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CV Dealer Feature | Recovery Vehicles

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Manufacturers and suppliers of recovery equipment will be setting out their stalls at the Professional Recovery Tow Show at the Telford International Centre on 7/8 September. Among them will be Boniface Engineering; and to date the uncertainty created by the referendum vote in favour of Brexit has not had an impact on demand for its products says Sales Manager, John Coldwell.

“In fact the market is generally buoyant,” he reports.

Acquired by Miller Industries of the USA twenty years ago and producing over 200 vehicles a year, Boniface is once again sponsoring and organising the outdoor recovery displays at Telford. The Thetford, Norfolk-based firm’s demonstration line-up encompasses everything from slide-beds to 75-tonne rotators, including the Safe Bar towing system, winch rope management systems, and trailer loading and weight distribution.

Coldwell says that its customers want their recovery trucks to be as versatile as possible so that they can get the maximum return on what is usually a considerable investment.

“Even big rotators have to be capable of doing lift-and-tow work too because operators do not want their trucks to stand idle if they can possibly avoid it,” he says. “You can be talking about something that will set you back at least £250,000.

“In fact, we recently supplied a Kenworth to a customer with a 75-tonne rotator that cost a total of around £500,000.”

On the face of it such a hefty price ticket should prompt operators to keep their trucks for as long as possible. “We certainly know of examples of our Interstater model that are still in service that are 30 years old,” Coldwell says.

“Remember though that heavy recovery trucks hold their value well,” he adds. “Even one that is five years old will see a drop of less than 30% on what was paid for it.

“As a consequence a lot of the bigger recovery operators upgrade their fleets every four years.”

Slide-beds tend not to hold their value anywhere near so well, he adds. “That’s because they do such stellar mileages,” he remarks.

Testing Essential

European Community Whole Vehicle Type Approval has without doubt had an impact says Coldwell. “We’ve got it for our lighter vehicles but we use Individual Vehicle Approvals for our bespoke heavy recovery trucks, and that usually involves taking them to a site in Nottingham,” he reports.

That’s quite a trek from Thetford. “As a consequence we’re looking at setting up our own test facility, but of course we’d still be reliant on somebody from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency to come and do the testing,” he remarks.

One firm that has already put in its own testing lane and will be at the show is Andover, Hampshire’s J & J Conversions. “We’re delighted to be back at Telford after a few years’ break,” says Richard Guy, one of the company’s founders.

International Partnerships

An example of the recovery equipment that Dave Bland Engineering sources from Canada by NRC Industries.

An example of the recovery equipment that Dave Bland Engineering sources from Canada by NRC Industries.

Boniface’s bigger trucks are typically based on DAF, Volvo, Mercedes or Scania chassis while Iveco, MAN and Renault Trucks tend to provide the platforms for the lighter models.

“Much of the equipment we fit is built by Miller in the USA but to our designs,” says Coldwell. “This means that we benefit from their economies of scale because they typically produce one heavy recovery vehicle plus ten to 15 slide-beds a day.”

It is a benefit that should help offset the impact of the current weakness of sterling against the dollar.

Boniface is by no means the only UK recovery equipment specialist with a North American connection. When it comes to the heavier models in its line-up Dave Bland Engineering, which is also exhibiting at Telford, sources everything that is required from Canada’s NRC Industries. It is then mounted on European chassis.

Based on the Full Sutton Industrial Estate at Stamford Bridge near York, the company has been NRC’s distributor since January 2015.

“To date we’ve supplied trucks to customers in Buckinghamshire and Lancashire, and we’ve upgraded two vehicles with electrical systems and remotes from NRC,” says Dave Bland. He started out running a recovery vehicle himself before he gave it up to concentrate on building them instead.

Bland constructs his own slide-beds on chassis grossing from 7.0 tonnes to 18 tonnes. “At present the 7.0-tonne Iveco Daily is the most popular,” he reports.

“We do two types of slide-bed – the standard and the super-low-angle – and sales are split 50/50 between the two,” says Bland.

The Right Equipment for the Job

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Recovery World recently supplied Dynes Auto Services of Crayford, Kent, with a recovery vehicle that can handle both sports cars and big vans.

A low angle of approach can be vitally important when it comes to recovering low-slung high-performance cars, as both Recovery World of Hatfield in Hertfordshire and Dynes Auto Services of Crayford in Kent can confirm.

The former has recently supplied the latter with a slide-bed crew-cab Iveco Eurocargo 140E fitted with a 7m-long RW60SLS Super Low Slider. As well as being able to retrieve sports cars it can handle big vans with a long rear overhang that might otherwise ground and suffer damage.

Another business that has opted for a Super Low Slider – this time a RW35A – is J&S Autos. The Northampton company acquired it earlier this year on an Isuzu N75 7.5-tonne crew-cab chassis, complete with an 8,000lb winch and an independent second car lift.

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TruckEast’s fleet of recovery vehicles is extremely flexible.

“The lightweight demountable aluminium bed delivers a payload that allows us to carry even the heaviest 4×4,” says J&S founder, John Yirrell.

Coaches can be damaged if the wrong equipment is used to recover them. To address this problem Boniface can offer a 4.4m under-reach boom that is only 193mm deep.

Meanwhile, TruckEast’s fleet of recovery vehicles is designed for versatility; “TruckEast has the flexibility to collect anything from car-derived vans through to 44 tonne HGVs,” says Marketing Manager Jessica Webb. Operating nationwide, TruckEast offers round the clock assistance, and also has tracking in its vehicles so you’ll know how long you’ll have to wait.

Safety a Key Concern

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Keeping people safe when recovering vehicles on the road is a high priority.

Something Boniface concentrates on is designing trucks in such a way that anybody attempting to recover a vehicle at the roadside spends the minimum amount of time there, lessening the danger that somebody will drive into them. Roadside safety is a key concern of the Association of Vehicle Recovery Operators too, especially when it comes to motorways says recently-appointed Chief Executive Officer, Derek Firminger.

Recently criticised by MPs on the House of Commons Transport Select Committee, the move towards hard-shoulder running across much of the UK’s motorway network exposes recovery trucks and the people operating them to increased risk, he contends. Emergency refuge areas may be provided but they tend not to be big enough to accommodate a broken-down truck plus a recovery rig; always assuming that a stricken truck can manage to reach them.

Investing in People

The recovery industry faces a number of other challenges, not the least of them being difficulties in recruiting people with the right skills. Inadequate profit margins remain an issue too.

“The amount of investment recovery operators have to make in vehicles and people is not always recognised,” Firminger contends. “Even a crew-cab slide-bed can set you back £60,000 to £70,000.”

While boosting profits may remain a challenge for some time to come, AVRO is addressing recruitment. “We’re developing an apprenticeship scheme and we’ve forged links with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers so that the industry can make use of soldiers with valuable skill sets who are leaving the army.” Firminger says.

At Telford too, AVRO is also helping to develop a Recovery Operators’ Licensing Scheme in the wake of consultations with the Department for Transport. “It should be piloted 18 months from now and in place in two years’ time,” he says.

The association is attempting to raise its profile and lobby government more effectively, and here Rob Flello, MP for Stoke-on-Trent South, has been of considerable help says Firminger.

“Our industry often tells itself how good it is,” he observes. “But it is not as effective when it comes to letting the outside world know.”