Top tips for buying second-hand trucks

Buying a used truck is, in theory, a cheaper option than buying new. However, if you don't make all the checks you need to, it could wind up costing far more than first imagined.

CM, with help from Ken Grindrod, sales director of Wakefield-based Pelican Engineering, offers an essential guide to buying second-hand trucks.

Paperwork: cast your eye over the V5 registration document and make sure everything tallies up. Check the MoT dates and any Vehicle Excise Duty left on the truck.

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

Vehicle history: try to find out who ran the truck previously - don't be embarrassed to 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 truck's exterior a good once over, concerns over removed livery and subsequent scarring 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 set of tyres is not cheap. Assess the wheel rims for cracks, dents and impact damage.

Water: lift the front panel and check the level in the header tank. 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 and match 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 it's dry, chances are there are no serious leaks, plus check around the injector heads. Remove the filler cap and check condition and colour; creamy texture suggests water ingress, dark colour means it might need replacing.

Seals: check the seals between the rear of the gearbox, the prop shaft and the axle for oil residue.

Fuel tanks: look for patches, check the straps around the tanks to see if the tank has moved and created worn points. 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 and 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 costly and require a diagnostics check. If it's the ECU, definitely check. Note that an ABS warning light might stay on until the truck reaches a certain speed.

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

Battery: a flat battery is not neccesarily beyond redemption; often the tachograph will run it down if it's been stood. Once fully charged it should work fine.

Oil quality: with the engine running, remove the oil cap and see if it's smoking. It could be a blocked breather, or it could be piston liners or rings.

Always insist on driving your potential purchase. If you were buying a car, you'd take it for a spin, and the same applies to the truck - except its more expensive and you expect to earn your living with it.

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

If it's a tractor, ask to use the dealer's 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 real world test.

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.

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

And finally, make sure the cruise control and any electrical equipment for mirrors, windows and air conditioning works.

Light at the end of the tunnel for pallet networks?

Ahead of the final quarter of 2010 the pallet networks continue to report year-on-year volume growth, albeit from 2009's very low base.

Leading the way in terms of percentage increases is United Pallet Network (UPN) which earlier this month reported a volume rise for the first six months to 30 June of 27% compared with the same period in 2009, while July throughput was 29% higher than in July 2009 (MT 6 September).

Burton on Trent-based Palletforce says it too has experienced good growth this year. MD Michael Conroy says: "Volumes so far this year have been up some 20% on January-August last year. To date this year we have moved over two million pallets.

"The pallet network sector as a whole has benefited from smaller operators taking more trucks off the roads. At Palletforce our size and strength has won us some big accounts over the last few months."

Palletline has also noted rising pallet numbers between July and August; up 15% on the same two months last year.

Meanwhile, Pallet-Track has recorded double-digit growth in the first half of 2010, compared to the same period in 2009.

Pallet-Track MD Nigel Parkes insists: "Right now we are experiencing buoyant volumes following significant growth in pallet numbers during the first two quarters."

He says that during Q1 and Q2 the network invested in new IT systems which contributed to improved efficiency across the network.

Hertfordshire-based Aztek Logistics will be Pallet-Track's first new member in Q4, joining after a five-year stint at The Pallet Network (TPN).

Pall-Ex also says it is well into double digit growth on the first three quarters of 2009. "We've been very heartened by recovery this year, but we don't think pallet networks are completely out of the woods yet," says Adrian Russell, Pall-Ex MD.

The firm is going ahead with its pan-European expansion plan, following the success of Pall-Ex Italia last year.

Anand Assi, project director at the firm, says Pall-Ex Iberia should be live from a Madrid hub from April 2011, adding that the company is looking to set up Pall-Ex models in the Benelux countries and Romania this year, and finalise the deals in 2011.

"The motive is to offer members and their customers a completely cost-effective service for moving international freight," says Assi.

Lichfield-based Palletways has also celebrated a rise in throughput, with MD Craig Hibbert confirming August 2010 volumes were 14% higher than August 2009. He says the network is averaging 14,000 pallet movements a day, but anticipates steady growth toward the Christmas peak.

Hibbert also reveals that Dudley-based DY Pallets Logistics, previously of Fortec, has become its newest member, covering the Dudley and Worcester area from today, taking over from Tooles Transport.

In July Palletways unveiled its new marketing image; Slick the dragon, which was launched with a number of hot air balloons.

Hibbert insists: "We have calculated that the exposure we have had represents close on £1m of equivalent advertising spend. Features on TV and in national newspapers have really been getting our name out there and have won new work as a result."

However UK Pallets says it has struggled to maintain volumes, although commercial director Graeme Wilson concludes: "Volumes continue to remain challenging, but this has not impacted our profits too much."

Have you joined a pallet network recently? If you have then please contact joanna.bourke@rbi.co.uk

Fortec Pallet Distribution Network claims that by Q4 it will have "comfortably maintained 20% year-on-year growth".

It says the rise is partly attributed to Fortec's commercial ties to its parent company Geodis Calberson, which has led to a large increase in tender invitations for corporate accounts.

Neil Hodgson, Fortec MD, tells MT that the business is opening a new four acre Birmingham regional depot, which will be operational from 4 October.

"The objective is to have Fortec's regional hubs and Geodis sites in all areas of the country in the future as the combined pallets to parcels logistics force continues to expand," he says.

"We aim to work smarter, and licensee profitability is a high priority."