Dollars and Sense

Finding the perfect used truck

Kevin Untitled 11By Kevin Rutherford

Last month I gave you an overview of buying a used truck. Here is a step-by step approach to guide you through the process and help you make smart decisions.

DEFINE YOUR APPLICATION. Most potential owner-operators I talk to wouldn’t dream of going to a carrier without already having a truck. I promise you, any carrier representative will be eager to talk with you and help you understand his operation before you own the truck. As you talk with potential carriers, further outline your business model. This is a great opportunity to spec the right truck for the work you are planning.

DESIGN YOUR PERFECT TRUCK. With your application in mind – type of freight, regions to haul in, etc. – spec the truck from the bumper to the mud flaps. The first two priorities are always fuel mileage and low maintenance cost. The things to consider include body style, engine, transmission, rear end ratio, tire sizes and styles, weight, accessories, APU or other idle reduction technology, mileage, sleeper size, etc.

In addition to getting specific engine tests done, it’s wise to have a mechanic check the entire truck and give his opinion on the condition of any important system.In addition to getting specific engine tests done, it’s wise to have a mechanic check the entire truck and give his opinion on the condition of any important system.

BEGIN YOUR SEARCH. Many online resources are available to search for used trucks. A simple Google search will get you started. List all truck models that might meet your criteria. In the beginning, you might want to try to match your criteria exactly. If you are having trouble, lighten up a bit on the requirements. Give yourself plenty of time: 30 to 60 days is not out of the question. Be persistent.

NARROW YOUR LIST. Once you have found three to five trucks that meet your key requirements, rank them by your preferences. Run a VIN check online to get as much history as possible. You will find ownership history, insurance claims, accidents, mileage history, and more. When you find a clear reason not to buy a certain truck, put it aside and move to the next one.

RESEARCH IN DEPTH. Call the dealer and get as much information as possible: maintenance history, full ECM reports, pictures, even video. If a dealer says he doesn’t have this information or otherwise puts you off, move on. Other dealers will work with you, and their cooperation is critical to making the right decision.

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SCHEDULE INSPECTIONS. I recommend three separate inspections, performed by shops other than the selling dealer:

• Engine inspection by an original equipment manufacturer shop (i.e., a Detroit Diesel garage for a Detroit engine). This should include tests for dyno, engine blowby, oil analysis and charge air cooler, and an evaluation as to whether the condition of the engine is reasonable for its mileage.

• Front end inspection. This provides a good indication of how well the truck has been maintained.

• A bumper to mudflap inspection by a well-qualified mechanic. I prefer independent shops. I ask the mechanic for his opinion on the truck overall, including the condition of all major systems.

If you are diligent each step of the way, you should be confident in devoting increasing amounts of time and money to your top choice. It’s a major investment, and I promise you it will pay off in the long run. n

Further buying advice

You can learn even more about the truck purchase process through our Dec. 16 webinar on “Buying your first truck,” 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,