Specifications back to basics

When spec’ing a vehicle, it is very helpful to start by putting your functional requirements on paper in a logical, well-presented manner to ensure the desired and required outcome. This process reduces headaches and problems when delivery takes place. Beyond the functional outcome, a well-written specification results in receiving the best value for the dollars spent. Regardless of who writes the specification, it is imperative they understand the requirements of the piece of equipment. This understanding must be gained before the specification is written. On paper, small details can be crucial because sometimes the big picture looks good, but minor details can often be overlooked and only discovered after a unit is built and delivered. An oversight can lead to costly modifications, unscheduled downtime and expensive, unnecessary maintenance costs. In addition, it impacts the life-cycle of the equipment scheduled to be replaced, which could result in lowered productivity.

What is a specification? Merriam-Webster defines a specification as “a detailed description of work to be done or materials to be used in a project; an instruction that says exactly how to do or make something.” From the vocational work truck perspective, a specification would be defined as “a document, or set of documents, that define the requirements for a new truck, truck-mounted body and equipment, or other related vocational equipment as established by the writer.” To be concise, it is a set of documents clearly communicating the design and functional requirements of a piece of equipment.

Pitfalls of a poorly written specification
Unless you only buy pre-engineered or off-the-shelf pieces, most likely at some point of your career, you have seen or written a specification that resulted in receiving a piece of equipment that did not meet your final vision (I have been guilty of the latter). One cause can be related to the specification not providing enough detail regarding the general application. Another is the failure to consider the complete picture with auxiliary equipment such as digger derricks, aerial lifts, cranes etc. This can be extremely crucial, especially if multi-stage upfitters are involved. It is important to write a balanced specification. A spec that is too vague can be misinterpreted by the responder. On the other hand, if it’s too detailed, you can start to develop a predatory specification (written in a way to artificially disqualify a single vendor).

I have to become an expert, where do I go?
Ask for help. With the ever-changing world of regulatory requirements, new technologies, and new alternatives, you can’t be the expert on everything. Whoever is writing the specification will need sources of knowledge and information. Some good resources for information to develop your specification are:

  • OEM sales personnel for chassis specs
  • Truck equipment manufacturers or distributors
  • Upfitters
  • Trade shows such as The Work Truck Show® (produced by NTEA)

Beginning the process
The specification process in itself is multi-phase.

  1. Begin by defining the application.
    1. What is the required work that needs to be done?
  2. Identify any and all application requirements and design constraints.
  3. Research alternatives.
    1. Are there more efficient ways to get the work done?
  4. Ask around.
    1. What are other people in similar industries doing?
  5. Design the body and equipment components.
  6. Take into consideration payload requirements, GVW, weight distribution with the body, and auxiliary equipment.
  7. Finally, design the chassis that will meet the needed requirements.

Writing the specifications - the keys to success
First off, avoid predatory specifications. This can reference a single feature unique to a vendor. Review your prep work and notes. Now is the time to identify potential issues and conflicts. Choose a type of specification, i.e. engineered, functional, performance, or a hybrid/composite (incorporates the best features of the engineered, functional, and performance spec). Put the pen to the paper and share the final specification with the appropriate stakeholders for review and comments. Consider pre-bid meetings. This allows vendors to ask questions and to clarify any confusion. Issues addressed during a pre-bid conference can be a valuable tool and avoid unnecessary delays and unanticipated costs down the road.


If you would like to discuss this, or any other fleet issue with the NTEA, call 800-441-6832