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Vactor Trucks 101: What Do They Do?

Ever drive by a construction site and see a large truck with a storage tank on the back? While you could be forgiven for thinking so, it’s not a water tanker. Odds are good that you saw a vactor truck.

Construction companies and even cities use these trucks for cleanup efforts where a large amount of liquid is involved. Typically, this means removing liquid that everyone expects at a job site. In some cases, though, it also applies to emergency situations.

Want to know more about these trucks? Keep reading for our vactor truck 101 guide.

What Is a Vactor Truck?

A vactor truck is, in essence, a truck-mounted storage tank connected to an extremely powerful vacuum or pump system. The pump attaches to a suction hose, which is anywhere from 2 inches wide to 4 inches wide. The size of the hose depends on the suction system.

These trucks let construction companies and cities gather up liquids and even some solids and transport them by road. In many cases, the destination is some kind of treatment plant.

For example, let’s say that a homeowner has a functional in-ground pool. They want the pool filled in because it’s expensive and they don’t use it.

The contractor must get rid of the water before they fill in the pool. Since the water contains chlorine, they can’t simply pump the water onto the ground. They can use a vactor truck to suck up the water and transport it to a water treatment plan.

Unless you regularly deal with liquid removal, your company will likely deal with a vactor truck rental and not own one outright.

How Does It Work?

If you ever used a shop vacuum, you have a sense of how a vactor truck works. Most vactor trucks use a steel storage tank because steel holds up well to most liquids.

The pump system on the truck removes air from the storage tank. This creates a vacuum and limits pressure inside the tank. It also helps create suction in the hose.

The operator then lowers the hose into the liquid. The pump and the vacuum in the tank suck up the liquid.

It’s important that you remove any large debris you can from the area. While the truck can theoretically remove small debris, large debris can block the hose entirely. Bigger pieces of debris might also cause damage as they move through the tube.

In most cases, the maximum length of the hose tops out a little over 30 feet. Anything more than that and the vacuum process loses efficiency.

Safety Features

It’s nearly impossible to create a perfect vacuum balance in the tank. That means that there is always the possibility for a pressure buildup inside the tank. This kind of buildup can damage the tank.

Vacuum trucks come standard with a pressure relief valve. This valve allows air to escape if the pressure in the tank builds beyond a certain level.

It’s also possible for the tank to experience too much vacuum pressure. This can eventually cause the tank to collapse.

That’s why vacuum tanks also come standard with vacuum relief valves. These valves let air into the tank to reduce the vacuum pressure if necessary.

Vactor trucks also employ a primary shutoff valve and a secondary shutoff valve. These valves ensure that the tank contents don’t accidentally end up inside the pump mechanism itself.

Common Uses for Vactor Trucks

Vactor trucks see use in many mundane and a few non-mundane situations.

One of the more common uses is for septic tank pumping. Vactor trucks provide the most efficient means of removing the sludge that builds up in septic tanks over time.

Construction companies use them to remove liquid and small debris when performing drilling. They’re especially useful for companies engaged in hydro-excavation.

Cities often use them for sewer line maintenance. Despite most cities’ ongoing efforts to keep people from flushing trash, it still happens on a regular basis. Vactor trucks can help cities resolve blockages in sewer pipes.

Companies that specialize in water remediation often use vacuum trucks as well. They use the trucks to remove standing water from basements following a flood.

Uncommon Uses for Vactor Trucks

Most times, businesses or cities use vactor trucks in controlled situations. That isn’t the only time they prove useful. They do see occasional use in emergency situations as well.

For example, let’s there is there a liquid spill of a dangerous chemical or some kind of oil spill. A city can use the vacuum trucks to suck up the majority of the spill before it contaminates too much soil.

Cleaning up the spill quickly is a crucial step in preventing the spilled chemical or oil from reaching nearby waterways. Once a spill does reach a waterway, it’s can prove almost impossible to undo the damage. If those waterways are part of the local drinking water supply, it can create havoc.

In cases where oversaturation causes a collapse of a pit or tunnel, a vactor truck can help clear away the mud. This lets emergency workers access the site for rescue efforts.

Is a Vactor Truck Right for You?

Like most construction equipment, vactor trucks can prove incredibly useful. They’re an ideal asset for cities, septic system businesses, and hydro-excavation businesses. They can prove invaluable for construction companies as well, assuming the company deals with large volumes of liquids on a regular basis.

Yet, vacuum trucks also represent a substantial investment. If you don’t already need a vactor truck on regular basis, odds are good it won’t prove a sound investment long term.

Looking for more information on construction equipment and techniques? Head over to our Construction section for more articles.