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4 Questions to Ask When Buying a Used Commercial Truck

Buying a used commercial truck

By now you’ve decided to go with a used commercial truck to maintain your fleet. But before you say “yes” to an all-too-eager seller, pump the brakes.

We’ll help you tread carefully, step by step, through the potential pitfalls of buying a used commercial truck. Ask yourself these questions:

4 Used Commercial Truck Questions

1. What Documentation Do They Have?

Has there been any engine work done? If so, does the seller have the receipts for the work performed and the parts used? It’s important to see the documentation before making any vehicle purchase. You’ll know whether it’s ready for the road or that engine needs a total rebuild.

Heavy-duty diesel engines typically have a useful life of 1 million miles and may need an engine rebuild around the 750,000 mark. Meanwhile, a medium-build truck typically has 300,000 to 350,000 miles to offer before it’ll need engine work.

This rule of documentation also goes for any other part, from work done on the transmission to even basic service records. Armed with the proper knowledge, you can understand how your commercial truck was used, how it was serviced, and what kind of condition it’s in.

You’ll also want a letter stating any lien will be released upon receipt of payment for your commercial truck. It’s almost useless to buy a truck with a lien on it, since the person selling the truck doesn’t have the full rights to sell it..

2. Am I Getting a Fair Shake?

Carfax will give you a lot of insight, from how many owners the truck has had to any accidents that were reported, even if the title has been marked salvage. Use Carfax to your advantage.

To double up on your chance of success, get an inspection from a qualified, third-party provider. If your request is met with a big, fat “no” from the seller, it might be time to look elsewhere.

Marking these check boxes should enable you to answer: Is this price fair market?

Perform a valuation against what other commercial trucks have sold for lately. Sites like Truckpaper.com and eBay allow you to see what trucks are being priced and sold for these days.

3. Have I Investigated Both Miles Driven and Engine Hours?

Even a 16-year-old who just got her driver’s permit knows to look for how many miles a prospective vehicle has traveled. But what about engine hours? The term refers to the number of hours an engine has been running since birth. One hour of idle time is equal to approximately 25 miles of driving, so if you’re considering a vehicle that spent a lot of time idling -- quite typical of semis -- engine hours might be a better measurement of its cost effectiveness.

There are a ton of other wear-and-tear-related questions you should ask a seller:

  • Where was it driven most? On the highway, where a large commercial truck is best suited? Or in the stop-and-go traffic of a city? (Example time: Think of your truck as a long-distance runner, which has a different makeup from a sprinter.)

  • Where was it used? A truck frequently used to haul salt in Minnesota is going to  accumulate more rust than a vehicle busy in the Deep South.

  • If the mile count is low, why? You’re right to be a bit skeptical if a 13-year-old truck only has 80,000 miles on it. Did it spend long periods idling? Has it sustained a series of breakdowns constantly keeping it off the road?

If you’re not prepared in these cases, you could unexpectedly be out $25,000 to $30,000 bucks to fund fixes, depending on the issue. You should always be wary of how long your purchase is going to stay on the road before needing costly repairs or replacement.

Keep in mind that certain states don’t require sellers to report mileage beyond a certain number.

Finally, make sure to resolve any suspicions you have about the mileage on the odometer versus the engine control module.

4. Why Is the Owner Selling It?

You could fill a dump truck with how many questions you should ask the previous owner about his motivations. Hopefully he is around to fill you in.

Start with these:

  • “Are you selling your business or going out of business?” Maintenance may have been neglected because the seller is running out of money.

  • “How did you get the truck?” This one only applies if the previous owner is not available. If so, how did the seller know the previous owner? Have they done business before? Did the seller have problems with him?

  • “How long have you been selling the vehicle?” The longer a truck sits, the more the seller is motivated to lower his asking price.

Have Your Own Back

Buyer ignorance is not bliss. Used commercial trucks are often the most cost-effective way for you to grow or maintain a successful fleet, but there is much that can go wrong with improper planning. Always do your due diligence before you drive out of the seller’s lot.

used commercial truck