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Thread: 4WD Ambulance

  1. #1
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    Default 4WD Ambulance

    I am looking for information on 4WD ambulances. Our fleet is currently on the International medium duty chassis, but we are considering a 4WD chassis for a future purchase. There is no off road use, just Midwest snow storms that can make things difficult for the International. Any feedback on ride quality, maintenance issues etc. would be appreciated. Pictures would be good also.
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    Crawford county Kansas runs a couple of 4 wheel drives. Their headquarters is either in Pittsburg or Girard, KS

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    Forum Member EastKyFF's Avatar
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    A 4x4 is going to use lots more fuel, have more expensive tires, and be a little dangerous to operate on dry roads. You might consider buying a decent used 4x4 and then placing it in service only when the weather appears to warrant it. Just a thought.
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    The department I am has one and have had no issues with it being "dangerous on dry roads." Granted it is on an F-450 chassis with air ride suspension, it does ride nice except when you hit the craters in the middle of the road.Even though its 4x4 we only use when we absolutly need it here in NEPA.

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    The thing that makes me most leary about this idea is the "Superman, I am in a 4 wheel drive I can go anywhere complex." I am a firm believer that if you get a 4 wheel drive vehicle in your inventory, whether it is an ambulance, brush truck, wildland interface vehicle, engine, or tanker, that specialized driver training MUST take place. The center of gravity is different, turning is different, capabilities are different and all of these things mut be drilled into the driver. Just cuz Billy Joe drives a souped up monster truck doesn't mean he can SAFELY driver a 4 wheel drive piece of emergency equipment.
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    Here in Northwest Montana most people run 4x4 Ambulances. And if they don't its not because they are dangerous or unneeded, its usually because they cant afford it. We use 4x4 units exclusively but only engage the four wheel drive when needed. It helps to have shift on the fly. They do ride a little taller but not much. Driver training isn't much different for us because just about everybody here learns how to drive in a 4x4 starting around age 12. They don't eat tires any faster than our other 2 wheel drive vehicles or the 2 wheel drive ambulance we used to have. Even though we have 4 wheel drive we still put studded winter snow tires on them from October - March. If you have any questions PM me.

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    FF-EMT Mzanghetti's Avatar
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    Default 4WD Ambulance

    The town I volunteer in has a 4WD ambulance and I love that truck! The ride is not the best but not the worst either, I don't think it any worse than that of one of the big Navistars. (I am not impressed with them!) I don't find the truck any harder to drive than a 2WD and recall one of our past chiefs burying a 2WD truck in mud up to it's axles so having it at times may be a good idea!
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    Thumbs up We Love Our Four Wheel Drives

    My FD has run three 4x4 type I ambulances for over 15 years. With a replacement purchased every three years for 9 year life, we've had at least 7 different ones in my time (can't count and they're not really memorable like fire apparatus).

    To date I cannot think of a single danger issue they've presented as 4wd's. They are taller and therefore slightly elevate the "sail" in high winds, but it's hardly noticeable compared to a larger box type III. The "Superman" syndrome does come into play when a neighboring town calls M/A for Superman because they're stuck or can't make a remote location due to weather. This is rare, but happens (twice this winter). Knocking on wood, I cannot remember one being stuck, ever.

    They are more expensive. About $10-14K upfront for the F350 and now F450. In my time we've only owned one Chevy, which rode the best. Which brings up another downside, the ride is far less smooth. We have an average of 4 loaded mile run, so ride quality is not a huge issue. We rarely have any 4x4 issues, with most issues still being under the hood on the Ford's. Our replacement plan has moved up to replace them every 8 years as the last year always ends up with major issues and very low trade-in value.

    Right now they're speccing to replace our 2003, leaving a 2006 and 2010 for later years. Our units rotate from frontline to second and third due each month, to even out the mileage/hours. Go ahead and ask away, I'll answer what I know, I must admit I'm not part of speccing the bone buses, so I know little about the detailed spec.
    Last edited by RFDACM02; 04-05-2011 at 05:30 PM.

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    Forum Member Rescue101's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by EastKyFF View Post
    A 4x4 is going to use lots more fuel, have more expensive tires, and be a little dangerous to operate on dry roads. You might consider buying a decent used 4x4 and then placing it in service only when the weather appears to warrant it. Just a thought.
    On WHAT are you basing these MISconceptions? Free wheeling hubs in front,SAME tires as any other rig in Class(mfg for Mfg) and drive on dry roads SAME as a 4x2.More gas(diesel)? MAYBE depending on gearing. RFDACM runs THREE of these and outside of 6.0 issues I don't think the fact they are 4x4 has caused him any heartburn. T.C.
    Last edited by Rescue101; 04-06-2011 at 08:46 AM.

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    My squad runs an '06 F-350 4x4 ambulance. No issues with getting it stuck, rolling it over, etc.... The only issue we have had is the 6.junk under the hood!

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    Take a look at the Dodge 450 and 550 4x4 chassis. Horton and Wheeled Coach both have built quite a few of these. Solid Cummins Engine. Only adds about $3,500 to chassis price, as opposed to On-Spots which add $2,800.

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    My service is switching over to 4wd exclusivly, we also have a Dodge 4500 type 1 4wd, learned a lesson on that one road speed is governed to 76 mph because of the 19.5 tires. I know that the law says 80mph but Dodge chose that, it is not a problem just some medics dont like it, we also travel a average of 35 loaded miles per call, all units have air ride on them, and they are f350 except for the Dodge. I say stick with the Dodge, Ford doesnt have thier act together with thier diesel 33000 miles and the 2011 engine came apart.

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    Forum Member JayDudley's Avatar
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    Default Ambulance

    Our Firefighters love our 4X4 Ambulance Ford F-350. We have the snow and off road runs here so it comes in real handy.
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    Jay Dudley
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    Quote Originally Posted by EastKyFF View Post
    A 4x4 is going to use lots more fuel, have more expensive tires, and be a little dangerous to operate on dry roads. You might consider buying a decent used 4x4 and then placing it in service only when the weather appears to warrant it. Just a thought.
    Completely untrue. You don't seem to know a dang thing about 4x4s.

    Fuel use will be a little higher due to the weight of the front axle and the transfer case and associated components. Maybe 1-2 mpg at the most.

    Tires will be the same, 6 tires = 6 tires. If you get m+s rated tires for your 2wd they will be the same as the m+s tires on a 4x4. A 4x4 chassis in proper operating condition will not wear out tires any faster than those on a 2wd chassis.

    Dangerous ? you don't use 4x4 on dry roads. how would it contribute to danger ? The ride height will barely be affected by the 4x4 version.

    As for "saving it for bad weather" it will rot in the bay and be forgotten about when the time comes and you need it. Buy a new one, use it everyday. Enjoy the benefit and security of 4x4 when you need it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by popknot View Post
    Completely untrue. You don't seem to know a dang thing about 4x4s.
    I agree with popknot.

    We don't have a 4WD ambulance, but we do have a full size engine, rescue truck, brush truck, tanker and pickup which are, and none are dangerous on dry roads or have any other problems. The tanker is full time 6x6 (or 10x10 counting duallys) and does just fine too.

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    A 4x4 F350-F450 will cost you considerabally less than your IH you currently run to purchase.

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    Quote Originally Posted by popknot View Post
    Completely untrue. You don't seem to know a dang thing about 4x4s.
    Well then, enlighten me. Here's why I stated what I stated:

    -Fuel use. Is it incorrect that a 4x4 is always sending power to the front wheels, they just won't pull until locked in? If so, does that not increase fuel use? If it's not significant, I'd be surprised, but I believe you if you have dealt with it.

    -Tire cost. You're right that six tires is six tires, but people are often tempted to buy bigger, knobbier, more expensive tires to look sexy on a 4x4. I should have said "MAY have more expensive tires".

    -Danger on dry roads. The suspension will be at least a little higher on a 4x4, right? Higher vehicle = higher center of gravity, which makes it at least a little more dangerous.
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    Quote Originally Posted by EastKyFF View Post
    Well then, enlighten me. Here's why I stated what I stated:

    -Fuel use. Is it incorrect that a 4x4 is always sending power to the front wheels, they just won't pull until locked in? If so, does that not increase fuel use? If it's not significant, I'd be surprised, but I believe you if you have dealt with it.

    -Tire cost. You're right that six tires is six tires, but people are often tempted to buy bigger, knobbier, more expensive tires to look sexy on a 4x4. I should have said "MAY have more expensive tires".

    -Danger on dry roads. The suspension will be at least a little higher on a 4x4, right? Higher vehicle = higher center of gravity, which makes it at least a little more dangerous.

    Most newer 4WD vehicles disengage the front axle in the transfer case and at the front hubs, so nothing extra is spinning unless you shift into 4WD. You might use a bit more fuel, but not much.

    I would be inclined to get more aggressive tires on a 2WD because it would need them in bad weather. A 4WD could get away with less aggressive tires. There is also the option of having a winter and summer set of tires, regardless of 2WD or 4WD.

    Driving any vehicle is a little dangerous. A corvette has a lower center of gravity than a 2WD ambulance and a 2WD ambulance has a lower center of gravity than a 4WD ambulance on the same frame/body. You just have to drive the vehicle apropriately. If the driver runs the risk of rolling the ambulance given the road conditions and the vehicle type then they should not be driving.

    No compelling reason not to get a 4WD in my mind.

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    Quote Originally Posted by EastKyFF View Post
    Well then, enlighten me. Here's why I stated what I stated:

    -Fuel use. Is it incorrect that a 4x4 is always sending power to the front wheels, they just won't pull until locked in? If so, does that not increase fuel use? If it's not significant, I'd be surprised, but I believe you if you have dealt with it.

    -Tire cost. You're right that six tires is six tires, but people are often tempted to buy bigger, knobbier, more expensive tires to look sexy on a 4x4. I should have said "MAY have more expensive tires".

    -Danger on dry roads. The suspension will be at least a little higher on a 4x4, right? Higher vehicle = higher center of gravity, which makes it at least a little more dangerous.
    Having operated a few different 4x4 model ambulances over the past 10 years I can say that NONE of these things are really an issue.

    The ambulance will use more fuel running in 4WD mode vs running in 2WD mode, but that is typical of any 4x4 vehicle. Running in 2WD mode the fuel usage doesn't seem to be of any really noticeable difference.

    The 4x4 model will sit higher, but it's not enough to increase the "danger level" by any significant amount under normal driving conditions for an ambulance. Now, this is based on Type 1 units not Type 2/3 units since they tend to have aftermarket 4x4 conversions and seem to sit excessively high.

    For the most part, you should be using the same tires whether the unit is 4WD or 2WD.

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    Quote Originally Posted by EastKyFF View Post
    Well then, enlighten me. Here's why I stated what I stated:

    -Fuel use. Is it incorrect that a 4x4 is always sending power to the front wheels, they just won't pull until locked in? If so, does that not increase fuel use? If it's not significant, I'd be surprised, but I believe you if you have dealt with it.

    -Tire cost. You're right that six tires is six tires, but people are often tempted to buy bigger, knobbier, more expensive tires to look sexy on a 4x4. I should have said "MAY have more expensive tires".

    -Danger on dry roads. The suspension will be at least a little higher on a 4x4, right? Higher vehicle = higher center of gravity, which makes it at least a little more dangerous.
    AS stated previously by other posters: the 4x4 is only engaged when you want it. The driveshaft at the transfer case and the front wheel hubs are disabled when in 2wd.

    Fuel use will be 1-2 mpg lower, as a rule, due to the weight of the transfer case/front axle. Use of 4x4 will lower your mileage somewhat but I'll bet you're not going to be needing that much.

    Tires should stay the same size and rating as what comes from the factory. There are tread choices, but in my experience I feel that highway tread with an "M=S" rating on the side of the tire are best. Chunky mud tires wear out to fats and ride like crap. 99% of the time you wont need them. The other 1% you probably shouldn't have the ambulance there at that point in time anyway.

    4x4 is not a panacea. It will help keep you centered on the crown of the icy road or help you back out of a muddy driveway. It will not be any help if you boony-bounce, mud-bog, etc, etc. It's still a top heavy 12,000 lb vehicle with the handling characteristics of a n aircraft carrier.

    Ride height isn't much different on a type 1, type 2 and 3 will be higher and are due their caution because of this.

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