The definitive guide to buying a used truck

Commercial Motor
November 28, 2011

If you are looking to buy a used truck there are one or two basic checks you need to do to avoid buying a lemon.

 First, check out the trucks price and whether it's competitive. Prices can be sort from the auctions, CAPGlass's Guide and by ringing around. Once the price is established, stick to the budget, and don't forget VAT.


Second, check the financial history of the vehicle and ensure the V5 is in attendance, and what changes you need to do to amend your Operators Licence.

Third, establish the boundaries with the vendor about what they will do if any major component fails in the first three months. Will they honour it? And know your consumer rights - if you bought a new fridge and it stopping working, you'd complain, right?

Right here is what you need to do avoid that lemon.

Paperwork: Cast your eye over the V5 paperwork and make sure everything tallies up - specification, mileage, description. Check the MoT dates and any Vehicle Excise Duty left on the truck


Service history: If there is one it will list completed work and the replaced components, more importantly it'll tell you what hasn't been replaced.

Vehicle history: Try and find out who ran the truck previously, even call the previous owner to try and find out what it did.

Finance check: Dealers do it as a matter of self preservation to check for outstanding debts, you should do the same.

Cosmetics: Give the trucks exterior a good once over, concerns over removed livery and subsequent scaring should be voiced.

Windscreen and mirrors: Chipped or cracked windscreens need replacing before the next MoT, cracked or broken mirrors will need replacing too.

Tyres and wheel rims: Make sure the tyres are clean and not odd specifications. Check the tyre walls for damage and the tread depth. A new batch of tyres is not cheap. Assess the wheel rims for cracks, dents and impact damage.

Water: Lift the front panel and check the header tank and feel where the water is. As a coolant it needs to be leak free.

Engine: Lift the cab and check the engine. See if components or injectors look too clean, an effort to remove oil residue, or brand new matching the service history description. If the engine is warm already the vendor might be disguising some cold/start up problems.

Oil leaks: Look underneath for any fresh oil drips. Check the sump; if its dry, chances are there is no serious leaks, plus check around the injector heads. Remove the cap and check condition and colour; creamy texture suggests water ingress, dark colour means it might need replacing.

Seals: Check the seals between the back end of the gearbox, the driveshaft and the diff for oil residue.

Fuel tanks: Look for patches, check the straps around the tanks to see if the tank has moved and scared the tank. Deep recesses could lead to leaks and pressure problems. Also check the locking cap works.

Catwalk and connectors: Catwalk should be secure, and there should a full complement of air and electrical lines



Ignition: Turn the key to starting point, make sure all the lights that should go out do. Once the engine is started all lights save for the handbrake light should go out. If any remain or flash ask. It might be a faulty fuse but it could be more inherent and costly problems requiring a diagnostics check. If its the ECU, definitely check.

Cab interior: It might not be to your taste but check the curtains are all there, the condition of the mattress, and the driver's seat isn't damaged. Check the dash and wall for untoward holes, which might have housed hands-free phone kits and in-cab entertainment systems.

Run the engine: Get out the cab and listen for untoward noises from the driveline and transmission. Rattles and knocks need to be investigated.

Battery: A dead battery is not a bad one, often the tachograph will run it down if its been stood. Once fully charged it should work fine.

Oil quality: With the engine running remove the oil cap and see if its smoking, could be a blocked breather, could be piston liners or rings.

Dead battery means the tachograph has wound it down and it's been stood for a while. Dealer should re-charge if you're interested


Test drive

If you are parting with cash insist on it. If you were buying a car you'd take it for a spin, the same applies to the truck - it's more expensive and you expect to earn cash with it.

 SHAPE  \* MERGEFORMAT 1. Make sure you're insured or have trade plates, the dealer might have some plates but they'll need to come with you.

2. If it's a tractor ask to use the dealer test trailer, or if your yard is close enough go and pick up one of your trailers with some weight in it. This will be the perfect acid test.

3. Try a mixture of roads and speeds. Work your way up and down the box, always put the clutch to the floor when changing gear, if it struggles there it's on its way out. Check the steering doesn't pull to one side.

4. A smoking exhaust is a sign its burning oil. At standstill it's not so much of a problem but accelerate hard towards the top end of the gearbox, if it smokes there the engines on its way out.

5. Make sure the cruise control and any electrical equipment for mirrors, windows and air conditioning works

About the Author


Commercial Motor is the online presence for Commercial Motor magazine, the world’s oldest magazine dedicated to the commercial vehicle industry.

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