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Old 12-29-2013, 11:03 PM   #1
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Question Shipping Container Conversion- best chassis to use?

I am thinking of using a 40' shipping container as the shell for my conversion build and am wondering what everyone advises as the best chassis to use. I would prefer not to lengthen a standard Class 8 tractor so I am wondering what options are available for Class 8 chassis that are already the proper length to handle the 40' container properly. Thanks.
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Old 12-30-2013, 09:41 AM   #2
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Default Alternate idea - container on trailer

An alternate idea I have is to build (or have built) a 5th wheel trailer frame with independent rear suspension for a smooth, hopefully lower ride. If I can buy one from a manufacturer already built then it will already be titled and able to be licensed. The I could ideally rent warehouse space with an overhead crane where I could build out the container to my specs, using the crane to lift it when needed to work underneath as well as to install it on the trailer. The water/waste lines and tanks, generator/APU, electrical connections, etc could be mounted to the trailer and hooked up once the container was installed. I like the trailer idea from a logistics standpoint because it would be easier to build out, but since it is separate from the tractor I would lose the ability to jump into the drivers seat and drive away if needed without exiting the truck (i.e. overnight stops and a security situation arises). Also the concern of the overall length of the tractor/trailer setup when getting into campgrounds, although the straight truck would have this issue too. Thoughts on this idea vs. the straight truck build?
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Old 12-30-2013, 06:09 PM   #3
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A 40ft container on a class 8 chassis is going to require customizing. It will be approximately 5ft longer than the legal length in most states (more in others). Plus it is going to be mega heavy once built.

as far as a factory built container chassis they will have the axles right at the back making maneuvering a bit more challenging, but not impossible. And it at best will have straight axles on air ride.

it has been done before but I don't think I would do it. Building the container off of the chassis would require some careful measuring to make sure everything lines up and doesn't interfere with the chassis.
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Old 12-30-2013, 06:35 PM   #4
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A couple of observations. As porky noted, on a straight truck the max legal length is 45' (straight truck and/or RV) so even if you use a cabover you will be well over legal length with that setup. I would think even one of those skinny little city truck type cabs would be over the 5' you have left for the cab, and I can't imagine putting many over the road miles in one of those. And you won't find a truck already long enough for something like that for the same reason. Definitely need a major frame stretch, and serious weight distribution calculations to determine where the axles need to be to balance and proper axle loads.

If you are thinking straight truck, why not just make it easy and buy a box truck like doc weaver? There are some really long box trucks out there generally for a reasonable price, and if you find one of the furniture mover type trucks you will have a nice big bunk over the cab already built in. Also taller than a shipping container giving you some headroom for cabinets, bunks, etc.

If you are thinking permanently mounting a shipping container on a custom trailer, just get a trailer already designed for a shipping container and just bolt the sucker on. No fuss, no muss. But even easier, if you are going to permanently mount the container to a trailer, why not just get a used semi trailer? They are definitely a dime a dozen so why go to all the hassle of building what is essentially a semi trailer when you can buy one cheaper and not have all the work? Most of them out there are 48' or 53', but there are plenty of oddball smaller lengths, drop decks, all sorts of things and sometimes those are cheaper because not every company is looking for that sort of thing.

I was looking at all kind of weird ideas before I fired up the welder on my truck, including using a standard box truck box, a furniture mover truck box, and looked at a lot of odd trailers on the internet. In my case for the scaled down project I ended up with it made more sense to build from scratch, but I did find out there is a huge variety of sizes and shapes of used truck boxes out there for really reasonable money if you shop around and aren't afraid to travel a little to go get it.

Good luck!
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Old 12-30-2013, 11:06 PM   #5
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Default warehouse with a crane

You mentioned renting a warehouse with a crane and I think of how long it has taken me to build my motorhome. Have you made a guess as to how long you would need to rent?. If you are doing the work by yourself and will be doing all of the design work renting may get very expensive. I built mine in stages first the truck had to be gone through because it is thirty years old and I had to have the front drive axle removed and new drive lines made. I was able to extend my frame by 6' but I would have farmed out the job if I was stretching the frame. I then built the lower unit (everything below the floor) and lifted it onto the truck with a 2 ton chain-fall. The last stage was building the living quarters and renting a crane truck to lift it onto the truck. Making everything underneath match up with everything on top is a lot of work. I am amassed at how fast some people get things built and wish I could be faster but if you don't have extra help make sure you allow enough time to get it done. The 40' container would be a big motorhome with lost of room but it also has many challenges that other options don't. Good luck and don't stop asking questions.
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Old 12-31-2013, 10:32 AM   #6
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Thumbs up Great feedback!

Thanks for all the feedback guys! That's why I like this site, because so many have already "been there, done that". I have thought about both the straight box truck conversion (like Doc) and a semi-trailer conversion as a shell, but I had in my mind that the walls are not well constructed for some reason. Thinking about it now though, they are built to handle commercial use so they have to be engineered and constructed much better than any regular RV. Another plus is any truck body repair shop should be able to repair the shell if it gets damaged since they are standardized construction. Thanks for refreshing me as I get closer to pulling the trigger on deciding which route to take.
I have considered a skoolie conversion as well, but I am 6'4" tall and would need to raise the roof on most buses if I went that route to have the headroom I want.
When I was searching previously I remember looking at drop deck moving trailers that would be great for building a variety of configurations. My mind keeps wandering back to a straight box truck though (like Doc has) because I could have the living quarters attached to the cab and pull a trailer if I need to haul my motorcycle or any other toys.
The questions about the warehouse rental are correct too. It would take quite some time if I went that route, where as if I buy a box truck I can park it in the back yard and work on it from the comfort of home.
What are the best sources for reliable box trucks? The large uhaul would be great but everything I have read over the years says to stay away from them because they are very used and abused by the time they sell them. Would commercial lease places like Hertz Penske be better? From what I have seen and heard they perform maintenance on them like clockwork and keep them in good shape.
Thanks for the replies. All feedback is greatly appreciated. Have a great New Year!
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Old 12-31-2013, 06:36 PM   #7
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Default Penske vs. Uhaul results

So I just did a little searching on Penske and UHauls. Penske has late model (average 2007 -2008) diesel Freightliner and International Box trucks, with anywhere from >250k miles to over 400k miles, for about $18,000.
Uhaul has a year 2000, gasoline 7.4l engine 24' low deck box with about 155k miles for approx $8800.
Your feedback please on the pro's/con's of each. Do the medium duty truck diesel engines last for a million miles like the HDT diesels or is 300-400k miles pushing the end of their life? Thanks.
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Old 12-31-2013, 11:18 PM   #8
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It all depends on the unit and how it is used and/or maintained. But short answer is no the medium duty engines generally do not last like the HDT engines do. Most are underpowered for what most people expect of them(which is more than they are designed to do) and as a result they get abused.

If I were to have to choose from your choices I would get a diesel with the most complete, up to date, best looking service records...which any leasing or rental company should have available for any unit they are selling.

Personally I would be tempted to buy a long wheelbase highway tractor and buy a used box off of a UHaul/Penske and mate the two, you will be a lot happier with the performance and durability... but that is just me, after looking at factory built truck conversions on both MDT and HDT chassis. If I hadn't found the Haulmark I bought I was going to buy a Pete 379 and have a local truck body builder build me a box with slides and do the interior myself.
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Old 01-02-2014, 09:36 AM   #9
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First... figure out what sort of miles and where (type of terrain) you expect to cover. the figure out just how much you expect to use it... My rig is built for local mostly instate wheeling trips... 3/4 days at a time. there are some great sites for container homes and I am actually looking to place a few on property down in the Virgin Islands...

The rental trucks can be pretty abused bastard step children so do your research, I found one with 217K on the frame but the 7.3 was remanned less than25K miles ago... and I live in S Florida where it is crazy flat... so hauling my Jeep and gear inside she cruises the highway at 65 not problem (takes a while to get up to speed)

good luck with your build!
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