The Smart Van asked Rob Benefiel, owner of Certified Comfort Heating and Cooling in Louisville, KY, and one of its service techs, to review the new Ford Transit Connect, a compact van that focuses on fuel and space efficiency. Launched in 2002 in Europe, the van made its US debut in 2009 and has been gaining traction as business and fleet owners look to combat rising fuel costs.
It’s been a busy summer and I’ve been driving the Transit Connect for two months now. I absolutely love it. I certainly wish I could have purchased this van two years ago. Why all the love? I’ll get there in a bit.
First some background about my company setup. We are a three-man company servicing the metro Louisville, KY, area. I am the owner and service technician. We also have an installation technician and a salesman, who doubles as an installation helper. From time to time, I assist on installations when service calls are slow. So, most of my time is spent moving from site to site.
On to the review…
Big plus is the fuel economy of 20-22 MPG. I was in a Silverado 2500 with ABC Service Body and was getting 10-13 MPG. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the more than 80 percent savings in fuel over the summer. The decrease in engine size from eight to four cylinders took a little adjusting. I learned that the gas pedal does go all the way to the floor for a reason. I really have no problem getting into traffic. I have a harder time jumping into my personal car – I nearly broke my neck when I jumped on the throttle after driving the TC for a month straight.
All my service items are quickly accessed without entering the van. My tool bag and gauges are kept on the driver side cargo area next to my refrigerant jug rack. Refrigerant manifold hangs on divider screen. Behind my bag and attached to the divider, I’ve mounted my oxy/acetylene setup as well as three tank holders – oxygen, nitrogen, and acetylene. The passenger side of the cargo area is plenty for an evaporator coil, heat exchanger or compressor.
They key to managing the TC is the shelf package and bin system. If you are trying to use old school side wall mount racks, you will never put enough apples in the apple cart. If this is a dedicated service vehicle (read – no equipment hauling), then you must purchase the Katerack Four Shelf system. Each shelf can hold 300 pounds.
The picture from the OEM is overloaded with tools but you get the idea of the shelves. I’ve yet to add bins to organize my PVC and copper. They’re sitting in a couple of milk crates. A friend of mine runs a fleet of these vehicles. They put more inventory on the TC than they can the E350! Plus, everything is right there on the shelf. Inventory loss is VERY low for him. Without organization, I already have more service stock on the TC than my Silverado. Plus cargo and stock areas are extremely accessible. I sure don’t miss climbing in the bed of my truck to get refrigerant, nitrogen, etc. from my Jobox.
Inventory counting is extremely easy with the shelf package. Everything is right in front of you. I can count my inventory in less than ten minutes. Certainly makes supply house stops more productive.
You’ll want to upgrade to the 255-degree doors. They have stops at 90 degrees to keep them from flying open. However, a simply button push lets the door swing to the side of the van and lock to magnets. Then, you can access the back of your shelves
My ladder racks include a curbside lowering type. No climbing on the van to remove the 22-foot ladder. Driver side short ladder requires me to stand on the back but that’s my own doing because I carry a 13-foot Gorilla ladder.
A neat feature of the TC is the overhead storage area in the passenger area. I keep service contracts, brochures, equipment stickers and invoices there. Certainly keeps them in good shape. Plus, I don’t have to hang a folder from the divider.
Pricing is fairly the same around here. You can be out the door with the full upfit package (fancy ladder rack, tank holders, cage/divider, and shelves) on an XLT for around $25K. I went with XLT for the keyless entry, power windows and CD player. If I’m spending half my life in a van, I want to enjoy it.
If there’s a downside, it’s the inability to pull a trailer. There are times that we are so busy that I’d like to haul some equipment to the job but can’t do it. However, my equipment distributor makes job deliveries with a day’s notice. So, we’re covered if we need it.
Overall, I am thoroughly impressed with the Transit Connect. The first service technician I hire will go immediately into a TC.