Articulated trucks

Brooke Wisdom

May 1, 2010


Being penny-wise on acquisition costs usually results in pound-foolish results.

By Tom Jackson, Contributing Editor

The articulated truck has gained in popularity in the last two decades as a highly productive earthmoving tool, proving its worth against other high-volume earthmoving methods and machines, such as rigid-axle dump trucks, dozers, and self-propelled and towed scrapers.

Choosing the right machines and methods for this kind of mass excavation comes down to carefully detailing owning and operating (O&O) costs and then applying those figures to the amount of material (tons or cubic yards) you can move in an hour. This article focuses on just the machine O&O costs, since a discussion of productivity requires an analysis of additional variables such as soil types, site conditions, and support machines.

Keep in mind that the numbers presented here are ballpark estimates for discussion purposes only. To get a more accurate and detailed estimate of your costs, consult with an equipment dealer. Once you’ve calculated your costs on the articulated truck, you’ll need to do the same for the support machines and compare different combinations.

For this study, a 43-ton Volvo A40E articulated truck was selected. Blaine Pressley, senior segment manager for Volvo Construction Equipment North America, says a very general estimate for the life cycle on this machine would be 12,000 to 15,000 hours, but in lighter applications, some customers have gone as far as 30,000 hours. “It is up to the owner as to how much money they are willing to spend to keep the vehicle running,” he says. “The point at which the operating costs exceed the owning costs is viewed by many as the economic life of the machine and thus the effective life cycle.”

One key O&O variable that owners have control over is the quality of their preventive maintenance, Pressley says. Using cheaper consumables may save money short term, but can result in more repairs and shorter component lifespan over the long term. Operator training and skill also play a part in component life. Appropriate use of traction control systems and longitudinal and differential lock functions can make a tremendous difference in component life, fuel use, tire wear, and cycle times.

Before getting into the numbers in the charts, here is a broader discussion of the variables behind the numbers. Keep in mind these are general estimates. Volvo and many other equipment manufacturers have proprietary owning and operating cost software programs available through their dealers that can help move you closer to an accurate number for your specific needs. These O&O calculators’ software programs are always a good idea for any machine, but for high-volume earthmovers like artics, they are a must. Detailed software programs can ask the questions many operators tend to overlook and get you closer to a true total cost of ownership value that fully accounts for things like financing, service and maintenance, and resale value.

Also ask about site simulation software that can help you select the best match of equipment and maximize productivity. Using site simulation software, a dealer can come to your site and help you plot grades, curves, and truck routes, Pressley says. You want to have the right number of haulers for the site and the right number of passes to fill the truck to ensure the best possible productivity. And as with the O&O costs, small differences add up to big dollars here.


Purchase price

The typical price for a new machine in the 40-ton category ranges from around $500,000 to $670,000. Keep in mind this is the suggested list price. Consult a dealer for an actual quote. The value of a trade-in machine, or a package deal involving additional machines may have an impact as well. You may want to compare the purchase price against buying a low-hour used machine or a refurbished machine. “The normal refurbishment cost can be somewhere between 30 to 45 percent of the price of a new machine,” Pressley says. And while most people tend to focus on the purchase price, it is always a small part of the total O&O costs. See our chart labeled “Artic A vs. Artic B.”

Finance/interest cost

The average APR is around 6 percent for this size machine.


Depending on your provider, expect to pay about 2 percent of the purchase price on an annual basis.

Resale price/residual value

The reputation of the brand, number of hours on the engine and major components, condition of the machine, quality of maintenance, and local market dynamics all play a role in setting the resale price. In general, artics in the 40-ton range lose about 15 percent of their residual value per year, says Pressley.


Fuel use

Fuel use varies with application, steepness of terrain, and weight of loads. As a general rule, a light application will use around 6 gallons per hour, a medium application uses about 8.5 gallons per hour, and a heavy application may consume approximately 12.5. These figures vary between manufacturers, and it pays to do your homework as a half gallon per hour difference can make a high cost difference in a short period of time.

Tire life cycle and cost

Again, application and usage determine the life of your tires. Expect a range between 3,000 and 5,000 hours. Pressley says Volvo’s manufacturer’s list price is around $48,000 for a set of six tires for this artic. Note that maintaining correct tire pressure is critical for getting the longest life possible out of a tire. (In most O&O models, the tire cost is subtracted from the purchase price [as we have done in the chart] in order to more clearly represent tires as an operating, rather than an owning cost.)

Preventive maintenance

Each manufacturer will have slightly different schedules and parameters and, as a result, the costs and service intervals may vary considerably. This is another reason you should use the dealer’s cost estimating programs. As a very rough estimate, you could assume an average cost of about $4 per operating hour over the course of a 12,000- to 15,000-hour life cycle. Pressley says to note that good preventive maintenance isn’t just lubes, fluids, and filters but also includes:


Oil analysis,






Repairs, and

Proper documentation.

“Good preventative maintenance (PM) is usually the single most important and controllable factor the customer has in reducing owning and operating costs,” he says. “It’s the principle of pay now or pay later, and the up-front costs required for good PM is minimal compared to the cost of a machine that’s down due to failure.”


A ballpark estimate amortized over a 12,000- to 15,000-hour life cycle would fall in the $5-an-hour range.

Operator wages

Determined by company policy and regional trends.


Articulated trucks, their drivelines, and transmissions have become more sophisticated over the past few years in order to better help you conserve fuel, increase productivity, and reduce tire and component wear, says Pressley. Learning and comparing the competitive features of each brand and then training your operators to take advantage of these features can produce significant cost savings and productivity gains. AM


Based on a Volvo A40E articulated truck. 2,000 hours per year, five-year life cycle.

Note that all these figures are general estimates and for discussion purposes only. To get a more accurate accounting of your own costs, consult a dealer. Also be aware that some operators prefer to calculate O&O costs without including the resale value of the machine at the end of its life cycle. This will yield higher owning costs, but is sometimes done for tax or bonding purposes. Consult with your accountant or tax adviser before deciding which model is appropriate for your business.

                                                      Per hour                      Per year                        Per 5 years


Purchase price                              $65                           $130,000                        $650,000

Purchase price

(excluding tires)                           $60.20                        $120,400                        $602,000

Resale value                                $28.80                         $57,600                          $288,000

Depreciation cost                        $31.40                         $62,800                          $314,000

Interest cost (6%)                        $14.07                         $28,140                          $140,700

Insurance                                      $6.71                           $13,424                             $67,120

TOTAL FIXED COSTS                 $52.18                         $104,360                        $521,820


Operator wages

(@ $20 per hour)                         $20                               $40,000                          $200,000

Fuel (medium duty cycle,

8 gph, $2.75 per gallon)            $22                                $44,000                          $220,000

Cost of tires

(5,000 hour lifetime)                  $9.60                             $19,200                             $96,000

Repairs and maintenance       $9.00                             $18,000                             $90,000

TOTAL OPERATING COSTS    $60.60                         $121,200                           $606,000

TOTAL O&O COSTS                 $112.78                        $225,560                          $1,127,820*

*Note: due to rounding variances, some columns may not total precisely.


Small differences in big machines can add up to big dollars, either saved or wasted, depending on how carefully you match your machine to your job. In this comparison, we take two articulated truck fleets. Fleet A has two 43-ton trucks and Fleet B has two 40-ton trucks. In Fleet A, the purchase price of the trucks is $50,000 more per truck, but look what happens to the costs once you put the fleets into the field. Assume 50-cent per ton bid price (or profit) and 2,000 operating hours a year.)

Fleet comparison                   Artic Fleet A Artic                 Fleet B                        Advantage

Price — —                                                                                                                    (B) 50,000

Payload per truck                       43 tons                                40 tons                       (A) 3 tons

Cycle time                                   5 minutes                           6.3 minutes                (A) 5%

Annual payload                       167,084 tons                        83,542 tons                 (A) 83,542 tons

Fuel use                                   8.6 gph per truck             9.1 gph per truck           (A) $5,500 per year

On Fleet A you can also factor in a service labor savings of $1,875 a year and an additional 1,253 cycles for a serviceability cost advantage of $26,942 per year. All totaled Fleet A will gain you $117,360 per year and $1,408,315 over a five-year life cycle. While this is just one theoretical example, it does point out the need to study your options when it comes to maintenance, service, payload, fuel consumption, and cycle times.

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