Years ago, truckers had very little choice when they were shopping for a used heavy duty truck.
They usually got in their car and drove down to the local new truck dealer and looked to see what good used trucks they had taken in on trades. If they found something they liked, they would point out a few things they would like to have done to the truck, and they would negotiate a deal. The truck was usually sold to the customer “As Is”.
Today things are much different. Truck buyers have lots of different options to purchase a used heavy duty truck. Just like every other industry, the internet has drastically changed the way that trucks are bought. New truck dealers are still a big player, but customers are now buying trucks directly from fleets, leasing companies, auctions, finance companies, Craigslist, etc. Many customers see these options as a way of eliminating the middleman and making a “better deal” by buying “direct”. Many of these alternative sellers have been able to provide some of the same services that the dealer provides, such as financing and warranties. Some are even able to take your trade in.
What To Look For When Buying A Used Semi Truck
While these alternative sellers have made truck buying cheap, easy, and convenient, many buyers have not considered the tremendous risk involved in making such a purchase. Today, consumers have grown quite accustomed to buying things on the internet instead of a brick and mortar store. For most consumer goods, there is little downside. Most products are new, and carry manufacturers warranties. The sellers have made returns easy. There is little risk involved. For used heavy duty trucks, the opposite is true. There is tremendous risk involved in buying any used heavy duty truck. Today’s trucks are complex and expensive to work on. System failures occur often, even on the best of trucks. Here are some things to keep in mind when shopping for a used heavy duty truck:
- Most alternative sellers are going to do as little as possible to a used truck when getting it ready for sale. Their goal is to make it look good and make sure it passes a DOT inspection. It is up to the buyer to discover anything else on the truck that needs to be repaired. In many cases, such as an auction, the buyer won’t even have a chance to properly inspect and test drive the truck before making a buying decision. Additionally, buyers do not typically have the expertise and diagnostic devices to adequately assess the condition of a truck. We have seen many situations where a truck was running beautifully, but needed $10,000 worth of repairs to the aftertreatment system. This is just one example. There are multitudes of problems that can’t easily be detected by the untrained eye. A reputable dealer will have a certified technician spend at least three hours doing a very thorough inspection of the truck, and will proceed to repair all or most of the problems that have been discovered.
- Most trucks sold through these channels have not even been properly serviced. The buyer may have to spend over $1000 to have the oil and all filters changed, and install a new mattress and safety equipment. Plus, if the Diesel Particulate Filters need servicing, it can cost an additional $2400 to replace with Reman filters. If the truck has not been properly detailed, they could pay nearly $1000 for a proper detail with aluminum polishing.
- Many fleets and leasing companies like the idea of selling direct to end users, as the end user is usually not nearly as adept at discovering deficiencies as an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) certified inspector.
- The warranties that the alternative sellers are able to provide are third party warranties. The seller will be turning all responsibility for the truck over to the new owner and the warranty company. It is seldom that an alternative seller will assume any responsibility for the truck after the sale, and participate in any early failures that may happen.
- A third party warranty company is basically an insurance company. They have no connection with the OEM’s, and their goal is the same as any other insurance company. They need to bring in as much premium revenue as possible, and pay out as little claim money as possible. There are many truck service shops that refuse to file claims with third party warranty companies. They want the customer to pay the bill, and file their own claim with the warranty company.
- An alternative seller usually doesn’t know about your business and your particular application. And they usually couldn’t care less. They are not there to provide advice or guidance. They are usually not concerned about your next purchase. They don’t have expertise available to them from the OEM, and are not up to speed on the technology associated with late model vehicles. They are there to move iron in volume. A good truck dealer will have salesmen that you can get to know, and are capable of providing good information to you and giving you good advice, even when it is unpleasant. They are there to gain customers for the long term, and are open to helping assist you when you are having difficulties after your purchase. The value of a good salesman is hard to quantify, but they can be an incredible resource when trouble arises.
- It is incredibly important to buy a truck from a dealer that is connected to a new truck OEM. Any other dealer or alternative seller will not be able to capably diagnose any problems that the truck may have, as they do not have access to diagnostic tools, schematics, parts availability, etc. Plus, they will not have technicians that have been properly trained to capably repair these trucks. They are unable to perform any outstanding recalls on the truck. In addition to that, when a buyer purchases a truck outside of the OEM channel, he has no leverage at all when he presents the truck to an OEM dealer to have service work performed. When a customer buys a truck through the OEM dealer network, he will be considered part of the OEM family of customers, and will be treated as such. Plus, if the buyer has an OEM warranty, it is so much simpler for a dealer to submit a warranty claim, and the dealer will receive approval and payment on a timely basis. This can cut the time in the shop considerably, allowing the customer to get on the road quicker and resume making revenue.
- An OEM connected dealer will have access to an OEM finance source. There are many advantages to dealing with such a finance source. Plus, most OEM connected dealers will have an experienced and dedicated finance professional in place that can help a buyer choose the right financial package for his particular truck purchase.
- An OEM connected dealership is usually stable and well funded. They are not here today and gone tomorrow. Many alternative sellers are only in the market when things are going well, and out when things are not so well. Most OEM dealers are privately owned, and there is someone at the top to complain to when there is a problem. Many alternative sellers are owned by major corporations, and there is no clear access to help when problems cannot be resolved on a local level. A clear sign of stability is the longevity of the employees at the dealership. A well run dealership usually has very low employee turnover.
The best price is an important consideration. We all want to get a good deal. But there are many, many other factors to be considered when buying a used heavy duty truck. Many times the lowest price turns into a very bad deal, when all else is considered. When the biggest fleets in the country are buying trucks, they are looking for a good price. But more than that, they are looking for a trusted partner that will work with them to provide not only top quality trucks, but dedicated support for those trucks when trouble arises. In conclusion, purchasing a used heavy duty truck is a risky and complicated proposition. There are many factors to be considered when making the decision of which truck to buy and who to buy it from. Many times the wise decision is to purchase a pedigreed truck from a reputable dealer that is connected to the OEM that built the truck, and protect your investment with an OEM warranty from the company that built the truck.
The best price is an important consideration. We all want to get a good deal. But there are many, many other factors to be considered when buying a used heavy duty truck.
About the Author
Gary is a 35 year veteran of the truck sales business. After graduating with a degree in marketing from Southeastern Louisiana University, Gary began his career with Kenworth and Chevrolet Trucks in Baton Rouge, LA. In 1983, he became the youngest Sales Manager in the entire Peterbilt network. He has since worked with dealers in Louisiana, Tennessee and Georgia, successfully creating and managing high performing sales teams. Gary has represented the Freightliner brand for the last 20 years and came to SelecTrucks of Atlanta in December of ’07.