When you’re starting out in business, or as your business grows, buying the right equipment can make a big difference. The light truck market attracts many different types of business owners, from those who run freight operations, to those who run landscaping companies. Given the variety of customers who buy light trucks, and the number of models on offer from manufacturers, the choice of which truck to buy can be a difficult one.
The light truck market really is a case of horses for courses, with many things to consider when looking for the right vehicle for your particular job. As we have covered in previous articles, there are some things that should be considered when buying any size of truck, but let’s drill down a little more specifically on light trucks.
Suitability for the task
For many people in the market for a light truck, the world of trucks can be a bit of a mystery. The light truck market offers a plethora of options in terms of size, power, drivelines, and of course safety features, which can be overwhelming for the first time truck buyer. The best place to start is to determine exactly what it is you want your truck to do. This will narrow the field considerably, and allow you to focus on what’s important to your business.
If manual loading and unloading is going to be common, perhaps it’s best to look at those models with a lower tray height. This will save the driver climbing up and down from the truck all day, reducing both the OH&S risks and the time taken to get the job done. On the other hand, if you are looking to move sand and soil in a small tip truck, frame height might not be so important. In fact, a raised frame height may well allow for better access to delivery sites. For those looking to move palletised freight, to be loaded and unloaded by forklift, the frame height may not be a huge concern.
You should also take into account the loads you plan to put on your truck, including the weight of the tray or body. As the name suggests, a light truck is restricted in terms of overall weight, not just the load it will be carrying. Taking a little time to do the maths (the tare weight including the tray or body plus the expected load weight) before you buy a truck, could save you a lot of time and money in the future. It’s always better to err on the side of caution and have a truck that will do the job legally, to ensure you’re covered in the event of an accident. It may also mean that you start looking for a larger truck in the medium duty segment.
Another thing to consider is the potential growth in your business, and whether a truck with a higher capacity might be worthwhile. There’s no point buying a piece of equipment that will restrict your business growth.
You should also contemplate where the truck will parked, and whether or not it will fit in the driveway or under the carport. The last thing you want is for your truck, loaded with tools and equipment, to be sitting on the street unsecured. For many operators, this may not be an issues as the truck will be left at a depot, but the ability to park your truck safely at home can save a lot of commuting time.
Who will be driving?
While anyone can jump behind the wheel of the boss’ Ute, any light truck with a GVM over 4.5t requires the driver to have a light truck licence. This applies even when the truck is not loaded, even though it may weigh less than 4.5t. Don’t despair though, as many light trucks have a GVM just under the threshold, and can be driven by anyone with a standard car licence. The compromise is in the load carrying capacity of those trucks, as the weight of the truck and the load must remain under 4.5t.
A driver’s ability could also have an impact on your choice between manual and automatic transmissions. If there is any doubt, either from you or the prospective drivers, then an automatic is a good way to go. Light truck manufacturers understand that many of the drivers who get behind the wheel of their products are not greatly experienced in operating larger vehicles, and so tailor their products to suit. This means that options such as automatic transmissions are common, along with many other car-like features, to make the transition from driving a car to driving a light truck much easier. Don’t be complacent though, as the extra weight and higher centre of gravity mean they are a totally different machine to drive.
Japanese or European?
The majority of the light trucks on the market are of either Japanese or European origin. In recent times, some Chinese manufacturers have recently entered the market, but with very little in the way of service and spare parts networks, the lower up-front cost can quickly be overshadowed by costly downtime if the truck should break down.
While they might do the same job, the difference between European and Japanese light trucks is huge. Traditionally, Japanese trucks have been very simple, reliable and cost effective, while the Europeans have opted for comfort, performance and efficiency. That’s not to say that either one doesn’t possess the attributes of the other, but the priorities in the design process are very different.
This has an effect on many areas, including purchase price and service costs. While the Europeans may be a little more expensive, the benefits in driver comfort and safety features can be worth the extra cost, depending on how much time the truck will be on the road versus on site. It’s worth pointing out that in the last couple of years, the Japanese brands have made huge improvements in driver comfort and safety levels, but there aren’t many of these recent models on the secondhand market yet.
Good buying options
The light truck market is probably one of the best segments to buy secondhand equipment. Much of the equipment in the light truck market is either ex-government or ex-council owned which, while it may not always be the case, is usually well maintained and serviced. Many of these vehicles are leased through the manufacturer, which includes servicing and maintenance by the dealership, using qualified mechanics and genuine parts. If this is the case, a service history should be easy to come by.
Most manufacturers also offer a good quality secondhand vehicle program, which could include things such as extended warranty, fixed price servicing and roadside breakdown assistance. While buying secondhand through a dealership may seem more expensive, there is much peace of mind in knowing you have dealer support when you need it. Another reason dealership stock is often more expensive is that they get the pick of the product, and will often put more time and effort into ensuring it will provide good service. Even if that just involves giving a truck a service, it still saves you paying to have it done a few weeks down the track.
So if you’re in the market for a good secondhand light truck, take the time to buy the right one first time around. Do your maths, do your research, and don’t forget the test drive!
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.