Going to Market

Buyers should arrive early to thoroughly inspect equipment at a truck auction.

Owner-operators looking to expand their businesses by adding used trucks have three options: dealerships, auctions and users (fleets or owner-operators). Most choose used truck dealers because they usually offer original or extended warranties, as well as financing.

Another popular reason is service, says Peterbilt’s Scott Pearson. “If you’re buying a unit with an extended warranty, you want a dealer who’s got lots of service locations. You hate to get into a position where there are only three locations nationally, because you’re not going to break down in that location.”

A trucker going to auction or buying directly from a unit’s first owner, on the other hand, may find used equipment at better prices. In the case of auctions, some of the traditional risks have lessened, says Paul Wachter, president of Taylor & Martin. His auction house, for example, guarantees the title, verifies a truck’s miles and specs, and provides maintenance schedules and other information to give a bidder more confidence.

Still, trucks at auction are unlikely to have warranties, which is why you should always inspect any truck you intend to bid on. Wachter says most owner-operators are savvy about trucks and rely on their own inspections. Others sometimes bring a mechanic or hire someone from an engine or truck manufacturer to inspect a truck. It may cost several hundred dollars, but the expense is worth it when you are spending thousands of dollars.

“Come early and ask a lot of questions,” Wachter recommends. “Get familiar with the auction company. A lot of times, the owner of the equipment you want is there. Ask them questions.”

Most equipment can be inspected days before an auction. The auction house will also describe equipment and its condition over the phone.

Many fleets also sell used trucks themselves instead of trading or auctioning them.
“Several major fleets, at least to some extent, market their own used trucks,” says SelecTrucks’ Bill Gordon. “A number of smaller fleets are starting to do the same thing.” Likewise, owner-operators sometimes sell their units instead of trading. When you shop:

  • Inspect the unit thoroughly.
  • Get copies of the maintenance records, which is usually easier to do if you’re buying from the original owner.
  • Understand your risk. With a dealer you may have some kind of warranty and some recourse. At auction or with an individual seller, you’ll probably have none.
  • If possible, shop all three: dealers, auctions and users. No one market is guaranteed to offer better values than the others.
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