How to Purchase New/Used Commercial Trucks

     Buying a commercial truck is different than shopping for a recreational vehicle. To the owner/operator or a small trucking firm, a truck is the major asset for generating sales and delivering products. The number of hours that a truck is down, due to maintenance or repairs, can have a devastating affect on your bottom line. Unless you are a certified diesel mechanic or an automotive engineer, there is much to learn about choosing the right make and model for your specific business.

Selecting New or Used

There are 7 manufactured makes of semi trucks in the United States, each with different qualities and features. These makes include:

• Freight Liner

• International

• Kenworth

• Mack

• Peterbuilt

• Volvo

• Western Star

The most recent updates on new trucks are fuel efficiency and emission standards that meet or exceed the EPA 2010 requirements. By purchasing a new truck, you are guaranteed that you are following the latest national requirements. All manufacturers have websites that further explain individual characteristics of each make and model, specifications, plus how to locate the nearest dealer to you.

Your pocketbook may designate whether, or not, you will be able to purchase a new or used truck. Staying within budget is crucial, especially for owners operators that are just starting a new venture. Unless you have partnered with a company that has a close relationship with a dealer that provides reduced pricing, used trucks are the best option. New trucks have a reputation for losing a large percentage of their worth in the first couple of years. There are many dealerships that have models less than 5 years old, traded in by trucking companies that regularly update a fleet. In addition to having lower miles, these used models have also withstood the test of time on recalls and notable maintenance problems. Warranties are often still offered on these newer used models.

Where to Shop

There are many area dealers that have a variety of makes and models of semi trucks for sale. Some are prone to recommend models from manufacturers that they represent. Unless you have a specific make in mind, listen to whatever information dealers are willing to share. Take notes so you can compare to other area dealers and the different makes that they prefer. Pay specific attention to areas such as:

• engine model and size

• FA and RA capacity

• transmission speed

• tank capacity

• odometer reading

• any additional equipment

This will give you a starting point for further research and to compare apples to apples with other truck makes and models.

Online sites that offer trucks for sale are an excellent way to expand your search across the country for the best deals possible. In addition to seeing real pictures of makes and models, having access to detailed information and specifications, prices can often be lower than area dealers are willing to offer. Depending on the site, some merely point you in the direction of a reputable dealer while others represent banks with repossessed vehicles that will be going up for auction soon. The drawback to shopping online for tractors and trailers, is that a suitable make and model may be located a thousand miles away, and not worth driving across the country to look at.

Auctions are another popular way to find a good truck with low mileage. Beware however, that dealers are of the same mindset as you are, when visiting an auction. They have done their homework on each particular model that comes on the floor. Make sure that you are also prepared. Auctions are for those that have a good knowledge of the equipment being offered, and not beginners. If you want to take part in the bidding process, visit a truck auction, first, to get the feel of how the process operates. Take along a mechanic or friend that has been in the trucking industry for awhile. Listen to the conversations, and meet people with similar interests, look over the equipment, and you can learn a lot before entering an auction as a bidder.

Know the Value

There are two accepted methods of determining the value of a truck. One is called the Kelley Blue Book and the second is the N.A.D.A. Appraisal Guide. In order to understand why these publications are so popular and widely used by dealers, you must first appreciate the history and methods used in their pricing determinations.

Blue Book Semi Truck

The Blue Book Semi Truck uses a proven method in determining the value of a semi truck by pulling together data from several sources. Their reputation is one that is hard to match in their detailed analysis. Here are a few of the reasons why Blue Book continues to be a major source of vehicular value to dealers.

• Longevity-Used for almost 80 years

• Factors based on make, model and year

• Calculated conditions of use and maintenance

• Industry developments

• Current economic trends

N.A.D.A. Appraisal Guide

N.A.D.A. stands for National Automobile Dealers Association. It is an active organization that has a sole purpose of providing values for loans, trade-ins, auctions and retail sales. Noted factors and services are outlined below.

• 95 years of excellence

• Providing data for a car sale uses

• Updating guidelines monthly according to trends and industry activity

• Analysis to fit different scenarios

By utilizing the Blue Book or N.A.D.A. Appraisal Guide, you are accessing the same information that is used by dealers in determining a cost value. Armed with this relevant information, you are better able to know the best value of a used model when going to buy. N.A.D.A. offers an online website that even provides tools to better adjust the value of a truck you may have in mind for purchasing.

Narrowing Down the Search

After you have weighed all of the features, price, value and pros and cons of a new or used truck, there is another important factor to look at. How does this model drive and what type of comfort level are you gaining or giving up from your current model? Owner operators live in their trucks more than in their homes. Never settle for a great deal without first test driving your choice. The dealer may be reluctant to allow a test drive for a couple of days but, driving a truck around the block is not sufficient. Feeling how the model handles in difficult situations, maneuverability, and suspension quality over long hauls, are all questions that need to be answered before making a buy.

Manufacturers and rental companies are usually willing to lease you a model on a limited basis for as long as you like, given you pay the mileage, accept financial responsibility, and keep it clean. This could be the ultimate test for discovering what is best for your particular circumstance. Although it will not be the exact truck that you are looking at, most models operate similar to one another. Book an average run and get it on the road. Only then will you be able to relate to the comfort level you require. You may find that the sweet truck you almost purchased, is not at all what you were expecting. It can also provide you with several more questions that should be answered.

A Thorough Inspection

Used trucks have signs that indicate how they have been treated by a previous owner. Only a thorough inspection by a certified diesel technician, can give you the background of what you are looking at. Signs of irregular maintenance, engine quality and hours, unusual wear on transmission, damage to suspension, or uneven wear of tires, are just a few of the areas that a trained mechanic will look for in an overall inspection of a truck. They can also tell you what types of major repairs you should prepare for in the near future, just from normal driving. With this knowledge in hand, it's time to make a deal.


Negotiating a price with a dealer, without first securing your ability to pay, is like trying to get hired as a medical doctor with no degree. It is not going to happen. Without cold hard cash, credit through a financial institution, or pre-approval from the dealership for a loan, you have no negotiating power. In fact, you may find yourself paying twice the amount that you had hoped for, just to get any vehicle. Negotiating is not for the squeamish or the unprepared. If wheeling and dealing is not your bag, take along a seasoned purchaser. And if you are not sure that you can qualify for an equipment loan, all of your hard work in preparing for the final sale, has been in vein.

Owner Operators Trade Organizations

If you are a member of one of the owner operators trade organizations, you may find it much easier to deal with the financial red tape that comes along with financing for a new or used truck. Benefits and resources of national associations can often do the leg work for you in securing critical financing through a large base of lenders. The following are some helpful ways that associations and organizations provide purchasing and negotiation power.

• Large Base of Multiple Lenders

• Relaxed Credit Requirements

• Competitive Rates

• Prequalification with Credit Score

By also working with an organization, reputable and qualified dealers can also be sent to you. You may find that working with a handful of dealers that have been thoroughly checked out by a national organization, is easier than embarking on a search with no prior knowledge. Much of the shopping and negotiating can be done right from your home on the Internet. Other advantages include meeting other owner operators that have used the organization's loan program, sharing experiences with certain makes and models, and discovering potential problems on new, or fairly new trucks. While an organization cannot determine what is best for your individual needs, they can offer advice on avoiding delays in the purchase of much needed equipment. Free education, research, forums and blogs can help to broaden your knowledge of what to look for in new or used trucks.

Weigh the pros and cons of new equipment by the looking hard at the upfront costs, as compared to used models and the type of maintenance that will need done soon. Some used trucks come with a warranty that can help alleviate the worry over major problems, or separate warranties can be purchased. First and foremost, do not be afraid to ask questions that are essential to your business. You don't have to be a seasoned diesel mechanic to undertake the purchase of a used truck, but knowing one that can handle the regular maintenance and repairs, and aid in giving recommendations on certain makes and models, can be a major plus. It will cost money in securing professional opinions, having inspections done and renting a potential model, but this will be money well spent when looking at used trucks.

Becoming an owner operator presents several challenges. Purchasing dependable equipment is among the most essential. All of the marketing, paperwork and software is immaterial if you do not have reliable equipment that keeps the income flowing. Take plenty of time to search for a truck that will be cost-efficient, within your budget and reliable for a number of years. © 2012