believes in the importance of safety on the job. “I am a big ‘safety guy,” said Woods. “We teach OSHA at PHCC so I believe in harnesses, cut and chain gloves, safety glasses and more. I would rather a plumber spend the extra time to be safe and do it right.” 


HVAC Service Trucks

Eddie Wells is the Division VP of Marketing for One Hour Heating and Air Conditioning in Tampa, Florida. Wells understands the business as a former HVAC service tech. “In our business we have a big emphasis on stocked trucks,” said Wells. We want to be professional and value customers’ time, which is where a service truck comes in. We know that people take time off work to be home when a repair or problem arises. 

“If an HVAC contractor goes to a customers’ home without materials and parts needed he will waste time calling back to the office and driving around looking for supplies. It becomes a snowball effect that can spiral the day in a downward trend. We try to have everything that could be needed on a job so we can reduce stress and tell the homeowner that we can fix it that day and get them back to work. It might sound simple but without customers we don’t have a business.”

One Hour uses a software platform to dispatch service trucks and control inventory ensuring that the needed tools and materials are refreshed daily. Wells recommends these parts and materials for HVAC service trucks as basic necessities. 


HVAC Service Truck Inventory 

  • PVC connectors for drain lines (1/2 inch to ¾ inch)
  • Copper fittings (elbow for refrigerants, conduits)
  • Disconnects for AC
  • Wire nuts/common connectors
  • Capacitors
  • Hard starts (common screw sizes, anchors, straps)
  • Two sizes thermostat wire (18-2 and 18-8 rolls)
  • UV bulbs
  • AC surge protectors
  • Drain cleaners
  • Relay switches/circuit breakers
  • Refrigerant/anti-refrigerant
  • PVC glue for silicon caulking
  • Leak detector spray
  • Safe-t-switch – clear drain lines

“We also recommend maintenance plans bi-annually (filters changed, clean coils, check condenser, etc.), and it is usually a repair or replace situation,” said Wells. “If it is a simple thing like replacing a coil a service tech can do it on the spot. If it is more involved the item will have to ordered if the system is not stocked in our warehouse.”


Service Trucks: WAREHOUSE on Wheels

“When it comes to buying a truck for business purposes, there are a variety of factors to consider,” said Mitchell Vance, VP of Sales and Marketing, Hackney Truck Company. “From the specifications of the truck to its workability to the connections to company software, there’s a lot to think about. It’s also important to consider how the truck will be used for employee recruitment and how its organization and safety features can affect employee retention. Finally, having the right inventory on the truck and an efficient job performance affects customer satisfaction and are essential considerations. All these factors play an important part in purchasing the right truck for your business needs.”

“For service purposes, having a well-thought-out body or shelving unit is vital,” said Vance. Good organization
 is necessary to ensure inventory can be accessed quickly and efficiently. Lighting is essential to provide visibility in dark areas. The ability to connect to company software enables real-time inventory control. 

Maintaining an accurate inventory of parts and materials is essential for any company. A well-stocked inventory can help reduce downtime, boost employee efficiency, improve employee retention, increase revenue, and enhance customer satisfaction. Locking systems should be in place to protect the truck from theft. By having all the necessary parts on hand, plumbers and HVAC service personnel can complete jobs without requiring additional trips to off-site locations, resulting in higher productivity and lower overhead costs. 

“Ease of egress is important to make sure employees stay safe while loading and unloading heavy items,” said Vance. Having a ramp for heavier items will limit back strain, while stand-up access to tools and inventory will help further reduce the chances of injury. Additionally, reducing workplace injuries can also
 lead to cost savings. According to a recent report, every dollar invested in preventing workplace accidents saves an average of $2.17 in direct costs associated with injuries.”


The Service Truck as a Business Solution

“The number one labor leak is a work truck that is out of service or in the shop,” said Glenn Humphries, General Manager at WorkTrux of Knoxville. Humphries believes that education is crucial and teaches classes on the importance of the right service vehicles for a successful service business. WorkTrux customers are largely HVAC contractors (all customers are essential businesses) with a trend toward companies doing both HVAC and plumbing. 

“I told a recent class of apprentices that whether you are an owner or employee that productivity will make or break your business, and your service truck is critical. Service trucks are rolling labor factories,” said Humphries. “Every dollar of labor you charge drags along a similar amount of parts to be billed. This is what industry experts commonly refer to as ‘opportunity cost’ – the work vehicle gives you the opportunity to generate parts and labor revenue. Whether it is an older vehicle that has half the life expectancy of a more expensive later model, all it takes is $30 to $40 dollars a day to put that income producing asset on the road – a great return on investment. He pointed out that today’s consumers have higher expectations than in the past. If a contractor shows up in a rust bucket versus a service truck it sends a negative message about the business and their service. Savvy owners focus on clean vehicles as a tool to build value into their pricing.” 

Humphries buys late model, lease turn-in vehicles for WorkTrux. He noted some changes in availability on commercial work vehicles. “Before Covid, availability on new work vehicles was not an issue. Supply chain issues, primarily on computer chips, has caused a shortage of supply at OEM dealerships. As a pre-owned dealership, we are still able to offer late model/pre-owned vehicles still under factory warranty as well as slightly older vehicles to meet any budget.”

He continued, “We typically see customers for three reasons: (1) they are rotating older trucks out of their fleet as they approach the end of their fiscal year for Section 179 tax deductions, (2) adding new technicians, or (3) have an unexpected need – replacing a vehicle that has been wrecked or facing extended time in the repair shop” (current lead time for installing a transmission is three weeks). All of them understand that when their work vehicles are properly stocked and on the road, their precious cash flow remains uninterrupted.”


Service Truck Safety Style

Service truck styles are also a consideration depending on the business. Types of service vehicles are diverse from a pickup truck to cargo vans that come in a variety of sizes, heights and weights. One Hour Heating and Air Conditioning technicians drive box trucks (Chevy or GMC truck bodies) with lift gates.

Having the option between a regular cab or crew cab is also important,” said Vance. “A crew cab provides extra space for additional passengers or cargo, while a regular cab typically uses less fuel than a crew cab. Choosing the right cab will depend on the truck’s purpose and any other passengers needed on board.”

One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning

One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning in Tampa, FL

Interstate Mechanical Service

Interstate Mechanical Service

Hackney P2000 with shelving and ramp

Trucks and bodies that have ramps and shelving like the Hackney P2000 make life easier and more efficient for technicians.

WorkTrux of Knoxville

WorkTrux of Knoxville

This article first appeared in the Southern PHC April / May 2023 print edition. All print editions can be viewed online. To have a printed magazine delivered to your mailbox, simply subscribe online. Subscriptions are FREE to industry professionals.