Buyer Beware: Good deals can be had on used trucks, if you shop wisely


Conventional wisdom suggests buying a used medium-duty truck doesn’t come with the sort of price discount that a used Class 8 truck might, and so business owners who utilize medium-duty equipment typically are better off buying new. But those medium-duty cost savings can indeed be substantial and also make good operational sense – if the buyer does his homework.

“The price tag for a new Class 8 is really getting astronomical, so there is a far more significant gap between new and used. I wouldn’t argue with the that,” says Bob Glenn, director of remarketing at Penske Truck Leasing. “However, the savings can still be $40,000 or $50,000 between new and used in medium duty.”

And he ought to know: Penske Truck Leasing operates a fleet of 215,000 vehicles of all makes and models, and will resell some 25,000 of those this year.

Buyers for used, medium-duty trucks “run the gamut,” from small business owners who run only one vehicle to large national fleets, Glenn tells HWT, although Penske’s remarketing niche is fleets of five to 10 vehicles.

Of course, the main concern in buying a used commercial vehicle is the ongoing maintenance cost. Out-of-warranty repairs can add up with the mileage. But Glenn puts the healthy lifespan of modern, medium-duty trucks at up to 350,000 miles, and Penske sells its pre-owned trucks at about 175,000 miles, depending on where and how they’re operated.

Of course, even after 350,000 miles, some companies have the shop expertise to do an overhaul and run a truck past 500,000 miles. Other companies, without the wherewithal to maintain an older vehicle, might phase out a truck at 200,000 miles.

Regardless of fleet size, application, or location, Glenn offers the following tips as a guide for used truck purchases:

Determine which truck fits. Understand the application: City driving, highway, or even some off-road? Conventional vs. cabover? Are you running dock-to-dock, or do you need a lift gate?
A good truck reseller should help match your needs with the appropriate equipment. Large resellers will likely have more variety to chose from, or even a group of trucks spec’d alike if you’re shopping for multiple units.

Comparison shop. Determine the price range and decide if the truck you need is within your budget. Can you afford the capital outlay, or will you need financing?

“If you need financing, I would stop the search at that point and find out how much you can get financed for,” Glenn says. “You may have aspirations of buying a truck for $30,000, only to find out you’re approved for $20,000. If that’s the case, you’re going to have change the truck spec.”

Of course, the Internet can be a very handy tool in any search. Along with truck resellers’ own sites, portals such as Commercial Truck Trader aggregate listings from a number of sources. Some resellers, including Penske, even have an app for that, putting window shopping in the palm of your hand.

Narrow the search. Do you have a mileage maximum, or a model year preference? Do you need a truck that meets recent emissions standards, or would you prefer an older model with a less complex exhaust system?

“There’s no question there’s a movement eastward right now of equipment that does not meet California standards,” Glenn notes.

Once you’ve selected your vehicle, inspect it. Make sure it shapes up as advertised. Do the research. Ask for ownership and maintenance records, and find out how the truck was used. Was the truck ever involved in an accident or a flood? History reports also can be gathered from third party services such as

Seriously consider extended warranties.  Make sure you’re protected. Penske offers a variety of plans through National Truck Protection, for instance.

“I certainly would encourage anyone who’s purchasing a vehicle to go ahead and secure that type of insurance,” Glenn says. “Be careful you’re not being oversold on what that warranty will cover, but it’s a wise investment. You certainly want to have some peace of mind. Again, do your research.”

Similarly, make sure there’s an original equipment dealer and service network where you’re located. And some resellers, like Penske, offer roadside assistance service plans.