Dollars and Sense

Kevin Untitled 1Choosing the right used truck


I can buy a used car in less than an hour and probably get a pretty good deal, as well. The supply of used cars is almost endless, and used car dealers are all around me. The cars on a lot near me will in essence be the same cars at any dealer across the country. I can do a quick background check on the model that I’m interested in, take it for a test drive, do a quick inspection and buy the car of my choice.

While this works well for cars, it doesn’t for commercial trucks due to several reasons. I’ll outline a proper truck shopping system in further detail next month, but for now, here are two key points in shopping for used trucks:

EVALUATE COMPONENTS AND FUEL EFFICIENCY. The model alone tells you very little. Because trucks can be spec’ed so many ways, you need to know much more about components in a particular vehicle – the engine, transmission, rear end ratio, horsepower and torque settings, component weights and weight limits, etc. The specs have a great deal of bearing on your profitability, so you need to make sure you get the right truck for the job.

Specs properly matched to your application also contribute to better fuel economy. With fuel prices above $3 a gallon and likely to go higher, the number one factor in truck choice should be fuel economy. Nine out of 10 used trucks were not spec’ed for optimal fuel mileage, so dig deep to find what you need.

LEARN THE TRUCK’S HISTORY. Take time to research what kind of operation the truck has been in, whether it’s been parked for extended periods of time and what preventive maintenance has been done. If the truck came from a large fleet, chances are its maintenance records are available.

You will probably use this equipment to generate close to $1 million of revenue, possibly much more. It’s worth taking the time to make the right choice.

Tips for the used buy

One problem owner-operators have in buying used equipment stems from shopping as if they were buying a used car.One problem owner-operators have in buying used equipment stems from shopping as if they were buying a used car.

• Shop beyond local dealers. The odds of finding the right truck and the right deal locally are slim to none, so don’t limit yourself.

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• Do your homework. Research each potential purchase before making any trips. Do a VIN search for mileage, ownership and accidents. You can also run the VIN to get a manufacturer’s build sheet that will list every component.

• Arrange hands-on physical inspections. Seek out mechanics knowledgeable in critical areas. Considering geographical challenges, this isn’t always easy, but it should be done.

• Look for a reason not to buy each truck you consider. When faced with hundreds of options, you need a method to make the best choice. When you find a truck and there’s no reason not to buy it, you know you are making a good decision.

• Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. I know some of you are not comfortable with it, but a lot can be gained by using the negotiation process to your full advantage – and not only on price but repairs, upgrades, future service work, etc. n

Buying your first truck

Computer Untitled 1Don’t miss the Dec. 18 webinar on this topic, presented by Eddie Walker, former president of the Used Truck Association. The free, one-hour evening webinar is produced by Overdrive and Truckers News and sponsored by Schneider National and Freightliner Trucks. Visit to register.

Kevin Rutherford is an accountant, small-fleet owner and the host of “Trucking Business & Beyond,” which airs on Sirius XM Radio’s Road Dog Trucking Radio. Contact Rutherford through his website,