Featured Article: Buy new or redo?

Max Kvidera | April 01, 2010

Gordon Bow, who runs under his own authority as Mortgage Hill Trucking, advises determining the truck’s current condition and longevity before deciding whether to pour money into it or trade it. “If it gets down to $35,000 or $40,000 in value and you have to stick $15,000 or $20,000 into it, and if you know everything else is in really good shape and not going to give you trouble for another two or three years, then do it,” he says.

Lenny Bower of Lewisberry, Pa., who’s leased to Fraley & Schilling, says you should pay attention not only to how much you spend on maintenance but where the dollars are going. For example, up until 2008, he figures he spent less than a couple thousand annually on his 2003 Western Star. In each of 2008 and 2009, however, he says he spent about $7,500, repairing brake shoes and drums and replacing the alternator, batteries and two injectors.

“I really think spending will slack off now because I had the motor opened up and they looked underneath,” says Bower, Overdrive’s December 2009 Trucker of the Month. “I ran into one guy running a 35-year-old Kenworth. If he can run that long, why can’t I?”

Bower says he relies on oil analysis to tell him “when to overhaul the engine because different metals will start showing up,” he says. “My truck has 701,000 miles on it. The question is how much longer it will last before I have to do the pistons, cam bearings and other parts that have metals that show up in there.”

For a truck driven heavy mileage over the road, most maintenance spending over the years is predictable, allowing you to make informed decisions when confronted with a major mechanical problem.

Choosing to rebuild

Wiederholt last bought a new truck in 2000. When he looks for a used truck, he examines the vehicle’s “rebuildability,” just as he does when his trucks need major work.

He and his shop manager review a truck’s mileage, its application, past and anticipated maintenance problems, and the cost to repair. Only then do they decide whether it’s worth that cost.

“If I can rebuild the motor and the front end is in tight shape and we haven’t had to spend a lot of money on a new radiator, charge air coolers or a clutch or a transmission lately, I’ll do it a little bit at a time,” Wiederholt says. “When I rebuild a motor, I try to do as much in frame as possible.”

He’s rebuilt two trucks using glider kits. He took the old engine, transmission, suspension, rear ends and fifth wheel and matched them with a kit containing a new cab, frame rail chassis and front axle. “On each one I saved approximately $30,000 over the price of a brand-new truck of similar vintage and specs,” he says.

Wiederholt’s shop will rebuild most of the truck except for transmissions, which he farms out, and rear ends, which he will swap out for a remanufactured alternative. “If we put in a new remanned rear end, we’ll replace the bearings and hubs and we’ll do a new brake job,” he says. “It’s not just a repair; it’s a rebuild on the go.”

On an in-frame overhaul of a Detroit Diesel Series 60, you can expect to spend $15,000 to $16,000, estimates McClusky of ATBS. To replace the engine but not all of the components will run about $22,000. It’s usually cheaper to rebuild transmissions and differentials unless they’ve experienced a catastrophic failure, he says.

Not all rebuilds are the same, cautions Mike Betts, CEO of Betts Spring Co. of Fresno, Calif. With a transmission, ask if all of the components have been rebuilt or just a few, and whether the rebuild comes with a warranty.

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