What to look for when buying a used truck

row of parked semi trucks

The market for used trucks, favored by owner-operators in a majority of purchases, has been good in recent times. Thanks to a higher volume of newer used trucks becoming available, prices have dropped. Also, interest rates, particularly for those with good credit, are in owner-operators’ favor.

EVALUATE COMPONENTS AND FUEL EFFICIENCY. The model alone tells you very little. Because trucks can be spec’d 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. These specs can impact your profitability, so make sure you get the right truck for the job.

The Partners in Business program is sponsored by TBS Factoring.The Partners in Business program is sponsored by TBS Factoring.

With your application in mind (type of freight, regions of haul, expected weight, etc.), spec the truck from the bumper to the mudflaps. The first two priorities are always fuel mileage and low maintenance costs.

The things to consider include the body style, engine, transmission, rear-end ratio, tire sizes and styles, weight, accessories, auxiliary power units or other idle reduction technology, mileage, sleeper size and more. Specs properly matched to your application also contribute to better fuel economy. Most used trucks were not spec’d for optimal fuel mileage, so dig deep to find what you need.

START 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, but if you are having trouble, lighten up a bit on the requirements. Give yourself plenty of time for research: 30 to 60 days is not out of the question. Be persistent.

One of the best sources is EquipmentExperts.com, operated by Overdrive publisher Randall-Reilly. It’s a used equipment marketplace representing many dealers. It includes verified owner reviews, articles from Randall-Reilly’s award-winning editors, equipment comparison tools and specs.

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 through services such as RigDig.com 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 to not buy a certain truck, put it aside and move on.

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.

Take time to research the operation in which the truck has been used, 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.

Find more information and advice about truck purchasing in Chapter 10 of the newly updated 2020 edition of the Overdrive/ATBS Partners in Business manual, newly available for download.

SCHEDULE INSPECTIONS. Three separate inspections are ideal, 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), including tests for dyno, engine blow-by, oil analysis and charge air cooler, and an evaluation as to whether the engine’s condition is reasonable for its mileage.
  • Front-end inspection. This provides a good indication of how well the truck has been maintained.
  • Finally, a bumper-to-mudflap inspection by a well-qualified mechanic. 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 toward making the right choice.

The Business Manual for Owner-Operators
Overdrive editors and ATBS present the industry’s best manual for prospective and committed owner-operators. You’ll find exceptional depth on many issues in the 2021 edition of Partners in Business.
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