Auto Service World
Feature   September 1, 2001   by Jim Anderton

SSGM Road Test: GMC W5500 Crew Cab

Haul the vehicle and the passengers


If you offer wrecker services as part of your business, it’s happened to you. The vehicle is no problem but when you get there, there’s more than one unhappy face. Ever try to squeeze a family into the cab on a cold winter night? It’s not just unpleasant, it’s unsafe and in most places, illegal. GMC has a solution, however, in the new Crew Cab version of their Isuzu-built W-Series cab over medium-duty units. Sharing the same engine and basic chassis specifications with the original, the crew cab body adds two extra doors, and rear seating for four (with seatbelts), making the total passenger capacity seven, including the driver. SSGM tested a W5500, which was powered by a four-cylinder Isuzu turbocharged and intercooled overhead cam diesel good for 175 HP @ 2700 RPM and 347 lb/ft of torque @ 2000 RPM. The power flows through a four-speed overdrive automatic transmission with lock-up on second through fourth gears, a multi-section driveshaft and into a traditional third member with full-floating axles. Brakes are power front disk with hydraulic assist and ABS, and a vacuum engine exhaust brake.

Both the 4500 and 5500 series are available in 150 inch and 176-inch wheelbase models, accommodating 12 and 16 foot bodies respectively. MSRP’s range from $46,048 to $50,714 for a long wheelbase W5500. The SSGM test vehicle was a loaded W5500 ($53,712) with A/C, electric front windows, power door locks, engine protection shutdown system, AM/FM cassette stereo, rear heater and an oversize 150 litre fuel tank. Driving the crew cab W5500 is much like the conventional cab over version, with excellent driver vision and a tight turning circle for a commercial vehicle. The bus-like seating position is helped by a tilt and telescopic steering wheel and a driver’s side seat with good lumbar support. The transmission shifter features an overdrive lockout button, and multiple electronic odometers keep track of distance. Seating surfaces are cloth covered, and floors are protected by heavy rubber matting with sound absorbent backing around the engine housing. On-road performance of the W5500 is very good (despite engine power numbers that are dwarfed by some SUV powerplants), allowing easy cruise at highway speeds. Highway driving in an admittedly empty truck with a flat bed body returned 16 MPG at a steady 100 km/h, making this a very economical vehicle for it’s payload rating. Allowable payloads range from 8300 pounds to the as-tested limit of 11,300 pounds of body, tools and people. While a four-cylinder turbo diesel might seem weak pulling five and a half-ton payloads, GMC warrants the engine and transmission for a surprising three years with unlimited mileage and no deductible. The rest of the truck is covered under a similar two-year plan, with the exception of batteries, which carry a twelve-month warranty.

There are distinct advantages to moving into the medium commercial segment. 225/70R-19.5 12-ply tires are one (215/85R16E 10 ply on the W4500) as is a solid front axle with roller-bearing kingpins. A standard 136-litre fuel tank gives plenty of range, and the engine protection system is a good idea for units that see multiple operators, saving the engine by warning and then shutting down the engine in case of serious issues like low oil pressure or coolant loss. Another advantage is the engine exhaust brake, which lengthens brake life when loaded.

One factor to keep in mind is that as a four-door cabover, the longer cab tilts for major service only, so routine fluid check/fill happens through access plates inside the cab. Pour carefully, or bring a rag. With heavy-duty construction, reasonable pricing and long warranties, the crew cab W-Series trucks are an excellent choice for operators who want commercial truck ruggedness with modest operating costs.


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