Get CARFAX Reports

How to Buy a Used Work Truck for Personal Use

Are you in the market for a used pickup truck? As with any used vehicle purchase, you don’t want to get stuck with a lemon.  You want something reliable. Something that’s a good value. With almost every manufacturer offering some type of truck in their lineup, the choices can seem endless.

Here’s a tip: consider finding a used work truck.

Many commercially-owned trucks are purchased new and then used for three to five years before being sold on the secondary market to people like you. We’ll explain what these babies are, (and what they’re not), where to find them, how to know what you need out of a truck, and how to due your due diligence before you hand over your cash to the seller.

First, Is a Used Work Truck Right for You?

truck-back-tires
Work Truck. Image by Jennifer Smith.

Before you go out and start shopping around, sit down and be honest with yourself about what it is you really need out of a truck. Answer questions like:

  • What will you primarily use it for?
  • How many miles per year do you think you’ll put on it?
  • Do you need 4×4 or offroad capability, or just want it?
  • Will you need it for towing?
  • How much maintenance will you be able to do on the truck?

These are just starter questions, but they will get your mind going around the issues you need to address before you begin shopping and fall in love with a truck that is completely wrong for you.

A work truck, in particular, is a different breed from most standard passenger-grade pickup trucks. A work truck can be a half-ton or heavy-duty vehicle, but generally has several traits that set it apart from the consumer pickup.

A work truck will usually have the largest engine available for the truck’s grade and is often either a standard cab or crew cab rather than an extended cab. The work truck’s bed will be heavy-duty and often has specialized additions such as a utility bed, dumping capability, or similar. Work trucks could include any of the Ford F-series line, the Chevrolet and GMC pickups, Ram Trucks (formerly Dodge Ram), and Nissan Titan or Toyota Tundra half-tons. Some specialized work trucks could be from Freightliner, Isuzu, or others.

Remember that if the truck fits everything on your checklist, then any other bonus items it has are gravy. You should not compromise your needs in order to gain something you want. That’s bad business.

Be aware that work trucks have usually had a hard life. They will not usually be as cosmetically clean as the typical daily commuter truck, but likely will have the advantage of  well-documented regular maintenance and repair.

Research Your Options

Once you know what you need out of a pickup truck, you can begin sifting through the various makes and models that might be available to you and clear the field to narrow it down to some finalists. If you aren’t going to be towing much and are in need of the ability to haul the family around fairly often, there’s no reason to be looking at a three-quarter ton truck with a standard cab.

For example, the buyer needing a family hauler without a lot of towing should consider half-ton offerings such as the GMC Sierra 1500 in crew cab or even the GMC Savana Passenger 1500 van. These will both have plenty of potential seating options and, though relatively plain given their outfitting for work, will have everything needed for our example buyer.

Through this process, you’ll also become familiar with the many options for truck buying that are out there. This might help you further narrow your actual needs and wants as you find out that some capabilities may not really be all that relevant to you. For example, if you live in Phoenix and plan to pull your boat to the lake on weekends with your truck, you probably are not going to need four wheel drive and should drop that as an expensive option.

Find A Few Contenders

Searching forums on an ipad. Image by Official GDC
Searching forums on an ipad. Image by Official GDC

Once you know what you want, either by make-model or by general description, begin hunting for used trucks for sale in your area. Quite often, commercial trucks or work trucks that are being sold will be found in classifieds and the freebie classifieds papers for your area. Bulletin boards at truck stops, fuel stops, and similar places will also often showcase work trucks being sold – especially if you’re in need of something larger than a pickup, such as a dumper or a box truck.

Spend the time required to find options through several sources instead of only one. The local paper’s classifieds might have half a dozen trucks you are interested in, but an alternative source might have fewer dealers listing as if their trucks were private sales. Be sure to call the number listed for every work truck you have interest in and vet those from dealers if you aren’t interested in going to a professional seller. Be sure to also check Craigslist, eBay, and so forth.

Once you’ve found some options, make a list and try to group the contenders by how interested you are in them. Maybe one is a perfect match, but is high mileage while another is very close and has lower mileage. Decide which is more compelling to you. Your list’s order doesn’t have to be definitive, but it should be a good ballpark.

Get Details

When you call someone to ask about their work truck for sale, or when you talk to a salesman on a lot, ask detailed questions about it. You need to know, at the very least, answers to the following:

  • Year/Make/Model/Engine/Transmission on the truck (if not fully listed).
  • What is the mileage on the odometer?
  • Will they allow you to test drive it and take it to a mechanic for inspection before you buy?
  • Does the truck have a full maintenance history from the time it was new?
  • How many different drivers, approximately, has the truck had? (Many drivers could indicate it was operated harder than it should have been.)
  • Has it had any major repairs, accidents, etc. that affected the underlying components of the chassis or drivetrain?
  • What repairs or fixes, if any, does it need now?

The answers to these will get you well along the way towards buying the right work truck. Make note of each of the answers given by the owners selling the trucks you’re interested in. If any of the answers bother you, if the person talking to you seems skittish about answering some questions, or if anything at all seems out of order, you should trust your instincts and not call back and move on to another option. If the owner of the truck or a dealer will not consent to allowing a mechanic to inspect the truck, you should find another seller. Finally, if the answers to any of these questions make you question whether the truck is right for you, it probably isn’t.

Thoroughly Inspect It

Image by Penn State.
Get it inspected by a mechanic before you buy. Image by Penn State.

Once you go to physically see the truck, give it a thorough once-over. Ignore the glitz and glitter (“shiny stuff”) and look at the core operational components of the truck first. Make sure you know where every dent, scratch, paint chip, etc. is on that truck before you test drive it. Look underneath it to be sure that everything is in order and inspect, at the very least, the important equipment for operation such as the brakes, steering, and engine.

Ask for a Carfax Report on the truck or buy one yourself to find out if anything is amiss. Then take the truck to a trusted mechanic and have a thorough inspection done. The mechanic should lift the truck to look at the exhaust and other components, should do basic engine tests such as compression and vacuum, and the brakes, suspension, steering, and so forth should all be put under the microscope. If possible, a complete maintenance history should be on hand for the mechanic to page through to be sure that every major interval was met and so you’ll know which ones are coming so you can be prepared for them.

If any work needs to be done to the truck, ask for estimates so you know what to expect and how much you can haggle over if you decide to buy.

Haggle But Don’t Insult

Once you are convinced that you want to buy the work truck you’ve been checking, start the process of buying. Let the owner know you’re interested and ask for their best sell price. Mention anything you’ve learned such as pending or looming maintenance and what it will cost as bargaining points. Do not, however, try to bid the price down very low unless the truck is so overpriced that the owner is obviously expecting you to do that. Go with your gut instinct, but be careful not to offend them with a ridiculously low ball offer.

Buy and Enjoy!

Once you buy, make sure to enjoy your new ride. A truck is a wonderful thing and is not only a useful tool, but is also a powerful ally for those who like to work and play hard. Take care of it and even a used work truck will last a long time.

Featured image by Jason Machrina

5 thoughts on “How to Buy a Used Work Truck for Personal Use”

  1. Thanks for sharing valuable information about how to buy used trucks. I agree that lot of research needs to be done before we are going to purchase used truck whether if it is for personal work or heavy duty transportation.

  2. What some buyers need to take in consideration is that to be a used truck, some parts should be changed with more frequency than a new one, the same thing with the precaution that the owner need to have in long trips and road in a bad condition

  3. Thank you for sharing this information on how to buy a used work truck. I am definitely in the market for a used pickup truck and like you said, “you don’t want to get stuck with a lemon.” It is important that I do some research by looking online and going to try some used cars out. My friend is also looking for a used truck engine. Do people tell these separately? Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CARFAX Blog