Commercial vs Custom Cab Fire Trucks

The decision to buy a new fire truck is always an expensive one for a fire department, which is why it is so important to be well-informed before committing to one option or the other. For this reason, in the past, researchers were employed to do an analysis on the differences between commercial and custom cab trucks and which would suit the needs of a specific fire station better. For instance, Robert C. Sharp compiled an analysis for the Tulsa Fire Department, agreeing with previous authors that the chassis may be one of the most important parts of the overall construction of a fire truck. Both the custom and commercial chassis fire trucks come with their advantages and disadvantages.

Engine and Components

Fire Truck Engine

Custom and commercial trucks use very similar components, which include the transmissions, engines, alternators, axels, brakes, hoses, drivelines, steering gears, suspensions, and HVAC systems. The motors that are supplied to both commercial and custom manufacturers will either use SCR or EGR systems, so there isn’t really a difference between the two when it comes to the engine or other components. The main difference lies in the chassis.

Purchase Price

Because custom building a truck can be very time-consuming, these trucks are typically much more expensive than a commercial cab.


A commercial fire truck chassis is usually manufactured by a builder that produces hundreds of thousands of trucks every year, for many different heavy-duty environments. All of these trucks have one thing in common: they are very precisely engineered and built in world-class centers. On the other hand, only about 3,000 custom fire trucks are built specifically for fire stations across the country per year. This often results in production errors or long-term maintenance issues, especially when it comes to electrical components. Parts are also typically much harder to find for custom cabs, as these are often specially manufactured for the truck. Needless to say, this makes the repair costs for a custom cab more expensive than commercial truck. However, through regular inspection from reputable companies such as Firetrucks Unlimited major issues can be prevented by early detection.

Chassis Design

The greatest difference between the commercial and custom chassis is the design. The wheelbase minimum of a custom chassis is often shorter than that of a commercial platform, which has a more engine-forward design. A custom chassis usually has a more spacious interior, offering seating of up to ten firefighters and has a wider latitude that makes more space for exterior storage solutions. A commercial fire engine usually only has space for five firefighters, with a smaller interior and limited space for equipment mounting and other storage options.

Chassis Construction

Custom cabs are usually constructed from an aluminum plate, although some manufacturers also still use stainless steel. Commercial fire trucks usually have a steel chassis, which is made resistant to corrosion through galvanized coating. 

Custom chassis are usually also easier to enter or access, as the manufacturer would build it to accommodate shorter steps and wider door openings. Some custom cabs will have a raised roof in the crew area and a notched roof to make space for an aerial. Custom cabs often have more legroom, making for a more comfortable ride.


Image credits: Firetrucks Unlimited





Firetrucks Unlimited