Chances are, if you’re buying a heavy duty truck, you’ve already got plenty of experience in the transport industry. For some operators though, a second hand truck is an affordable way to get into the industry and begin building their business. As we’ve covered off in previous articles, there are a number of things that you should look for in any second hand truck, but the heavy duty end of the market can be a little more difficult.
As the heavy duty part implies, these are trucks that have, in most cases, worked hard during their first life cycle. While there are exceptions, most heavy duty trucks are bought on a needs basis, meaning that the job requires the strength, power and performance of a big truck to get the work done. While many light trucks aren’t used to their full potential, it is fair to assume that a heavy duty truck has been working hard to earn its keep before it hits the second hand market.
Getting the right truck for your needs
The heavy duty market covers a wide range of trucks, from rigids right through to road train prime movers. It’s important to identify just what you need in terms of carrying capacity, GVM and/or GCM. There are many things that might appeal to operators, but don’t provide a realistic benefit over the long term. Many of these things will not only add to the purchase price, but could detract from the earning potential or limit the working roles available.
For example, if your job involves local deliveries and will have you home every night, there is no point buying a truck with a long bonnet and a 50” bunk. Long wheelbase prime movers are not the easiest things to negotiate around tight back streets, and limit the length of any trailer you can put on the back. In many cases, they are also quite heavy, and can reduce the allowable payload significantly. While they might look good, they are not the right tool for the local role around the city.
Alternatively, if the job you have in mind involves long haul work and spending your nights in the bunk, then a day cab prime mover is not the truck for you. While length and tare weight are important, a little comfort never goes astray when you’re away from home for long periods. There are plenty of options that provide a good compromise between comfort and productivity, but don’t be tempted big bonnets, sleepers and bull bars if they are not absolutely necessary- they won’t make you any more money.
Learn the history
Given that most heavy duty trucks have worked hard all their life, it’s important to know where they have been and what they’ve been doing. More importantly, the service and maintenance history should be investigated. Given the heavy duty nature of the work they carry out, it is important to know they have been looked after, regularly serviced and maintained properly. Even with regular servicing, many major components have a finite life.
Engines, transmissions and diffs all endure a lot of stress and high temperatures, and will eventually require rebuilding or replacing at some stage during a trucks working life. This should be taken into account when considering the purchase price, as none of these services come cheaply. Many second hand trucks will have had this work (or some of it) done already and, if it has been done by the manufacturer, could come with any remaining warranty for extra peace of mind. If you choose a truck that hasn’t had the major work done, this should be factored into the price. While a particular truck might seem like a bargain, keep in mind that a full engine rebuild can cost upward of $30,000 and mean considerable time off the road. A good rough guide is that an engine should be rebuilt at or around the one million kilometre mark, with transmission and diff rebuild times being heavily influenced by the driving style of previous operator. While one million kilometres may sound like a lot, an interstate prime mover will easily clock up this number in just four years, so the odometer reading should carry as much weight as the trucks age in your buying decision.
The best case scenario is to buy a truck that you are familiar with, from a reputable operator with a good reputation for looking after their gear. It is important to look past all the chrome and lights, and buy a truck that is in good condition under the shell- you can always put the shiny stuff on later. A truck with plenty of bling will not make you any money if it is sitting at the side of the road.
Consider the future potential of your business
We mentioned earlier the importance of buying a truck with the right GVM and/or GCM, but planning for the future can have an effect on what the right specification may be. If lightweight freight on single trailers is your intended task, then a B-double or road train rating on your new truck will not be important. However, if you are hoping to grow your business to include B-double or road train operations in the near future, then this should be taken into account.
There’s no point going through the whole buying process again in six or twelve months’ time if you can reasonably plan for the future the first time around. In many cases, operators will choose a B-double rated prime mover regardless of the current workload, as this adds to the versatility of the prime mover and may make it easier to sell when the time comes to upgrade. Even though you are in the process of buying a truck, you should also consider what it will be worth when the time comes to dispose of it, and things such as being B-double rated definitely open up a much larger market of potential buyers. While there may be many potential buyers for a road train rated prime mover, the added tare weight in achieving the rating can be a disadvantage when the time comes to sell.
Don’t just buy a badge
There is always a temptation to buy a particular brand of truck, depending on your allegiance, just for the sake of buying one. The fact is though, that there may be a better alternative for your particular task, albeit bearing a different badge. Transport is a tough game, with very tight margins, and paying out more for a particular breed of truck will not mean you make more money for the work you do. Reliability, service costs and suitability for the task are far more important to the long term viability of your business than the badge on the front of your truck. If you are lucky, you might just find the truck you want is also the truck you need, but that is often not the case.
You should also consider that many of the operators who have the flash gear, have worked long and hard to get to a point where they can justify it. There are many operators, both owner drivers and fleet operators, who now have the latest and greatest trucks on the road, but if you ask them they will tell you it wasn’t always that way. If all the fundamentals are right (mechanicals), a different brand of truck could not only save you up-front, but when you consider the effect of interest charges over the finance period the savings can be quite substantial. With margins being so thin, any extra money that can go back into your business, or your back pocket, will be welcome over the long term.
It’s also worth taking notice of the smaller items when considering the purchase price. Things like tyres and brakes can be a big expense in the period soon after buying a used truck. A truck that has been serviced, has new tyres fitted and comes with a current roadworthy should mean at least a couple of months without any big expenditure on maintenance-servicing aside. Keeping in mind that many new transport businesses won’t actually see an income for up to two months, the less you can spend in the early days, the better. Paying a little extra up front, for a truck that has had all the right attention, could make a big difference during the early stages and over the long term.
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.