Joe Halpin, marketing manager at Waltco Truck Equipment Co., said the gross vehicle weight of the truck being used is the first consideration when choosing a liftgate, followed by the weight and dimensions of the items being moved.
Birmingham and Halpin agreed that both aluminum and steel are good materials.
Halpin said aluminum is more aesthetically pleasing and brings the advantage of withstanding corrosion better, but this is more likely to be important in geographic regions where corrosives are used to melt snow and ice. "In general, steel liftgates are the most common," Halpin said.
Liftgate manufacturers have given greater attention to electrical components in recent years, Halpin said. They are using better materials for wiring and switches.
Aftermarket support for liftgates has improved, thanks in large measure to the Internet. Halpin said it is much easier for customers to find parts they need.
To find qualified aftermarket specialists, he recommends contacting the National Trucking Equipment Association (www.ntea.com).
"Certainly they (vending machines) are getting larger and heavier," said Bob Thomas, owner of Nortech.
Elevating trailers bring new options
Hydraulically operated, elevating trailers have been introduced that automatically lower to ground level, allowing for easy loading and unloading. This is accomplished quickly and efficiently, without the need to uncouple the trailer from the towing vehicle.
Stellar Industries Inc. has offered an electrically controlled, hydraulic lifting system that is designed for 1-ton pick-ups and 1-ton trucks with utility bodies. The lifting equipment operates parallel to the ground, keeping the load level at all times. It is stable throughout the entire cycle, making it easy to load from various heights.
Should the operator not need the use of Stellar Industries' X-Tra-Lift, the carrier can quickly detach the loading bed from the lifting unit to allow the operator to use it without any restrictions.
"This (X-Tra-Lift) will go any height you want it to go," said Merv Petersen, distribution manager for The Wittern Group, who recently began using the X-Tra-Lift in one of his pickup trucks. He said the system is about the same cost as a liftgate, but is safer and can be operated by one person. "The whole bed lifts out of the truck," Petersen said. "You can back into a loading dock."
With a liftgate, Petersen said, it is necessary to lift the machine onto the liftgate, then one person has to
operate the liftgate while the other person has to balance the machine on the liftgate.
Elevating beds prove more versatile
Kelly Uselton, who has a 2-route operation in Harrisburg, Ill., found the X-Tra Lift easier, safer and more economical than a liftgate. "I can put that all the way down on the ground, roll the machine in there, then take off," he said. "The X-Tra Lift is just a whole lot easier."
He noted that a standard liftgate will not extend to certain heights, requiring manual work to get a machine onto a loading dock.
The X-Tra Lift has also allowed him to pick up pallets of soda from retailers quickly and easily. When his Coke bottler raised his soda price, he was able to find better deals at supermarkets. With the X-Tra Lift, he can pick up a pallet of soda at the store and bring it back to his warehouse. This can amount to a savings of $150 on product costs.
"That has paid for the X-Tra Lift in itself," Uselton said.
Michael Voss, a one-man operation based in Apple Valley, Calif., uses a similar system from JLG. "It trails behind your vehicle flawlessly," he said. "I just love it to death for moving equipment."
Voss, who operates as Sip N Snak Vending, previously used a liftgate on a 14-foot van. He had to lift the machine using a dolly or a pallet jack onto the liftgate, move it in position and secure it. There was only four feet of space in the bed for a dolly and any other equipment. "It wasn't fun," he said.
Voss came across the JLG Triple L system because the company is based in his service area. He has a 4- by 8-foot, single-axle unit that is hand cranked. He exchanged his 14-foot van for a smaller vehicle. "It works out so much better all the way around," he said.