It's hard to picture a landscape or irrigation contractor without his truck.

Like a carpenter without a hammer, or a conductor with no orchestra, there’s something wrong with the picture.

Pickups and their cousins, cab-over-engine (COE) trucks, are the basic, bedrock equipment of all green industry professionals. From the smallest one-man, one-truck operation to corporate outfits with huge fleets, trucks are the indispensible standbys we rely on to carry crews, supplies and equipment to and from jobs.

For decades, making and selling these trucks was the exclusive domain of the Detroit Big Three.

Today, the full-size pickup and COE market includes improved trucks from domestic makers Ford, Chrysler and GM, plus some nice additions from major importers.

The overall story for 2014 is that manufacturers continue to strive for both better fuel economy and choice of fuels. This is in response to high fuel prices and customer demand. Driver comfort and convenience are the two other things that seem to have been highlighted the most this year.

Truck makers won’t be left out of the digital revolution. You’ll be seeing a lot more electronic entertainment and communications gear, both standard and optional. These include hands-free Bluetooth phone capability, voice-command navigation and sound systems, and USB ports. More than ever, the cabs of these work trucks can be made into portable offices, should you be so inclined.

Right now, the truck market is more competitive than ever. Overall quality is high, and there is a wide selection of brands and models from which to choose. In this still-sluggish economy, it’s a buyers’ market. If you’re not afraid to do some wheeling and dealing, you can find real bargains.

Domestic or Import?

Many contractors buy American as a point of pride. Some also say that the imported trucks feel less solid to them.

“We only buy domestic, either GMC or Chevy, for the most part,” said Danielle Rederford, office manager at All Seasons Lawn & Landscaping in Reno, Nevada. “Some people don’t like the perception created by using imports. First and foremost, it’s really about the company’s image.”

For contractors who work in the rugged state of Alaska, there is another consideration in choosing to buy domestic models. Up north, supplies of every kind, including auto parts, travel an expensive and circuitous route to get there, often by air.

“The ability to get parts is a big factor here,” said Glenn Mead, a veteran dispatcher for Ground Effects Landscaping & Snow Removal in Anchorage. “When you have a set number of vehicles that you need to have on the road every day, if one of them goes down and you’re required to order parts from out of state or out of the country, that’s a big disadvantage.”

Ground Effects’ fleet consists of 40 four-wheel-drive crew cab pickups that seat five to six people. They are evenly divided between Chevrolets and Fords. The company also owns one Isuzu COE that is used for transporting sanding equipment during snow season.

The trucks at All Seasons include pickups and a Ford F650 Super Duty, which is used to haul a large leaf vacuum. Most of the pickups have either crew or extended cabs. The majority run on gas, with a few diesel models thrown in.

“At my branch, we pretty much stick with Fords; those work the best for us,” said Gene Petrini, director of operations at ISS Grounds Control’s Phoenix, Arizona branch. “The heavier trucks, especially the one-tons, are used for commercial applications and installation jobs.” Heavier-duty F-350s are used to haul the company’s heavy equipment, such as trenchers and tractors. The maintenance crews use the F-150s and F-250s to pull trailers loaded with a couple of big riders and the rest of the lawn care equipment.


Many companies maintain their trucks in-house, as does Ground Effects. At All Seasons, “We have a full-time mechanic who works here year ’round, but there are things that we do need to send trucks to the dealership for,” says Rederford.

“Warranty repairs and major transmission problems. Our garage doesn’t have a lift.”

Diesel, gas or something else?

Gasoline was the preferred fuel of the contractors who contributed to this story, but many had both gasoline and diesel trucks. “I used to buy diesel trucks,” says Michael Derrig, owner and president of Landscape Details, Inc., in Sag Harbor, New York. “Diesels are approximately $7,000 more per vehicle. You’ve got to drive hundreds of thousands of miles to make up the difference between diesel and gas for that $7,000.” Petrini is phasing out his diesels, mainly due to expensive fueling mistakes where gasoline was inadvertently pumped into diesel engines.

Recently, the cost of diesel has gone up, equaling or surpassing the price of gas in some places. Still, many contractors prefer diesel for its lower maintenance costs and extra power. And, while propane may be cheaper at the pump, trucks can’t be ordered with propane engines. They must be retrofitted to run on it, a transformation that costs around $15,000. At this time, biodiesel is still in its infancy.

As for compressed natural gas (CNG), there are some options for truck buyers. The bi-fuel Chevrolet 2500HD has the ability to switch between gasoline and CNG. And the Ford F150 has a new CNG/LPG option. However, CNG fueling stations aren’t available in a lot of places yet.

Safety first

Derrig has an important warning for his fellow contractors. “One of the biggest things I’ve learned over the years about trucks is that you shouldn’t overload them. I understand that people are trying to get as much done as possible; I’m no saint, I did it for years, too. But a truck is designed to hold a certain amount of weight. When you exceed that, you’re putting unnecessary wear and tear on the engine, the tires, the axles, the gears, the body, the frame. The truck doesn’t operate properly, and it creates problems.”

It can also be dangerous, according to Derrig. “A lot of my guys say, ‘Oh, what’s the big deal?’ Well, it is a big deal, because a truck is designed to stop with a certain load in it. Go over that, and the brakes aren’t going to work.”

What’s new?

Every pickup truck make and model comes in a number of configurations: short box, long box, extended cab, crew cab and others.

Many manufacturers offer two- or four-wheel drive or six-speed transmissions. We don’t have the space to list every single body style, engine size, trim package or available options for every brand. What we will do is highlight some of the new features and enhancements you can look forward to for 2014, and in some cases, 2015.

Chevrolet has completely redesigned and reengineered the Silverado 1500 for 2014. Every piece of the truck is new—engine, frame, chassis, interior and box.

As for the heavy-duty Silverados, the 2500 and 3500, major changes are coming for the 2015 models, which will debut early, in the first quarter of next year. They’ll have all-new bodies and styling, new boxes and easy lift-and-lower tailgates. The interiors will be all-new as well, with better seats and increased storage.

The 1500 comes with the EcoTec3 engine. “The standard 4.3L EcoTec3 V6 has as much horsepower as a lot of our V8s have,” says Tom Wilkinson of Chevrolet Truck Communications. It provides 285 hp with 305 lb-ft of torque, and can get up to 24 mpg on the highway, with a towing capacity up to 6,700 pounds. The 2500 and 3500 models offer a 6.0L Vortec gasoline, V8 engine or the 6.6L Duramax diesel V8.

The MyLink system is available on all 2014 1500s. You’ll also be able to get it on the 2015 2500s and 3500s. It’s standard on everything but base work trucks.

GMC Sierra trucks are essentially the same as Chevy Silverados, with some slight variations, mainly in styling. The six GMC truck models range from the Sierra 1500 with a towing capacity of 11,500 pounds to the Sierra 3500 Denali, which has a towing capacity of 22,600 pounds.

Ford F-Series trucks, from the F- 150s to the Super Duty F-250s, 350s and 450s, the chassis cab F-550s and up to the F-650 and F-750 Medium Duty models, continue to be popular with many landscape professionals.

The biggest news from Ford is that you can now run a 2014 F150 on CNG or LPG (liquefied petroleum gas), provided that you order it with the gaseous-fuel prep option. It’s available for the 3.7L V6 engine. After that, you must take the truck to a Ford Qualified Vehicle Modifier to supply fuel tanks, fuel lines and fuel injectors. A factory CNG prep kit can be ordered for every F-Series truck, except for the diesel F-750.

Other 2014 changes include increased payload capacities for the F- 250, F-350 and F-450 Super Duty trucks. You can now haul up to 7,260 pounds of cargo in the bed of the F- 350, and tow up to 18,500 pounds. The F-450 is capable of towing 24,700 pounds with a fifth-wheeler or gooseneck.

Engine options include a 6.2L V8 and a turbocharged, 6.7L V-8 diesel. The F-650 can be ordered with a 6.8L V10 engine, the only gasoline engine in this segment. Or, choose the 6.7L Cummins diesel engine, available for both the F-650 and F- 750.

Ram pickup trucks come in three sizes, the Ram 1500 half-ton pickup, the three-quarter-ton 2500 and the one-ton 3500. Ram also offers Chassis Cab models for towing or hauling very large payloads.

The news here is that a 2014 Ram 1500 light-duty pickup can now be ordered with the new 3.0L EcoDiesel V-6 engine for greater fuel economy. The company says that it’s the only full-sized pickup in the light-duty class to offer a diesel engine (gasoline and flex-fuel engines are also available), in response to customer demand. This engine offers better than 25 mpg, and is compatible with B20 biodiesel. Also new is an optional front park assist system, available on the 1500.

The new suspension yields a better ride than the previous leafspring arrangement. “In the past, three-quarter-ton trucks have not ridden very well, generally, because they’re set up for huge payloads,” says Ram Truck spokesman Nick Cappa. “The new five-link rear suspension system handles and rides much better, especially during lateral movements, like around a turn when you’re heavily loaded.”

The 3500 features two new engines for 2014. A new 6.4L Hemi V8 comes standard with Variable Valve Timing and cylinder deactivation, a fuel-saving technology; the engine can tell when it only needs four cylinders to run.

It provides 410 hp and 429 lb-ft of torque. Those who want a bigger engine can opt for the new 6.7L Cummins Turbo Diesel with 385 hp and 850 lb/ft of torque. It has an official payload capacity of 4,140 lbs and a towing capacity of 30,000 pounds.

The 2014 Ram Chassis Cab 3500, 4500 and 5500 also come standard with the new 6.4L Hemi V8 gasoline engine. This is the first time the Ram 4500 and 5500 Chassis Cabs have offered gasoline engines.

Nissan offers two pickups, the mid-sized Frontier and the full-sized Titan. The Frontier has made quite a few changes for 2014. However, most of these are driver comfort features, such as the heated front seats that have been made standard on the PRO-4X model, and added as an option to the SV (standard on the SV VTP package). Additionally, modifications have been made in the area of electronic navigation and connectivity equipment.

There are no changes regarding engines, transmissions or towing capacities in the Frontier.

The Nissan Titan has no major enhancements for 2014.

Toyota also has two trucks: the light-duty Tacoma and the half-ton Tundra full-size pickup, in five versions. It is available in regular, double cab and CrewMax body styles, in 4x2 or 4x4 long- or short-bed configurations. Engine choices include a 4.0L 270 hp V6, a 310 hp 4.6L or a 5.7L 381 hp aluminum iForce, 32- valve V8 engine, with 401 lb/ft of torque. The 5.7L engine is standard, with a maximum towing capacity of 10,400 pounds.

Cab-Over Engine Trucks (COE)

The Isuzu N-Series comes in a range of wheelbases, from 109 to 212 inches, with GVRWs ranging from 12,000 to 19,500 pounds. A wide variety of body styles are available.

Body lengths are available from 10 to 24 feet. Standard models seat three across, while crew cabs allow four additional passengers in the back seat.

Isuzu NPR ECO-MAX models come standard with the 4JJ1-TC turbocharged 3.0L diesel engine. The company says that this engine gets up to 20 percent greater fuel economy than its previous incarnation.

NPR-HD, NQR and NRR models come equipped with 4HK 1-TC 5.2L turbodiesel engines.

Mitsubishi FUSO for 2014 is offering its Class 3 Canter FE125 cabover truck with a new, longer 169.3-inch wheelbase that will accommodate bodies up to 20 feet long. The medium-duty FE125 has a GVWR of 12,500 pounds and a body-payload capacity, in its normal configuration, of 7,095 pounds. With a 20-ft stake-body or landscape body installed, this model may offer enough room for tools and equipment so that a separate trailer isn’t necessary.

Mitsubishi FUSO trucks continue to feature a six-speed Duonic automated manual transmission. It combines the economy of a manual transmission with the convenience of an automatic, with dual clutch actuation and no torque interruption between shifts. It also incorporates the ability to creep forward in traffic by releasing the brake pedal for easier and smoother operation. In addition, it as the advantage of ECO mode, upshifting earlier during acceleration to consume less fuel.

A side-mounted fuel tank is optional on FE models with a wheelbase of 133.9 inches or longer.

There are five work trucks to choose from, including three standard-cab FE models with GVWRs ranging from 12,500 pounds to 17,995 pounds, and an FE crew cab model with 15,995-pound GVWR.

There is also the FG4X4, the only four-wheel-drive cab-over currently in the U.S. market, with a GVWR of 14,050 pounds. Canters accept bodies ranging from 12 feet to 22 feet long, depending on model and wheelbase.

Don’t forget about rebates and dealer incentives. Just as you would with any equipment purchase, do your research before you buy; it pays off. If you’re considering a GM model, ask your dealer about the Business Choice Plan, which might help with financing.

Whatever make or model trucks you choose, make sure they’re the right ones for your needs, now and in the near future, as your company continues to grow. Your business depends on it.