For those who are just starting out on their own in the transport industry, even if they have been working within the industry previously, there are a lot of things to consider. Even after doing your research, there are sure to be a few surprises that come up in the early stages of running your own business. The trick is to have as many bases as possible covered before you start.

Chances are, if you’re looking at becoming an owner-driver, you already have some idea about the work you will be doing. This is important, as it will assist in choosing the right equipment for the job and knowing what return you can expect from that equipment. While any start up business would like to have the latest and greatest equipment, the costs involved can mean the difference between the equipment working for you, and you working for the equipment.

While second-hand equipment is generally cheaper, buying used equipment also brings with it a number of risk factors. While the cost may be less on a finance basis, the quality of the equipment can have a big effect on income through breakdowns, repairs or simply time off the road. The fact is, if your equipment is in the workshop, you’re not making money.

So how do you find a good quality piece of equipment among the thousands that are out there on the market?

1. Know exactly what you are looking for

As mentioned earlier, having the right equipment for the job is very important. There’s no point buying a road train rated prime mover if you’re only going to move four pallets at a time, and no point buying a twelve pallet rigid to move B-double loads around the country. By doing your research, you should be able to narrow the field down to three or four models that will suit your needs and, through the wonder of the internet, get a basic idea of the problem areas to look at on each one.

2. Inspect the vehicle

Once you’ve figured out just what you’re after, make sure you go out and actually see the vehicle. Buying sight unseen is a dangerous thing, and when you are investing in the future of your business, a couple of days of driving around to look at your potential new equipment is a great investment.

3. Ask questions

While you are there having a look, ask a lot of questions, and try to learn about the vehicle’s history. If you can, find out who the previous owner was, and what work it has done in the past. Quite often, this is the best way to know what you’re buying, especially if it has been operating locally. If it has been maintained by a manufacturer dealership, ask the seller for a copy of the service history, and actually read it. Service and maintenance history can give a good insight into how a vehicle has been looked after, or not.

4. Maintenance History

If the equipment is only recently out of manufacturer warranty, any repairs carried out should be listed, along with all the wear and tear items such as brakes and clutches. These wear and tear items are a great indicator as to how the vehicle has been driven. Frequent brake and/or clutch replacements indicate it has been driven aggressively, and while these parts may have been replaced just prior to the sale, you need to wonder what other issues may arise in the future through the previous driver abusing the equipment.

If a maintenance history is not available (many operators use a local mechanic, who may not keep a record of work done), ask the seller what has been done, where it has been serviced and how frequently.

5. Take an experienced mechanic to vehicle auctions

All of this is on the assumption that you are buying either directly from the previous owner, or from a reputable used equipment dealership. The trend lately though, is to go direct to the vehicle auctions and buy equipment at a potentially lower price. The trouble with the auctions is that there is no protection once the vehicle is outside the gate. Unless you know exactly what you’re looking at, or take an experienced mechanic to look at the equipment for you, your bargain purchase may turn out to be a money pit.

6. Test Drive

A test drive is absolutely essential before committing to a purchase, and can uncover some of the hidden problems. Look for signs of wear in the gearshift, clutch and brakes, watch for excessive smoke from the exhaust, and check for sloppy or tight spots in the steering. Even listening for strange noises can be a good way to pick up if something is not right. Once you have decided on the right vehicle, have a qualified and experienced mechanic have a good look at it. This takes away the emotional factor, and should give you an unbiased view on the mechanical condition of the vehicle. If the seller is not keen for this to happen, there is probably a good reason.

7. Don’t be fooled by all the shiny stuff

A neglected or abused piece of equipment can look a million dollars after a good clean up, or with a bit of chrome bolted on. If bling is important to you (it doesn’t make you any more money), then start by buying the right vehicle and add it yourself when you can afford it. Don’t go out buying equipment just on how it looks, because it won’t look so good on the back of a tow truck.

Second-hand, or used, equipment offers newly established businesses the opportunity to start off with high level equipment but without the premium price. The trick is to identify what you need (not want), research the pros and cons of various models, and then do all you can to ensure it will be reliable. Even after doing all of this, there could still be some issues, so leave yourself some breathing space financially to cover the unexpected. If you’re lucky, you won’t need it. Given that most second-hand equipment doesn’t come with any type of warranty, the work you put into choosing what you buy is very important, and can save you a lot of money in the long term.

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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.