What is a Yard Spotter?

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Need a yard spotter?  Call Dan Mizener 216-316-4133!


When I ask someone who is not in the industry if they know what a yard spotter is, their typical response is, “…a yard WHAT?”  However, the majority of people have seen these machines and would be surprised how common they are and the wide range of companies that utilize them every day.

A yard spotter is known by a lot of names: yard spotter, yard truck, yard mule, yard goat, yard dog, spotter, etc…a lot of people will simply call them by the most common brand name, Ottawa.  Similar to some southerners that will call any carbonated beverage Coke, even if it is a Pepsi or root beer!

When Would I Use a Yard Spotter?

Regardless of what the machine is called, they are used everywhere.  Their primary purpose is to move trailers around a “yard”.  That could mean a port facility, distribution center, or even a rail yard. Ports and rail yards would be the most common place to find a yard spotter because, depending on the size of the facility, they could utilize several hundred yard spotters at one time.  A Wal-Mart distribution center, a third party logistics company, or a beer distributor will likely have several running their yards, but their highest concentration is typically ports and rail yards.2004 Capacity TJ7000 (3)

They look like the front of a semi-truck that you would see driving down the highway, but without the extended cab that is typically for the driver’s living quarters.  A yard spotter has a “fifth wheel” or a large metal plate that hydraulically raises and lowers to connect to the trailer.

Types of Yard Spotters

Most yard spotters have one rear axle with four tires, but you may see a tandem yard spotter with two rear axles for more capacity.  Another main distinction between different types of yard spotters in DOT certification.  While most yard spotter applications do not require the machine to be on main roads or highways, some do require that accessibility and will need to be DOT certified trucks.

DOT stands for department of transportation.  Typically, a yard spotter would stay inside the “yard”, whether that be a parking lot, rail yard, port, or the paved distance between loading docks.  However, if the spotter is required to move trailers from one building to another and there is a main road in between the building, the machine will need to be titled with a license plate and certified for DOT.  There are also mechanical differences between a DOT yard spotter and a non-DOT truck.

For an example, we will use an Ottawa 4×2 to demonstrate some differences.  Because of EPA regulations, a DOT Ottawa 4×2 will need to be Clean Idle Certified and will typically be a ISB 6.7L 200 horsepower diesel…most Ottawas will have Cummins engines in them.  A non-DOT truck will have the same size engine, but only 165 horsepower.  A DOT Ottawa 4×2 will also have ABS brakes and a max speed of 45 mph as opposed to the non-DOT max speed of 25 mph.  See links to the spec sheets below.  Because of these differences, a DOT spotter will be significantly more expensive that a non-DOT truck.  They can be much more difficult to source used and because of titling it can take longer to deliver a DOT machine.'09 yt30 (2)

What Else Do I Need To Know?

Common questions when buying a new or used Ottawa is, “How do I get it here?”  The answer is simple.  You can load it on a trailer the same as you would ship a forklift.  The height of most Ottawa yard trucks (barring any added options like lights, or rack stops) is 10’ 4”.  You can fit (3) Ottawa yard spotters on a 53’ step deck by driving the rear end of the first truck onto the top deck of the trailer.  Being the used division of an Ottawa dealership, National Warehouse Equipment is well versed in used Ottawa and Capacity yard spotters with over 30 currently in stock.  Give us a call if you have any questions or if you’d like to know more about them.

DOT Ottawa 4×2 Spec Sheet

non-DOT Ottawa 4×2 Spec Sheet

EPA Regulations for Diesel Engines

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2 Responses to “What is a Yard Spotter?”

  1. James Bergman October 19, 2016 at 6:27 pm #

    If you had just mentioned the name “yard spotter” I would have had no idea what you were talking about. However, I have seen these trucks around just like you promised I would. I just thought they were smaller semi trucks, which I suppose they are, but not as powerful.

  2. Andrew Guild October 20, 2016 at 8:12 am #

    Thanks, James. Since you guys are the yard truck specialists, let us know if you are interested in anything we have for sale!