What equipment is needed for an ice cream truck? So, you’ve made the decision to start an ice cream truck, but what equipment do you need to turn your truck into an ice cream serving machine. In this post I want to share with you all the equipment requirements need to turn trucks into ice cream trucks. In this post, I will cover what you need for the three main types of ice cream trucks (pre-packaged, scooping, and soft serve) as well as the potential cost for each item. Having built and operated my own ice cream scooping truck (it was a 1991 Chevy P30 Step-Van), I know exactly what you need to make any truck into an ice cream truck. To start, what are the main pieces of equipment you need for an ice cream truck?
What Equipment Do I Need For My Ice Cream Truck?
As a general rule, the main equipment needed for an ice cream truck are:
- Soft serve machines (if selling soft serve)
- Water pump and heater
- Point of sale system
The exact equipment required for an ice cream truck will depend on what kind of ice cream truck it is, as well as the health department requirements of your local County.
What Type of Ice Cream Truck are you Starting?
What equipment is required for starting an ice cream truck? Well before you can answer that question you need to know what kind of ice cream truck you will be starting. As different types of ice cream trucks will have different equipment requirements.
What Kind of Ice Cream Truck Will You Be Starting?
There are three main types of ice cream trucks:
A. Pre-Packaged Ice Cream Truck
B. Scooping Truck
C. Soft Serve Truck
Which of the above three ice cream trucks you are starting will very much determine the equipment you will need for your truck. Let’s go through each of the three types of ice cream truck types and look at the equipment required for each.
By the way, I know some ice cream trucks also offer hot dogs or nachos or hot drinks, etc. In this post, I will just be focusing on ice cream. The best ice cream trucks I know just focus on what they do really well i.e., amazing ice cream, and don’t get distracted by adding other items on the menu.
A. Equipment Needed for Pre-Packaged Ice Cream Truck
What is a pre-packaged ice cream truck? A pre-package ice cream truck is one that focuses on just serving pre-packaged and sealed ice creams and/or popsicles. This is the type of ice cream truck that you see typically driving around neighborhoods with music chiming on hot days or at beach destinations. You go to the truck and pick what you want based on the picture outside of the truck.
Serving pre-packaged ice cream involves a server just grabbing the relevant ice cream out of the freezer and handing it over to the customer. That’s it. If any preparation of the ice cream or scooping needs to take place, then this would not be a pre-packaged ice cream-only truck.
If you are starting a pre-packaged ice cream-only truck, then your equipment requirements will be very minimal. This is because the food bourn illness risks are low. There is no ice cream handling, so risks are low – the most important thing is that the ice cream is kept frozen.
What Kind Of Freezer Do I Need For Pre-Packaged Ice Cream Truck?
The most important equipment you will need for a pre-packaged Ice cream truck is freezers. Just regular old freezers which keep ice cream at 0oF or below will be fine (you will see below that if you choose to start a scooping ice cream truck instead you will need dual temperature freezers to make sure the ice cream is soft enough to scoop).
With a pre-packaged ice cream truck, you want your ice cream to be as frozen as possible to prevent melting and customer complaints. Usually, the best option is a simple chest freezer which you can insert onto your truck and power with a generator.
How Much Do Freezers Cost For An Ice Cream Truck?
As a general rule, the total cost for a chest freezer for a pre-packaged ice cream truck is approximately $500 -$1000.
Health Department Requirements Should Be Minimal for Pre-Packed Ice Cream Truck
One of the advantages of starting a pre-packaged ice cream-only truck is the requirements from the health department should be minimal.
Usually, if you are not handling any ice cream (i.e., literally just grabbing a pre-packaged ice cream out of the freezer and handing it over to the customer) then you should not need a three-compartment sink.
Your health department may still require a hand wash sink but this may be it (if they even require that). Make sure to speak to your local health department before you purchase any truck and determine what the sink requirements are for a pre-packaged truck.
Other Equipment Required for Pre-Packaged Ice Cream Only Truck
The second biggest piece of equipment required for a pre-packaged ice cream truck will be the generator. You will need a generator to power your freezers as well as any point-of-sale system to take payments and any other miscellaneous requirements (such as lighting).
See the below section D for more equipment you may want on your pre-packaged ice cream truck.
When it comes to power you won’t be able to run your truck off your truck battery. You will need to set up a generator and depending on your power requirements, a possible alternator and fuses to properly power your freezers.
I highly recommend the Predator Generators from Harbor Freight (they are the most cost-effective option). Depending on your wattage requirements the total cost for a generator will be around $400 – $900.
B. Equipment Needed for A Scooping Ice Cream Truck
A scooping ice cream truck is a truck that offers scoops of ice cream from various flavors in cones or cups. Toppings may or may not also be added upon request.
If you want to start a scooping ice cream truck, then the equipment requirements will be a bit higher and more expensive than a pre-packaged ice cream truck (but shouldn’t be as much as a soft-serve truck). Scooping is a more high-risk food-related activity and as such you will need to meet higher food safety standards on your truck.
What Kind Of Freezers Do I Need For A Scooping Ice Cream Truck?
If you are starting a scooping ice cream truck, you will want to make sure you get the freezers right.
If you just buy regular freezers which keep the ice cream at 0oF (and you can’t adjust the temperature) your ice cream will be WAY too hard to scoop for customers. There are specific gelato and scooping ice cream display counters out there (you know the kind you see in artisan ice cream shops).
However, when I started my scooping ice cream truck, I was shocked at the price of these display ice cream counters. So, I looked around for alternative solutions.
My solution was these Excellence dual temperature freezers – which I also use in my ice cream shop. These are amazing as you can adjust the temperature all the way down to a freezer temperature and all the way up to a fridge temperature and everything else in between. They also cost a fraction of the price of a display ice cream counter.
I love them so much that I had two in the ice cream truck I launched, and I currently have three in my ice cream shop (two are large ones used as freezers and one is a small one used as a fridge). They also come in different sizes – as small as a tiny 6.4 cubic feet version which can fit in a small space of an ice cream truck all the way up to 20 cubic feet.
How Much Do Freezers Cost For An Ice Cream Truck?
As a general rule, expect to pay around $800+ for an Excellence Dual Temperature Chest Freezer for a scooping ice cream truck.
Health Department Requirements for A Scooping Ice Cream Truck
A LOT of the other equipment requirements for your ice cream truck will be determined by your health department. When we launched our scooping ice cream truck, our health department required a three-compartment sink, hand wash sink, utensil drawer as well as a certain amount of prep space and storage shelves (as well as other requirements for our scooping ice cream truck).
The only way they know what your health department will require is to go speak to them. Requirements will vary from County to County.
Other Equipment Required for A Scooping Ice Cream Truck
You will also require a generator, water heater and pump, point of sale, as well as other miscellaneous equipment – see the below section D in this post.
Generators for Scooped Ice Cream Trucks
For power, you are going to need a slightly larger generator. Expect to pay around $800 for the generator that you require.
Water Heat and Water Pump
My first truck came with a water heater, but this did eventually need to be replaced. A 4-gallon water heater like this one from Ariston will set you back about $200. An automatic water pump will cost you around $200. I discuss water pumps in more detail in Section D below.
If you have a water system, you are going to need a fresh water tank and a wastewater tank. On my truck, we were required to have a 30 Gallon Fresh Water Tank and a 45 Gallon wastewater tank. The wastewater tank usually must be bigger than your freshwater. These can vary in price. The market-leading in making this is a company called Ronco Plastics.
You just need to make sure your fresh water tank is food safe for use. Depending on the dimensions water tanks can be anywhere from $200+.
C. Equipment Needed for A Soft Serve Ice Cream Truck
A soft-serve ice cream truck is one that offers soft-serve ice cream made from soft serve machines. A soft-serve ice cream truck will tend to require the most equipment and the most expensive power requirements. All the below items are in addition to the extra sinks, water pumps, water tanks, etc. you would need for a scooping truck as well.
Soft Serve Machines
Soft Serve ice cream is served from a soft-serve machine so you will require at least one soft-serve machine (depending on how many flavors you are offering). Expect to pay around $10,000 for a soft-serve machine with a decent serving capacity. One machine will do two flavors and usually one twist.
Potentially a Fridge
You may also require a fridge to store your soft-serve mix (if needs to be stored chilled). Ironically you may not need a freezer (depending on how your soft-serve mix needs to be stored).
A commercial fridge for an ice cream truck will be around $1,000.
The biggest and most complicated cost of your soft-serve truck will be your generator. Most likely you are going to need a heavy-duty commercial generator that can generate 10,000 watts plus. Why? Soft Serve machines draw a lot of power when they first startup. So much, that often normal generators won’t be able to hack the watts needed to get the machines going.
In most cases, soft-serve trucks will have a dedicated space allotted to them in the back for a high wattage generator. Now, these types of generators are essentially separate engines – that are used for power. That means they need just as much maintenance and care, if not more, as a regular engine. They are also extremely loud so you will want good sound dampening on your truck. Don’t believe me – just go walk past a soft serve truck next time and listen out for the generator engine.
The cost for these biggest generators can be anywhere from $2,000 – $10,000 +.
D. Equipment That All Ice Cream Trucks Should Have
Below is a list of equipment that almost all ice cream trucks (regardless of what kind of ice cream it is) will need.
I don’t want to get too technical here, but it is worth talking about how you power an ice cream truck here. For this I mean how you power your freezers, sink pump, interior lights, water heater, A/C, etc.
First, you cannot power your ice cream truck off your truck battery.
Secondly, to power everything on your truck you will need a generator. Generators come in three forms:
- Gas – is the most widely available and cheapest option (but does require gas, maintenance, and regular oil changes). You will also need an inverter generator (these are the quietest generators available) as most Cities ban others due to noise.
- Electric – these are separate battery packs that need to be regularly charged. They are expensive and usually only work for very small wattage requirements.
- Solar – super expensive, but clean and environmentally friendly. You won’t have to worry about maintaining generators, oil changes, gas, or temperamental generators in the hot heat.
What Generator Will I Need?
Generators come in sums of Watts. The higher the wattage the more you can power with the generator. To calculate how much wattage you need from a generator you will calculate the total maximum watt load of every appliance on your truck.
Make sure you work off the maximum wattage. Especially for freezers. This is because when an electrical item first starts it will draw in more power than when it is running. This max load is for a short period of time but that is why you need a generator that can spike to the maximum wattage of your truck.
For example, my ice cream truck used a Predator 3500 inverter generator. It has a peak wattage load of 3500 watts and a running wattage of 3000 watts. This thing would just about power two chest freezers, A/C, lights, water pump, water heater, and all my plug sockets. If everything came on at once it would struggle. With A/C running it would run at its maximum.
At the time this was the maximum wattage Predator generator available from Harbor Freight. Since they have introduced a 9500-watt generator.
Always Buy the Warranty on Generators
Last couple of points on generators. If you want the most reliable and best generator on the market, then Honda is the brand you want. They make the best generators. But they are the most expensive.
Harbor Freight’s Predator line is a second in class for me. They are a solid alternative version at a much lower price point. However, at this price reliability is lower. In three years, I changed my generator 3 times. Various things went wrong.
However, because I had a warranty on the generator all I had to do was empty it of oil and gas and return it to Harbor Freight. I would get a new generator and just pay for a new 2-year Warranty. It was worth it.
Buy the warranty.
As mentioned above Soft Serve trucks will need a more dedicated and commercial generator option.
If your truck has any sinks, it will need a water heater (the only exception being a pre-packaged ice cream truck whose health department doesn’t require a hand wash sink).
Water heaters come in a variety of options. You can get tankless on-demand or the more traditional tank options. Depending on your water requirements these can cost anywhere between $150-$200+. For your reference here are some examples of water heaters you can find on Amazon: Bosch 7 Gallon Water Heater, and Eco-Smart 2.5 Gallon Water Heater.
If your truck has any sinks, it will need a water pump (the only exception being a pre-packaged ice cream truck whose health department doesn’t require a hand wash sink). You will want a water pump that as a minimum can do 3 gallons per minute and 55 psi. This is the pump I had on my truck, and it worked perfectly – this is a link to it on Amazon: Shurflo Water Pump model 2088-422-444.
What Else Goes In An Ice Cream Truck?
Point Of Sale
You will require a point-of-sale system on your ice cream truck such as Square. In this day and age, a lot of people only carry cards so a cash-only truck isn’t an option (I mean it is, but you will miss out on many sales as a result of it).
The point of sale setup will be a lot less than that in an ice cream shop. In my ice cream truck, we just had a:
- EMV Chip Reader (here is a link to Amazon so you can see it).
- then we bought a headphone jack Square magstripe reader (for cards without chips) from Amazon. They also do them for iPhones with just a lighting connection.
Finally, we bought a cheaper smartphone (around $200) to run both from on the Truck. Super simple and it worked. On a side note, you will want to have a data plan for your phone so you can process payments. I highly recommend US Mobile; it is what we used. It gives the flexibility of choosing what you need per month and topping up when necessary. No expensive fixed contracts and it lets you just select a data plan (no texts or calls – because we didn’t need them).
In comparison our ice cream shop, we have an iPad and Square stand, card reader, printer, and cash till. For an ice cream shop a phone and card reader should suffice – if a customer wants a receipt, they can just be emailed it.
You do not need proper cash till like you need with bricks and mortar shop but a simple cash box like this one from Amazon will suffice to store cash. You will want something lockable that is easily transported off and on again from the truck.
You will need a small trash can inside your truck for any trash your team member has. You also will need a trash can to place outside your truck for customer trash. If your truck attends events this will often be a requirement of the event. A large brightly colored one like this purple one on Amazon can really catch people’s eyes whilst walking down the street. It is also the one we use for our truck.
You will also require some form of menu board to let customers know what your menu offering is. We used felt boards in our truck like these on Amazon and placed them under the serving window.
Alternative options include using an A sign posted next to your truck that you can update regularly or installation of a digital menu board (however, this would need to be a monitor that can handle being outside).
An A sign isn’t essential, but it is a good idea to have an A sign which can be placed on the sidewalk when you park up. It catches customers’ eyes as they are walking down the street and it increases their chances of buying from you. A chalk A sign like this one on Amazon can easily be updated.
Air conditioning is a completely optional item. However, if you work anywhere where it can get even remotely hot you are going to want it. A separate dedicated AC unit will have to be installed in your room to cover your kitchen area.
AC machines are not cheap and they add a lot of extra power demands on your generators (they especially have a big initial load when starting up). However, to be able to operate in a small truck space during any summer period it’s something I recommend getting.
Total cost – approxiamtely $2,000 to $5,000.
What Equipment Do I Need for An Ice Cream Truck – The Final Lick
What equipment do I need for an ice cream truck? What have we learned from this article? First, the equipment you will need will vary depending on the type of ice cream truck you want to start. Secondly, the more artisan you want your ice cream offering to be the more expensive your truck is going to be? And, finally, the most expensive type of truck to start with is a soft-serve truck.
When it comes to equipment the key is to understand your local health department rules as much as possible. Do not just rely on your truck builder. Understand everything. This will give you the ability to find the best equipment you need for your truck.
Making the ice cream…
The final thing I want to talk about is making the ice cream. In all the above you will have noticed I never mentioned anything about the equipment needed for making your ice cream. This is because in most instances the health department is going to require that you make your ice cream in a commercial food-approved kitchen. This means on top of all the above you will need to factor in the cost of the use of a commercial food kitchen and potentially getting a batch freezer (if selling your own scooped ice cream).
When I launched my ice cream truck, I already had an ice cream store with a full commercial kitchen. This meant I could make all the ice cream for my truck at my store.
I talk more about ice cream production in my post: Can I Make Ice Cream At Home and Sell it.
Time To Learn Some More
Want to learn more on your path to ice cream entrepreneur success. Then check out some of my other articles.
- What Are the Challenges In An Ice Cream Business
- How Do I Start My Own Ice Cream Business
- Ice Cream Shop Profits – How To Run A Profitable Ice Cream Shop
- How Much Does It Cost To Start An Ice Cream Truck
- How Much Does It Cost To Start An Ice Cream Shop
- Ice Cream Shop Accounting – Everything You Need To Know
- Can I Make Ice Cream At Home And Sell It
- What Are the Different Types of Frozen Desserts?
- Is Vegan Ice Cream Profitable
- How To Pick A Generator For Your Ice Cream Truck
- How Profitable Is An Ice Cream Truck?
- Everything You Need To Know About Working In An Ice Cream Shop
- Everything You Need to Know About Writing an Ice Cream Business Plan
- Everything You Need To Know About Rolled Ice Cream
- Everything You Need To Know About Soft Serve Ice Cream
- Vegan “Ice Cream”
- Everything You Need To Know About Batch Freezers
- What Equipment Do You Need For An Ice Cream Shop
- What Supplies Do You Need For An Ice Cream Shop
- What Is The Best Location For An Ice Cream Shop
- How To Open An Ice Cream Shop
- How To Start An Ice Cream Truck
- Do Ice Cream Shops Make Money in the Winter
- How To Make An Ice Cream Shop Stand Out
- How Do You Become An Ice Cream Distributor
- Everything You Need To Know About Ice Cream Delivery Apps
- Everything You Need To Know About Gluten-Free Ice Cream and Toppings
- What is the Mark-Up on Ice Cream?
- What Scoopers Do Ice Cream Shops Use?
- What Are the Best Toppings and Sauces for Ice Cream?