Vacuum Trucks Save Millions on Construction and Civil Projects

Jun 18, 2021 | Trucks

Introduction to Hydro Excavation Trucks

We see more Hydro-Vacuum Excavation trucks on the roads and highways of Australia now than ever before. But, it may be challenging for a first-time observer to comprehend what these impressive machines can do and why they play such an essential role in the Australian civil and construction industry.

Lets start with how a Vacuum truck can save the construction industry millions.

Utility Asset Strikes are a major concern for the Australian industry.

A Dial Before You Dig Telecommunications member reports 20,000 strikes per year to their network, which resulted in damages of $20,000,000. That’s 20 million dollars just for one network.

Add in 6,594 incidents over a 6 month period resulting in severe damage to water mains and gas pipes and you are starting to see the picture. Apart from the cost of repairs there are additional costs incurred with contamination to surrounding areas and loss of business during the evacuations.

Over all the total costs are hard to calculate, however it would appear that 20 million is only the tip of a very large iceberg when it comes to Utility Asset Strikes.

Essentially, a Hydro-Vacuum Excavation unit or vacuum truck, as it is more commonly known, compliments the age-old “digger”. Legislation and Asset owners now stipulate that Non-Destructive Digging (NDD) methods are to be used to find and expose services. Vacuum trucks achieve this by dislodging the soil matter with high pressure water or air, and with the use of a blower to create airflow to suck the liquids, dirt, gravel, rocks, sludge, and other waste materials into a holding tank, then transport the waste for disposal at an Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) approved dumpsite.

This article will explain how these machines are used, what type of job they perform, and what benefits the vacuum trucks have for Australian service providers.

Who makes Hydro-Vacuum Excavation trucks?

Vac trucks have been around for decades and are manufactured by specialist companies in Australia, such as Vacvator or imported from overseas. There are many advantages to buying an Australian-made machine, including having a truck designed specifically for Australian roads and conditions, local client needs and providing a more reliable experience.

Why do Vac Trucks have so many different names in Australia?

There are many terms used in the transport industry to describe a Vac truck. Here is a list including some colloquial terms that are commonly used on-site in Australia. 

  • Vacuum excavation truck
  • Vacuum dump truck
  • Water jet digging truck
  • Hydro excavation truck
  • Hydro-vacuum excavation truck
  • Jetter truck (high pressure)
  • Dry vac truck
  • Non-destructive digging truck
  • Vacuum truck
  • Sucker truck


What does a vacuum truck do?

Commercial operators offer many services based on their location and truck types.

These vehicles use their powerful suction pump (blower) combined with a long extension hose to extract waste such as loose rock, sludge, sand, gravel, dirt, liquids, and contaminated water. 

The services offered by contractors could involve excavating holes to lay pipework, potholing and trenching to expose services through to sucking up contaminated sludge and liquid. The units can also remove surplus water from surface flooding or property affected by sewage overflow. 

Vacvator has three versions of the NDD truck used by contractors called Combo Units. The Jetter Combo Truck uses high pressure water and has the capacity to clean pipework up to a meter in diameter and up to 150 metres in length. The Pulse Combo truck has the capacity to remove large volumes of dry fine material and “The Mega Truck” has all three.

There are many uses in the industry for our equipment.


Using a vac truck for potholing onsite

Vacuum excavation truck features and benefits:

– Powerful suction to vacuum up debris, dirt, or sand quickly without damage to underground utilities like gas lines, electrical cables or water mains, saving lost time and huge repair bills.

– Long extension hoses make it possible to reach into tight spaces for trenchless excavation of holes for concrete foundations meaning jobs that others can’t do may be possible with an NDD unit. A Vacvator truck has been documented sucking spoil at 175 meters.

– Large-capacity holding tanks mean operators can save money in dump fees for excavated materials but not having to do as many trips as a traditional truck.

– “Dial Before You Dig” underground services guide all civil and maintenance digging, and non-destructive digging solves the problem of inaccuracy on older maps or when no maps exist

– The excavation process compliments traditional drilling and is far faster and safer than manual labour. In addition, operators can know that contact with valuable communication infrastructure such as telecommunication lines will not be an issue during excavation which takes a lot of pressure off the operator. The unit provides an extremely accurate and precise job, so any services around it will not be damaged.

-Sludge, liquid, soil, waste, liquid and other debris will not damage the holding tank of the vacuum truck as Vacvator units are built to handle this.

– The process is environmentally friendly and reduces the disturbance to neighbours, traffic flow, or pedestrians.

Cutting edge technology at Vacvator with the new models of Vac excavators means health and safety regulations are being met for Australian companies, having employees and contractors operating safely.

– Vacvator provides a CANbus system that can be programmed to engage with numerous functions on the unit; the quality digital scales are linked to the CANbus system on the truck and are a standard safety function Vacvator has built-in. The system will stop the vacuum pump once the truck is at its legal road weight limit. The owners and operators of Vacuum trucks have a duty of care to ensure that the truck is not overweight on public roads. This protects the operator from being fined for being overweight, protects the truck owner from potential liability and more importantly limits any chance of road accidents from being overloaded and in doing so protects other road users.

A hydro excavation truck safely excavating a service trench without harming valuable infrastructure assets beneath the surface

How do Vac Trucks work?

A Vac truck uses Non-Destructive Ground Engaging Tools such as high pressure water or air and vacuum excavation technology to suck up loose spoil without the need for a digger. This technique saves time by not having to process the same material twice. Operators are on a contract or hourly rate and some rental companies provide the trucks for hire.

– The vac trucks are used for a range of tasks that include but are not limited to excavation, demolition, and more.

How much does a vac truck cost?

There are many forms of trucks available, all with different features designed to suit the operator.

A quote is done based on a client’s needs; however, on average, a vacuum truck ranges from $100,000 for a basic trailer or skid unit to $1,500,000  for specialised or imported trucks.

The price varies depending on the operator’s services and the features required to perform those tasks effortlessly and profitably.

Why is non destructive digging important?

Non destructive digging or an NDD Vac Truck, as it is referred to, is vital on busy construction and roading projects where sewer lines, telecommunication lines, gas lines, and other amenities are present.  Using water or air pressure to dislodge the soil matter and vacuum to remove the spoil, versus traditional excavating means the job can be done without causing outages and interrupting local businesses or residents. Vac extraction is very safe and effective.

Excavating in this manner also means that there will be no need for costly repairs after construction has been completed because nothing needs to be repaired or reconstructed.  

Vacuum trucks are the best way to minimise disruption and environmental impact and increase efficiency on any project, whether commercial or civil.

Health and safety considerations.

The main consideration above all is safety. By using a Vac truck you can dig around services without damage to the infrastructure or harm to the operator. The water or air pressure in the high pressure lances on a Vacvator can be regulated to meet the asset owners specifications to even further avoid damaging the services and to protect the operator.

Traditional excavation methods are not always the safest for workers since they often involve heavy machinery in tight spaces and increase injury risk. By comparison, an NDD vehicle requires one operator and is less likely to cause an accident. When digging with an excavator a second person is needed called a spotter.

As a result, vacuum trucks offer the safest work environment possible for the industry and include other benefits that more traditional methods cannot provide.

How to unload a vac truck?

Once the vacuum unit has reached its capacity and it has arrived at a disposal site it can easily be emptied. Once the excess water has been released through the dewatering valve the operator using the remote releases the rear door of the unit, starts to tilt the tank to approximately 40 degrees and gravity does the rest. A quick rinse with the high pressure gurney and the job is done. 

EPA is the governing body that determines what constitutes contaminated soil and how it can be disposed of. Once the soil matter and water have been mixed the load in the spoil tank is considered contaminated and must be disposed of at an EPA approved dumpsite. 


In summary, vac trucks are an important piece of equipment for the Australian construction and civil market that improve the efficiency of services installation, prevent utility asset strikes, save millions of dollars in damaged infrastructure and provide a safer workspace for the company using them.

If you have concerns around finding cables or pipes please check here first before digging

If you like a product brochure on any of our various machines and related configurations please click here

A short video showing a vac truck demonstration