How to buy used

How to buy used

As FOCUS detailed last month, escalating new truck prices over the last few years have made the purchase of used trucks a more attractive and affordable option.

When buying a used truck, some precautions have to be taken to ensure that the vehicle you buy is in a good, roadworthy condition, and that it still has a fair amount of its economic lifecycle available.

There is a large selection of good used trucks on the market. Modern trucks are highly durable and, therefore, many used trucks on the market are capable of operating successfully in a secondary operation without high maintenance costs.

Many professional truck operators trade-in their vehicles at the end of the manufacturer’s warranty and vehicle-maintenance period. This is long before the full economical lifecycle of the vehicle has been exhausted.

Here are a few guidelines that may help you to buy the right used vehicle for your operation.

First, it’s advisable to buy from a reputable used-truck dealer that will offer you a vehicle warranty, and the assurance that the truck has been tested by a reputable roadworthy inspection station. This will give you peace of mind and lower your risk. The normal, acceptable industry warranty is three months. Today, the used vehicle buyer is also protected by the Consumer Protection Act.

Second, beware of buying a used truck that has an abnormal number of kilometres recorded. The following table is a guide to determine abnormally high kilometres.

A guide to determine abnormally high kilometres.Third, if you require financial assistance, remember that banks are not keen to finance used vehicles older than five years. Due to this financing constraint, the more professional used-truck dealers won’t stock used trucks older than this.

Fourth, test drive and carefully inspect the vehicle you intend to buy before signing the purchase agreement. The test drive should highlight any potential problems not detected previously.

Endeavour to check the following:

• Who the truck was owned by previously.

• The maintenance records, if they are available.

• The general condition of the vehicle. Bent bumpers and fenders could indicate a careless previous owner. If he was careless with the outside appearance, the vehicle may have been abused and not maintained according to the manufacturer’s maintenance parameters.  

• Fluid leaks. Oil, water or hydraulic fluid leaks could indicate a potential pending problem.

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

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

• The exhaust brake and retarder/intarder.

• The clutch. On a steep gradient check for slipping and jerky action.

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

• The driveline and propshaft.

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

• Cracks and distortion in the chassis frame.

• The entire steering mechanism. Shake the steering wheel from side to side and inspect all steering joints and tie rods.

• Tyres and wheels.

• Batteries must be in a good condition and securely clamped.

A well maintained used truck, with reasonable mileage on the clock, could be well suited for your application.


One of this country’s most respected commercial vehicle industry authorities, VIC OLIVER has been in this industry for 49 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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