Hino 338 Ideal for Road-Work Duties

Tom Berg, Truck Editor | January 24, 2011

“Buy American” is fading as a concern to most American consumers who now feel part of a global economy, and never mind the specter of jobs being exported overseas. But it’s still an official part of the procurement process of many government entities in the United States. So it might be surprising to find Hino trucks being acquired by a state agency. Isn’t Hino a Japanese company?

Yes, but for much of this decade it’s been assembling its conventional-cab trucks in America—first in California and now in West Virginia—largely from components sourced in the United States. The latter state’s Highway Department is buying 175 road-maintenance and snow-plow trucks, mostly because the manufacturer and dealer came in with the low bid.

Matheny Motor Truck Co. in Mineral Wells, W. Va., won the contract with a bid that was $3,000 per truck less than the nearest competitor, according to Mike Matheny, the dealership’s owner. That the model 338 dumpers are home-built, in Williamstown, on the Ohio River, is a plus. Even better is that they’re simply good trucks.

“That truck’s built better than any truck in any factory I’ve ever seen,” says Bob Andrew, director of the Equipment Division for the state’s Department of Transportation, who placed the order. He listed good outward visibility, the stout cab, and the proven and reliable six-cylinder diesel as some of the truck’s attributes. And he added, “That’s why I think it’s the best truck goin’ right now.”

Andrew’s department tested out a single Hino truck in ’09. He and others liked what they saw, and gladly accepted the bid. The Hinos with pre-2010 diesels will be followed by another single unit to test the urea-injection system on its ’10-legal engine. Partly due to the new, costlier engine, an ’11-model truck lists at $12,528 more than the one I drove, he said. So he figured he saved the state’s taxpayers more than $1.2 million by ordering those 175 trucks with the pre-’10 engines.

Matheny borrowed our Hino 338 test truck from one of the Highway Department’s garages and took it to the factory, where I began checking it out. I immediately noticed the truck’s huge windshield and steeply sloping nose, which get much of the credit for the good outward visibility that Andrew mentioned. Side windows are also big, and the high-mounted cab enhances the view.

Won’t that big windshield be expensive to replace if it’s dinged by a flying rock? Not especially. One of Andrew’s managers priced it at $185.35 for glass and $87.30 for a new rubber seal, and labor shouldn’t amount to much. Anyway, Andrew said busted windshields are rare in this operation.

Like the trucks they’re replacing, the Hino dumpers haul rock for road building and maintenance, like tarrring and chipping of old asphalt, and are used for snow plowing and ice control in the winter. Maneuverability is important and the truck’s shortness helps, as it was very nimble in turns. Overall length is only 22.5 feet including the 10-foot-long Henderson dump body. The body is stainless steel, so it can haul a good load of salt—3 tons more than a V-bottom insert—without corroding.

A body with a stainless-steel bed costs somewhat more than one of mild steel, but it resists rust and doesn’t have to be painted and repainted, noted Dave Biczel, president of Ace Truck Equipment in Zanesville, Ohio, which supplies the bodies for this contract. Andrew expects it to last 10 years, then another 10 on a second new chassis. He said he’s following the lead of the DOT in neighboring Ohio, which went the stainless route about a decade ago.

The Hino’s hefty frame includes 23-inch straight-through rail extensions ahead of the nose to support the Henderson plow mount. The plow itself was absent on this warm, breezy day, but a hanger jutted out several feet and I had to remember to stop short of vehicles ahead of me at traffic lights or I might’ve speared ’em in the rear.

The “33” in the 338’s designation means 33,000 pounds, the truck’s gross vehicle weight rating, even if the axles’ capacities total 37,000. The front’s rating is 14,000 pounds, so it can easily carry a wide steel plow that weighs as much as 2,400 pounds.

The “8” in the designation refers to the 8-liter inline six-cylinder diesel, rated at 260 horsepower and 585 pounds-feet. JO8E-VB engines are made in Japan and shipped in containers to the Williamstown plant. This engine’s B50 life is 500,000 miles, meaning at least half of them should still be running at that point without many repairs. Hino says this is longer than any other comparable engine from any competitor, and so is its recently announced basic engine warranty: five years and 250,000 miles.

Fully trimmed cabs also come from Japan, though in the not-too-distant future they might be made in North America, executives say. Already sourced in the United States are most other components: the aforementioned axles, plus transmissions, springs, tanks, hangers and thousands of other items. Frame rails come from Hino’s parts plant in Arkansas; they arrive pre-punched and ready to take crossmembers, suspensions, tanks, power-train mounts and everything else for each truck.

The engine runs through a 3500-series Allison six-speed automatic, which makes the truck easy to drive while cushioning the driveline. An Allison drives pretty much like the tranny in your car or pickup: Select D and go, or R if you want to go backward. This selector lets the driver pick 1st through 5th and hold it to control speed during plowing and other steady speed work. The detents are close together, and I had to look at the selector to see what gear I was choosing. So I usually just left the tranny in D and let it decide when to change ratios, which was usually around 1,800 or 1,900 rpm.   

This was not the quickest truck I’ve ever driven, but it was no slug, either. With nothing in the dump box, acceleration was fast enough to keep up with traffic in town, and it cruised nicely on nearby highways and out on I-77. The rear axle’s gearing is 6.14 to 1, and I found that 60 mph was about the best steady speed, with the engine spinning at 2,000 rpm. Another 300 revs got us to 65, but it wouldn’t stay there on uphills unless I mashed the foot feed, and I felt guilty doing that because this was close to the top end of the tach’s green range.

With windows up—easy, because they were powered—the interior was quiet, marred only by rattling of the added-on controls for the box, plow and sander, which you’d expect in a plow and work truck. There’s plenty of room between the seats for the controls because the cab’s interior is wide, and it’s plenty tall. It’s a good place to work.

The ’10-model grille with its chromed wing-shaped bars is being replaced for the ’11 model year with a more blocky style. Still used is the big, stylized “H” logo that replaced Hino’s old winged shield a few years ago. The H means Hino, but someone told me it also represents a sun rising over water, as on Japan’s flag. To this they could add some stars and stripes, because these trucks have a lot of American in them. And according to J.D. Power surveys, American customers think Hinos are excellent trucks. So do I.