Good Buy or Goodbye?
Be smart about evaluating a used truck before purchase
By Timothy D. Brady
With owner-operators and lease operators on tight budgets these days, many look to the used market when it’s time to replace a tractor. To be sure the truck you purchase gives you the fewest problems, you need to compile a fact list on each one considered. This list helps you eliminate the lemons, because trucks needing too many repairs can be financially debilitating to your company.
Have an A List for the really good ones and a B List for the maybes. Looking at 10 key pieces of information, you can determine whether you have an A List truck. If any of this information is incomplete or denotes negative conditions, it does not go on the A List, no matter how good it looks.
Before buying a used truck:
- Get the complete maintenance and repair records for the life of the truck. This includes all warranty and recall records. (Incomplete records — lemon.)
- Get an engine history from the OEM. This tells you the frequency of repairs or problems. (Too many repairs or problems — lemon.)
- On the Electronic Control Module (ECM) report, check and be sure the serial number on the engine and the report’s engine serial numbers match. (Possible non-OEM engine swap or ECM replacement — lemon.)
- How much time on the engine hour meter? How many odometer miles? Has either of these gauges ever been replaced? Divide the total miles by the total hours to determine the idling time. You need to compare this to what the ECM readout says. (Too many discrepancies — lemon.)
- Will the seller allow you to take the tractor on a 20-mile test drive? Under a loaded trailer? This is where you have the opportunity to see how the truck shakes, rattles and rolls. (More shakes and rattles, less rolling — lemon.)
- Will the seller allow you to bring the tractor to a truck service shop that can put it on a dynamometer? This lets you see how the truck will perform under different loads and situations. (No? They could be hiding something — lemon.)
- Do all the tires on the same axle match in size and manufacturer? If the previous owner couldn’t afford matching tires, what other maintenance or repairs were shortchanged? (Lack of maintenance knowledge or concern — lemon.)
- Has the truck ever been in an accident? What repairs were required? Who did these repairs? (Serious accident — lemon.)
- The general cosmetic appearance of the truck is another telltale mark of how the truck was maintained. But don’t just look at the surface cosmetics, take a look under that truck’s skin at the details. (Spliced wiring; repaired, not replaced air lines; excessive corrosion and rust; loose parts — lemon.)
- Are there any transferable warranties? Or is there a purchasable warranty that will cover all major components: engine, transmission and rears? (No warranties — lemon.)
For a truck to make it onto your A List, it must pass the equivalent of the most determined, Level 1 DOT inspection — times 10. Remember, it’s not just the repairs that will financially destroy your business. It’s the loss of revenue during those repair downtimes and the lack of reliability to your shippers that will cost you the most. You can do your research before you make the purchase, or you can pay for not doing the research at a staggering cost later.
Murphy’s Law dictates a breakdown will always happen at the most inconvenient time, in the most inconvenient place. With correct planning and research, you’ll know when to buy, or say “bye” to a used truck.