You might think that buying a used truck is different from buying a new car. While it's true that trucks generally take more abuse, and you need to be certain to inspect any included towing hardware and bed liners, as well as doing a visual inspection of the body and engine, the same basic rules apply to pretty much anything with wheels. Here are some tips to help you make sure you're getting a good buy, and not someone else's castoff lemon.
- CarFax is your friend. It costs a few dollars to run a check on the VIN (vehicle identification number), but doing so will let you know if the truck you're considering has any active liens against it, is listed as stolen, or has a record of serious accidents. If you're buying from a dealer, they should provide this information as a matter of course, but an individual may not. It's also a good idea to check to make sure the VIN etched on the car (look under the dash or on the doorpost) matches the number on the registration. If it doesn't, DO NOT complete the purchase.
- Make sure the price is fair. This is especially important if you're looking at a vintage truck, or one that is extremely new. You can use the Kelley Blue Book (either the hard copy, or via the internet - www.kbb.com) to find out the suggested value for a truck in a similar condition or to find auto reviews of the one you're considering.
- Observe the odometer. The odometer reading can tell you a lot about the condition of the truck you're looking at. Assume an average of 10,000 - 20,000 miles driven for each year of the truck's age, and compare that average to the reading on the dial and the apparent condition of the vehicle. If the reading seems suspiciously low for the age of the truck, or if the wear and tear seems excessive, this is a red flag, and you should proceed with caution.
- Do an inspection. If you're not mechanically inclined yourself, bring a mechanic with you to look at the truck you're considering, go during daylight hours, and do a thorough inspection that includes the following:
- Wear and tear inside the cab: Make sure the wear and tear on the seats is reasonable for the age of the truck, and note the condition of the accelerator and break pedals as well. If the pedals are worn, it may mean that the brakes are suspect. (Shiny new pedals when everything else shows wear are also a sign that brake work has been done.)
- Original parts: If the stereo system or air conditioning have been upgraded, or if air bags were added after market, be sure to ask about warranties and receipts.
- Tires: Be sure the treads are in decent condition, and find out if a spare is included. If so, is it mounted beneath the bed, under a bed liner, or on the back of the tailgate? Make sure the mounting system is in good working order, and find out if there is an included jack.
- Bed liner and Tailgate: Make sure there are no obvious cracks in the former, and make sure the latter is not only present, but also in good working order.
- Bounce test: Test the shocks and springs by leaning heavily on each corner of the truck and bouncing it. There should be some resistance, but not excessive rigidity.
- Look for signs of body work, including repainting or ripples in the metal, and also look for rust or dents. If body work is suspected, ask about the reason, and be sure to get documentation, if it exists.
- Take it for a test drive. Unless you're buying online, and can afford to deal with a seller who is less than forthright about the condition of the truck, take the vehicle for a test drive. While you're driving, try to find roads with conditions similar to where you normally drive. As well, be sure to test the following:
- Be sure the truck starts immediately and idles smoothly. Note the response of gauges and indicator lights, and make sure all are working properly.
- Test the brakes and steering by making aggressive turns and braking hard (do this in an empty parking lot, not in traffic.)
- Change gears and make sure there is no moaning, whining, squealing or grinding. If the truck is an automatic transmission vehicle, make sure the gear shifting is smooth and quiet.
- Drive at varying speeds to check the acceleration, and be sure to include freeway onramps in your route.
- Merge onto a busy road and change lanes to check visibility from all mirrors.
Once you have followed these five steps, and are certain that the truck is in an acceptable condition for you, and the price is fair, complete the purchase for new truck or car loans, change your insurance, and enjoy your new vehicle.