header image

Our Blog

4 Tips for Owner-Operators Buying a Used Big Rig


Are you thinking about buying a used rig? Buying a used diesel truck is a big gamble. However, it is possible to get a good deal on a used truck, and research is the key.

For many new owner operators, buying a new rig is out of the question. Buying used equipment isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as you are able to purchase a vehicle that is priced fairly, is mechanically sound, and will service you well. No matter what the reason for your decision to buy used, knowing what to look for – and when to walk away – will help you make a good selection. Here are 4 tips for choosing a used truck.


1.       Engine and drive-line specifications

Make sure the vehicle has the engine and drive-line specifications (specs) that will meet your needs. No matter how great the truck is, if it won’t meet your needs for hauling heavy loads it will be a costly mistake. Underestimating the power of the truck will lead to some very serious issues as the engine will overwork and burn out prematurely. And you don’t want that to happen. Saving money on the initial purchase will end up costing you money in the long run. Conversely, buying a truck that has more power than you need will result in you making higher truck payments than necessary.


2.       Check the details

Don’t buy a semi-truck unless you have a complete picture of the running condition of the vehicle. Understanding the history of the truck will help a potential buyer anticipate repair and maintenance costs. Here’s what to look for when considering a used rig.

· Review the engine history and list of scheduled maintenance. If the engine has turned more than 700,000 miles, be prepared for an engine rebuild soon. Some owner operators will rebuild right away when they buy a used semi, knowing they then have a reliable rig to roll with. Be sure to add on the cost of a rebuild if you’re buying a vehicle with higher mileage.

· Ask for copies of the vehicle’s maintenance records

· Check to see how often the oil was changed

· Was the truck mechanic someone that is reputable?

· What will most likely need to be replaced in the near future (i.e. transmission and rear ends)?

· Do the tires have life left in the tread or will they need to be replaced?

· Analyze oil samples from the engine, transmission and read ends

· Check the following:

o   Suspension

o   Wiring

o   Rear ends

o   Transmission

o   Complete drive train

· Analyze the maintenance and repair records. What types of problems has this engine typically had? Research the types of problems this engine tends to have.

· Ask about an extended warranty. Sometimes an extended warranty is a good option, but sometimes it may be too expensive and may not offer good coverage on major parts.


3.       Buy from a reputable seller

The reputation of the seller matters when buying a semi-truck. Here’s who to trust.

· When it comes to a commercial truck, avoid buying from a private party unless it’s someone you have known personally for a long time.

· Buy from a reputable truck dealer, preferably a factory dealer. There are three reasons to buy from a dealer, instead of a private individual. One thing to be aware of when buying from a dealer is that the size of a dealership is not a guarantee of quality of service. This is why it is better to deal with a factory dealership if at all possible.

o   There are various types of financing available.

o   There’s a better chance at recourse if something goes wrong.

o   The dealer will most likely offer a short warranty, in the event that something breaks in a short time after the purchase.

· Buy a fleet truck. Buying from a fleet may be a good way to go. Generally, fleets will keep their vehicles up-to-date with their maintenance and will have complete records. You can often trace the truck to the driver that actually drove it and obtain anecdotal information about the vehicle. Find out if the fleet is updating with the same make and spec of tractor. If so, that is a good indication that it’s probably a decent semi.


4.       When to walk away from a deal

There are many reasons to walk away from a deal. Here are two scenarios to look for that are deal breakers.

· Don’t buy a vehicle that is likely to be a “throw-away” truck. Research the availability of the particular truck make and model that you are considering, including the specs. Are there thousands of this make and model, including the same specs as the vehicle you are considering, in the market? If so, this may be what is termed a “throw-away” truck. A throw-away truck is one that is built to only last a short period of time. Usually, once the initial purchaser is done with them they have virtually no resale value. Run, don’t walk, away from this type of a vehicle. Look instead for a truck that has been built to last and built for the long haul. If you’re not sure what makes and models to look for, ask experienced truckers for their opinions – but make your own decision based on your research.

· Don’t buy a vehicle that has been involved in an accident. If you can’t obtain the history of the truck you are looking at from the seller, walk away. The truck may have been in an accident. If the truck was in an accident that caused it to be lying on it’s side and was still running (a fairly common occurrence), the truck can have serious engine damage. Large semi-truck used dealerships like to buy these types of trucks cheap, fix them up cosmetically and the resell them for a high profit margin. You don’t want this type of vehicle, which will only cause you a lot of headaches.


The bottom line when buying a used rig is to be cautious and do your research. Avoid buying a vehicle based on its color. The color will have no impact on its revenue potential, and that is your main focus. Take the time to do the detective work required, and you will be rewarded with an investment that will serve you well.


AAOO cares about the needs of owner-operators and small fleets. We offer premium membership benefits that will help you become a healthier, wealthier trucker for only $5 per month. See membership benefits.

Share this:
About the author
Kyle Mitchell
Menu Title