Last Updated on April 6, 2023
An ambulance makes a great candidate for work truck conversions. They provide plenty of space and storage, are usually well-maintained, and are built on truck bodies. But in order to perform the conversion, you first need to know how to build your ambulance work truck.
Their truck body frames are categorized into several types. Type 1 ambulances are built on a Ford F-350, Ford F-450, Ford F-550, or on comparable competitive models. Type 1 has dual rear wheels and may include 4WD (four-wheel-drive).
Type 2 ambulances are built on a Mercedes Sprinter 2500 or 3500, or on comparable competitive models. Vehicles under this type are modified van-type ambulances.
The Type 3 ambulances are built on GM 3500 frames, GM 4500 frames, or on comparable competitive models. They include a cutaway chassis with dual rear wheels.
Ambulance Types 1-3 are built on either a light truck or medium truck chassis. Truck chassis are classified according to their gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). The rating is how much a truck can legally carry including the empty weight of the truck, all the equipment, other materials, and people.
Some ambulances are built on a commercial truck platform such as Kenworth or International. These are called medium-duty ambulances since they are built strictly on a medium truck chassis (Classes 4-6).
Weighing your options
When you decide on an ambulance, choose one you expect to be a good size and find out its GVWR. Then, determine how your truck modifications will influence the truck’s weight. You will be removing some items and adding others. That means the gross vehicle weight could decrease. Next, think of all the equipment, other related items, and the people you expect the truck to carry. Add up those weights. Include the weight of everything you expect the truck to carry plus the weight of the truck itself.
Once you’ve tallied this weight amount, you will know whether that truck size is correct for your intended use. If the total weight exceeds the GVWR for that truck, then you have to go up at least one size. If that total is below the GVWR for that truck by a significant amount, you may be able to go down a size.
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Here are the GVWRs of some popular trucks used in ambulance builds (model years 2020-2023):
- Ford F-550 – 22,000 pounds (Class 6)
- Ram 4500 – 16,500 pounds (Class 5)
- Chevrolet Silverado 3500 – 13,500 pounds (Class 3)
- GM Sierra 2500 – 11,300 pounds (Class 3)
Only by knowing the truck’s GVWR and understanding the different class sizes, will you be able to choose the best ambulance work truck for you.
Emergency lights and signage
The first step you must do when you purchase an emergency vehicle (ambulance, fire, or police) is strip the vehicle of any emergency vehicle designations. This includes all decals, sometimes the paint scheme, and emergency lights. If you use your truck for towing or to control traffic, you can swap out the red and blue lights for amber ones or another color. Be sure to check the vehicle code in your state for specifics on which light colors you can use.
Enclosed bodies versus platform bodies
An ambulance has an enclosed body. Service trucks use either an enclosed or platform body. Depending on your needs, you could potentially cut down on conversion time and costs. In the scenario that you opt for a platform body, much of the storage space will need to be removed to make room for what you’re carrying. However, if you want to keep the storage capacity and still be able to tow something like a trailer, you can look into adding a hitch to your ambulance. From there you would just need to calculate towing capacity.
Easily accessible, external storage
One common trait of service trucks is having numerous storage compartments of various sizes to keep tools and equipment. Ambulances come with a lot of storage accessible from the exterior. For example, on a Type 3 ambulance, depending on manufacturer specifications and customer requests, exterior storage includes the following compartments (all about 18 inches deep):
- Two tall, narrow compartments (about 72 inches tall by 24 inches wide). One is perfect for all of your long, upright tools, such as rakes, brooms, and shovels, as well as road signs. The other is filled with slide-out drawers filled with tiny compartments, ideal for nuts, bolts, and other replacement parts and small components.
- Another shelved compartment (about 48 inches tall by 24 inches wide) is better suited for many hand tools, such as screwdrivers, drills, saws, wrenches, hammers, and flashlights.
- One long compartment (about 42 inches wide by 24 inches tall) above the rear wheel base that features two shelves, is a great size for storing powered equipment and heavy tools.
- One wide compartment (about 42 inches tall by 30 inches wide) is a great size for tanks, pumps, generators, heavier mobile equipment, a large car jack, or two columns of stacked pylons.
And of course, since ambulances have a lot of electrical power, these compartments can be equipped with computers and other smart devices, or batteries for powering or charging powered equipment.
An ambulance also comes equipped with a lot of internal storage—drawers, cupboards, shelves, all of which you could keep as is if the dimensions suit your needs. The other option is to gut the vehicle and fill it with your own storage spaces. With 72 inches of headroom and 72 inches in width, you could even convert it into a little office or enclosed working area.
Electric and Climate Control
Aside from storage, electric and climate control are two more reasons ambulances make excellent work trucks. Most of these vehicles, especially modern iterations, are insulated with either fiberglass or foam. The insulation helps keep occupants comfortable while in motion. Heat transfer is reduced on both ends, inside out and outside in. The insulation also reduces fuel consumption by keeping engine heat out of the cabin area.
The built-in electrical system of ambulances is capable and strong enough to support several appliances, and lights too. Much of the internal electronics within an ambulance operate from energy provided by batteries, separate from the vehicle’s engine battery. In addition to these, some owners add solar panels for even more power.
Are Ambulances Worth the Conversion?
A recent online search looked at used work trucks and used ambulances from five to fifteen years old. The study concluded that you can find used ambulances comparable in price to used work trucks. Although you can probably find used work trucks that cost less, those trucks probably won’t be as well maintained as ambulances. Also, consider wear and tear. Ambulances are used on city streets, whereas work trucks sometimes operate off-road. Likewise, ambulances are usually driven conservatively most of the time and safely even when there’s an emergency. Contractors aren’t usually so kind to their trucks.
Depending on your situation, an ambulance converted to a work truck may not be the best solution, but it is an option, especially if you love DIY projects! If you’re interested in finding an ambulance to convert into a work truck, then go check out Municibid’s catalog and see what we have to offer.