Author Topic: Best vehicle for satellite installation business?  (Read 5334 times)

QuaecumqueVera

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Best vehicle for satellite installation business?
« on: March 29, 2014, 04:01:17 PM »
First off I'd like to say hi. This is my first post on the MMM forums!

Now to describe my situation. I'm beginning to work as a contractor doing satellite installation in rural areas (where most satellite internet customers are located). Currently I have a 98 Plymouth Grand Voyager minivan which I'm using for hauling my equipment around. The mileage is better than that of a truck, but not by much (and it's been steadily decreasing over the past few years). While I'd like to keep driving this vehicle as long as possible, if I don't find a way to improve the mileage it may be worthwhile to jump ship sooner rather than later. I'll easily be driving 100+ kilometers most days I work - an unavoidable part of this line of work. I don't drive much when I'm not using it for work. That being said, I'm taking it in on Monday to get my winter tires taken off (I'm in central Alberta, Canada - it keeps looking like spring but then we keep getting dumped on) and a basic tune-up/inspection done after someone suggested the poor mileage may be from old spark plugs.

However, should the vehicle have a severe failure at some point in the near future which is beyond fixing, or should the mileage continue to decline without a solution, I'll need to replace it. I had previously been thinking about getting a truck - but after reading the MMM blog I've punched myself in the face a few times and realized that there are more economical solutions out there. The toughest requirements are that the vehicle needs to be capable of mounting a 28 foot ladder (collapses to 14 feet), I need to not be totally straining my back to reach in and out to get supplies (which I'll be doing dozens of times a day at multiple sites) and that it needs to able to put up with Alberta winter driving conditions (mucky, heavy snow, sheer ice, etc etc).

From what I've seen, everyone in this business drives either a van or a truck. Not sure you'd find many places in the world with more trucks per capita than Alberta (because of the oilfield - except only about 5% of the guys who own those trucks actually need them). My equipment dealer and coordinator drives a brand new F-150 which he replaces every couple years. The business pays well - but that's only worth something if you can save that money. I'd definitely be willing to go for a hatchback - it just needs to be able to put up with the demands of the job. An all wheel drive option is preferred because the highways can be pretty icy for a good chunk of the winter (makes a major improvement to handling and safety in those conditions).


Summary: looking for a fuel-efficient vehicle, for everything from warm to icy highway conditions, capable of mounting a 28 ft (14 ft collapsed) ladder that's practical to get supplies in and out of dozens of times a day.
« Last Edit: March 29, 2014, 04:18:00 PM by QuaecumqueVera »

daverobev

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Re: Best vehicle for satellite installation business?
« Reply #1 on: March 29, 2014, 05:47:14 PM »
Subie Forester?

Chev HHR?

Dodge Grand Caravan?

Remember AWD just gets you moving, it's notlikely to help on the highway unless I'm missing something.

HairyUpperLip

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Re: Best vehicle for satellite installation business?
« Reply #2 on: March 29, 2014, 06:19:30 PM »
Honda Element

if you can go without awd a Scion xB may be a good choice too

If business expands both my vehicles  would be excellent choices for vinyl wrap as well imo (advertising)

my two cents

Paul der Krake

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Re: Best vehicle for satellite installation business?
« Reply #3 on: March 29, 2014, 06:32:29 PM »
If it's indeed the spark plugs, that's a cheap fix, so start by checking that before writing out checks.

There are a few trucks that get great gas mileage, like late 80s/early 90s torota pickups, but it doesn't sound like you're doing much hauling at all. My parents live in a climate very similar to yours and get around with an AWD Audi hatchback. Not only is that thing roomy and comfortable, but on icy windy roads, low center of gravity and excellent traction beat the muscle trucks any day.

TomTX

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Re: Best vehicle for satellite installation business?
« Reply #4 on: March 29, 2014, 08:31:17 PM »
Changing spark plugs is pretty DIY - though the back 3 are apparently a bit more difficult on your minivan, you have to at least loosen/rock the alternator out of the way.

Also, you very likely need new sparkplug wires.


fixer-upper

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Re: Best vehicle for satellite installation business?
« Reply #5 on: March 29, 2014, 08:44:35 PM »
A bad oxygen sensor can wreak havoc on your mileage, too.  They're fairly easy to change.

Blindsquirrel

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Re: Best vehicle for satellite installation business?
« Reply #6 on: March 30, 2014, 06:04:04 AM »
   To actually install a satellite, I would say a  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delta_IV_Heavy would be my recommendation. :)

Thegoblinchief

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Re: Best vehicle for satellite installation business?
« Reply #7 on: March 30, 2014, 06:41:16 AM »
Subarus won't improve the mileage much  but they are nice and stable.

Not sure what they run used, since they haven't been around long, but look at the Ford Transit Connect and other micro vans. They seem pretty popular for contractors around here that don't need a full size van or pickup.

TomTX

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Re: Best vehicle for satellite installation business?
« Reply #8 on: March 30, 2014, 07:39:57 AM »
   To actually install a satellite, I would say a  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delta_IV_Heavy would be my recommendation. :)

Really? The Falcon 9 series seem a heck of a lot more economical. You can frequently tag along on an ISS launch.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falcon_9

CarDude

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Re: Best vehicle for satellite installation business?
« Reply #9 on: March 30, 2014, 07:54:27 AM »
Definitely look into repairing the van before you replace it. If you do decide to replace it, there are lots of small and midsize SUVs that come with AWD that might cost less than an AWD truck. Unfortunately, your only AWD options in minivans are with the Sienna.

Blindsquirrel

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Re: Best vehicle for satellite installation business?
« Reply #10 on: March 30, 2014, 09:44:44 AM »
   I went with the Delta over the Falcon for lift capacity. Both get lousy MPG for the first 15 miles, after that they really do quite well.

QuaecumqueVera

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Re: Best vehicle for satellite installation business?
« Reply #11 on: March 30, 2014, 08:02:45 PM »
Thanks for the suggestions! Honestly, I'd never really considered this class of vehicles before, so most of the models mentioned I never would have thought of. Looking up those models on kijiji, I see several used vehicles for each of those models, ranging in price from about $3k-$21k for 2003-2011 models. They seem to average around the mid-high 20s for highway mpg which gives me a pretty good benchmark to look at (as opposed to many of the mid-sized trucks which were mid-high teens to low 20s and costing a bit more on average).

I'll be sure to get the oxygen sensor checked as well when I take it in. Best scenario: I don't need to write a cheque for a new vehicle anytime soon and these suggestions will have a chance to percolate for a little while.

Remember AWD just gets you moving, it's notlikely to help on the highway unless I'm missing something.
One thing it really helps with is re-gaining control if you go into a skid. I spend a fair bit of time every fall practicing skidding and re-gaining control (something my Dad always encouraged me to do), and try to drive at appropriate speeds for the conditions; but it can be a lifesaver if you need to avoid an obstacle or happen to hit a bad patch of black ice.

   I went with the Delta over the Falcon for lift capacity. Both get lousy MPG for the first 15 miles, after that they really do quite well.
Hmm... even with the Falcon's lower costs, at an estimated $4,109/kg I'd really have to watch the weight of my equipment ;)
« Last Edit: March 30, 2014, 08:38:56 PM by QuaecumqueVera »

QuaecumqueVera

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Re: Best vehicle for satellite installation business?
« Reply #12 on: April 03, 2014, 02:22:40 PM »
Was busy this week so didn't have a chance to follow-up immediately.

Looks like I'm looking for a new vehicle. All in total after inspection, what should be fixed/replaced is:
- Rear shocks - apparently they're incredibly expensive since they're nivomat (integrated springs/shocks/struts). Their asking price was just over $500/per, and with labour was over $2k for replacing both. I found some part quotes online for a bit cheaper, but still pricey: (link no longer working - but in the ballpark of $350/per)
- Spark plugs and wires - looks like they've never been replaced. As I found online, the back two require removing the entire wiper assembly in order to access them. The quote, with plugs, wires, and labour was just over $500. I could do this cheaper I'm sure - even if it takes awhile.
- Rear brake pads and rotors. The old rotors are rusty and in need of replacing, plus the brake pads are in need of replacement. I don't remember the exact quote, but it was several hundred.

I took it in to Kal-Tire. Got an oil change done and tires switched to summer tires while it's there (free since that's where the tires were initially purchased). All told, great inspection (and they didn't just go ahead and start replacing things without phoning like some mechanics do) but high prices. I'm not sure it's worth the money to fix - I may be looking at a new vehicle. That being said, I'm going to grab a quote from another mechanic first.
« Last Edit: April 08, 2014, 02:32:22 PM by QuaecumqueVera »

fixer-upper

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Re: Best vehicle for satellite installation business?
« Reply #13 on: April 04, 2014, 02:03:35 AM »
Beware of tire shops that dabble in auto repair.  The last time I went to one, the salesman told me his mechanic recommended a new head gasket right away because of a major leak.  They were talking at least a couple grand in repairs when the only problem was a slow seep from the valve cover gasket.

I'd recommend an alignment/suspension shop for a quote on the shocks.  To find a good one, call up an unrelated specialty shop (like a transmission place), and ask who does the best suspension work.