The medium duty segment of the truck market has enjoyed strong growth over the last 5-10 years, with more and more smaller, direct deliveries being carried out. The rise of internet shopping, home delivered groceries and direct from warehouse deliveries has seen the number of medium duty trucks on our roads increase, all in the name of convenience. The medium duty market is about more than just door to door deliveries though, and covers a wide range of applications from tilt trays to refuse collection, concrete pumps to car carriers, and everything in between.
Most of the equipment in the medium duty market is used for short distance work such as local urban work or rural deliveries. This means that a lot of medium duty equipment will remain with the original purchaser for longer than, say, a heavy duty interstate prime mover. The short distances travelled mean that the service life of a vehicle, when properly serviced and maintained, can go well beyond ten years on local work. There are exceptions though, especially where the big fleets are involved, where maintaining a modern fleet is the norm.
Following on from our previous article about what to look for in a secondhand truck, it’s now time to drill down into the medium duty market more specifically.
What do you need from your truck?
Buying a secondhand truck, much like buying a car, is often driven by emotion. The difference here though, is that your truck is going to be used as a business tool, not just a mode of transport. That’s why it’s important to remove the emotion from the buying decision, and focus on the practical and financial benefits of buying the truck you need, not the one you want.
Once you have determined what you need, take your time to find the right vehicle. In terms of carrying capacity, it is always better to give yourself some breathing room as opposed to buying something that will do the job, but will be right on its limits. Having a little extra capacity up your sleeve will come in handy if the workload increases, and will ensure you remain legal under normal circumstances. Have a look around to see what others in the same line of work are using, and don’t be shy about asking questions. Most drivers will give you an honest answer, whether they’re an employee or an owner driver, though they may like to focus on different aspects of the truck. One question that is always worth asking is whether they would buy another one the same again.
Once you have figured out your shopping list, you should try to avoid compromising on any of the things that you think are important. These things will vary depending on the job, but it’s better to stick to your guns now than regret it every time you go to work. If you’re in the market for a specialised piece of equipment, try to find a truck that has had any modifications you require done already. While it may push up the price a little, it will likely work out cheaper than buying a standard truck and then having them done afterwards. It will also mean the truck can be out working sooner, and may work out easier in regards to vehicle finance arrangements.
There are a few different licence categories that cover the medium duty truck market, and it is vital that you make sure you (or your drivers) are qualified to operate the truck want to purchase. Many medium duty roles also involve other equipment, such as truck mounted cranes or forklifts, that require the operator to have the correct training and licensing before they go to work. Having all of this in line before taking delivery of the truck will not only save you time, but also ensures you are covered in terms of insurance and OH& S. I know this sounds basic, but there have been many instances where an unqualified operator has messed up, and found that the insurance wouldn’t cover them for either the damage caused or the medical costs involved.
Narrowing down the search
Sometimes it can be hard to find out where and how a particular vehicle has spent its first working life. The unfortunate thing about this is that quite often that history will give you the best indication as to you should expect to spend it in the future. Try to get as much information as you can, including a service history, and compare it to the other trucks you are looking at.
If the truck is fitted with a body, or any other equipment, try it out before signing on the dotted line. A few minutes opening the curtains, operating the crane or tipping the body might well uncover a number of hidden surprises, and save you a lot of money once you get the truck home. The same applies to things like diff locks, lift axles and tow couplings, which should all be checked for serviceability before making a buying decision.
Check with the manufacturer as to their recommendations on component life. There will always be equipment on the market that is being sold because it’s due for an engine rebuild, but the owner can’t justify the cost. Things like engine, transmission and diff rebuilds can be very costly, and mean lengthy periods off the road, so it’s always better to check whether they’re due, and if they’ve been done before, you learn the hard way. If these jobs have already been done, ask about whether there is any warranty coverage that may be transferrable, as this could provide a little extra peace of mind in the early stages of ownership.
It is well worth paying a little extra for a vehicle that comes with a valid roadworthy certificate. Not only will this make the registration process easier, but it gives you some confidence that the truck has been looked over by a qualified mechanic. A roadworthy certificate doesn’t guarantee the mechanical integrity of a vehicle though, so don’t just trust that because it has a roadworthy it is good to go. It is highly recommended to get another mechanic to have a good look over any truck you plan to buy, and if the seller doesn’t want that to happen then leave it there. If there are some minor issues, at least the roadworthy certificate will allow you to get the truck on the road, and working until they are sorted.
Try before you buy
Once you’ve found that elusive perfect truck, make sure you take it for a drive. Press all the buttons, make sure everything works and listen for strange noises that could indicate trouble. While you’re out, try to get a feel for manoeuvrability, and whether or not it will be able to get into and out of your expected work sites. Even if you are planning to put a driver in it, consider whether you would be happy to spend your working day behind the wheel. Only after you’ve done this, should you sign the paperwork.
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Authored by Dave Whyte
Dave Whyte grew up around the transport industry, spending most of his school holidays in various trucks with his dad. He began professionally driving at the age of 19, starting in small rigid trucks in Melbourne. He worked his way up to driving B-double combinations on interstate duties, working as a company driver. In 2007, Dave won the Scania Young Australian Truck Driver competition, which led to him winning a new Scania prime mover.
This meant Dave was thrust into the role of being an owner-operator and had to quickly learn the business side of the industry. He sold his first truck in 2012 and within a month had bought a second which ran until late 2016. It was then that Dave decided to take a break and spend more time with his family.
Since 2010, Dave has also been working as a journalist for a number of transport industry publications, initially combining the role of a full time driver with that of a part time journalist. His insider knowledge of the transport industry, including experience in various types of trucks, trailers and freight, provides a different perspective to many other transport industry journalists. The hard learned lessons from running his own business also give him an insight to the dollars and cents side of transport.
While Dave now focuses on his role as a contributor to Trucksales.com.au, he also spends a bit of time on the road as a casual driver- a job he still loves to do. Dave sees this as important, as it keeps him up to date with what’s going on in the “real world” of transport and allows him to maintain his skills in various roles. Whether it’s carting cars or delivering dairy product in fridge vans, he enjoys spending time out on the road amongst the people of the transport industry.
Dave is proud to be part of such a diverse and dynamic industry, and is passionate about the industry and its people.