A guide to buying used

A guide to buying used

A recent article highlighted the increase in demand for good used trucks. Now, VIC OLIVER gets down to the nuts and bolts, helping potential buyers to appraise the right vehicle for the job and select a vehicle that is in a sound mechanical condition

There are many things to consider when buying a vehicle, the first of which is to make sure you buy from a reputable used-truck dealer. These dealers should offer buyers a warranty on the vehicle and the assurance that the truck has been tested by a reputable roadworthy inspection station.

The normal warranty that the industry offers is three months, which is acceptable. Buying a vehicle from a reputable used-truck dealer that offers a warranty, will also give you peace of mind and lower your risk. Today the used-vehicle buyer is also protected by the Consumer Protection Act.

Nonetheless, it is always advisable to have the vehicle checked by a competent person with a sound knowledge of trucks, who can carry out a detailed inspection of the vehicle before you sign the offer to purchase.

Beware of buying a used truck that has an abnormal number of kilometres recorded on the clock. This can be difficult to gauge, due to the scope of applications in which commercial vehicles can be used.

The following list can be used as a guide to determine whether or not the vehicle you are appraising has abnormally high kilometres:

Medium commercial vehicles: More than 300 000 km
Heavy commercial vehicles: More than 400 000 km
Extra-heavy commercial vehicles: More than 500 000 km

If you require a bank or a financial institution to assist you with financing the vehicle, it is important to remember that banks are not keen on financing used vehicles that are more than five years old. The more professional used-truck dealers will, therefore, not stock used trucks that are older than five years, and it is not advisable to consider trucks that are older than this.

The vehicle must be inspected both visually and on the road. Always test drive the vehicle, as this will highlight any potential problem that was not detected by way of visual inspection.

During the test drive and inspection of the used vehicle, endeavour to check the following:

• Find out who owned the truck previously and ask to see the maintenance records if they are available.

• Inspect the general condition of the vehicle. Bent bumpers and fenders could be an indication that the previous owner was careless. If the previous owner was careless with the outside appearance, it could mean that the vehicle was abused and not maintained according to the manufacturer’s maintenance parameters.  

• Check for any fluid leaks. Any oil, water or hydraulic fluid leak could indicate a potential pending problem.

• Check the oil pressure of the engine; once when the vehicle is first started and then again after the road test. Listen for any abnormal noises in the engine. Check that the engine does not smoke excessively and that there is no blow-by from the engine breather.

• During the test drive, apply the brakes sharply to establish that they work correctly and do not pull to one side. Also check the handbrake by stopping on a hill with the vehicle in neutral and applying the brake.

• Test the exhaust brake and retarder/intarder.

• The transmission must operate smoothly without any abnormal noises. Test the transmission on a downhill against engine compression to ensure that it does not jump out of gear.

• Check the driveline and prop shaft.

• Check the anti-freeze content in the cooling system. The cooling radiator must be clean.

• The chassis frame needs to be checked for cracks and any distortion.

• The entire steering mechanism must be carefully checked, by shaking the steering wheel from side to side and inspecting all steering joints and tie rods.

• During the test drive, the brakes would have been tested, but it is also necessary to check the condition of the brake linings or brake pads.

• Tyres and wheels need to be in a roadworthy condition.

• Check that the batteries are in a good condition and securely clamped.

A good used truck with reasonable mileage on the clock, that has been well maintained, could be well suited for your application and give you years of trouble-free service.


One of this country’s most respected commercial vehicle industry authorities, VIC OLIVER has been in this industry for over 50 years. Before joining the FOCUS team, he spent 15 years with Nissan Diesel (now UD Trucks), 11 years with Busaf and seven years with International.

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