How to buy a used truck

March-April 2020

Tom Berg


How good of a shopper are you? A checklist can help you sort through the many vehicles now available on used truck lots and other sources. Here are a dozen tips we’ve come up with:

How’s your credit, and do you have money saved for a down payment? If you answer “not good” and “not much,” you probably should wait until you’re better qualified.

Dealers, leasing companies, auctions, fleets and private parties are all possible sources for a used truck. Selection, quality, price and backing vary among them.

Seek a truck with a good reputation and one built for the type of hauling you do. It’ll be the most efficient and save you operating money. Ask fleet drivers about the trucks they run. Pick mechanics’ brains.

You can find a lot of info at truck stops and online, but don’t believe everything you hear or read.

Condition is more important than color, chrome trim, interior appointments or even mileage. But if all other things are equal, the lower-mile truck is likely to be the better choice.

Why is the truck for sale? It may be part of a batch of tractors recently traded in on new equipment, or a one-off vehicle whose owner has retired, upgraded to something nicer, or dumped because it’s troublesome.

What shape is the body in? Any rust or collision damage? What will it cost to fix?

How are the wheels, tires and brakes? Does the truck need repairs or components replaced? Who’ll do the work and what will that cost?

Has the truck undergone a recent federal DOT annual safety inspection and any state-required safety and emissions tests?

Has the seller dyno-tested the engine? This will reveal horsepower, and a “blow-by” test will show the health of internal engine parts.

What’s the truck’s maintenance history? Look at shop records for routine and unscheduled work, and study oil change records. These will indicate how well the truck has been cared for. If no records are available, walk away unless you or a good mechanic can do a thorough condition inspection.

Are any factory warranties still in force? Are extended warranties available? What do they cost, what do they cover, who honors them, and what are the claim procedures?

Are you comfortable with the sales contract? If not, get a knowledgeable person to review it for you. Sign it only if it’s a decent deal and you’ll be able to live up to its terms. LL