Owner Operator Truck Selection Considerations

The equipment you select when you first start your own trucking business will definitely have an impact on your success or failure. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the key things you should be aware of and take into consideration when deciding which truck to buy.

Let’s begin with a list of the usual contenders – in no particular order;

  • Western Star
  • International
  • Volvo
  • Freightliner
  • Mack
  • Peterbilt
  • Kenworth

There are a few other types of trucks available too, but none of them are widely used by fleets of any size within the United States on a regular basis, and certainly not on any large scale anyway.

So this is the list we will work from.

If you are new to trucking – then the names on the list may not mean a whole lot to you yet, but they will – and if you have been in trucking for a few years then you are probably very familiar with them all – and may have already driven several, if not all of them.

Over my two and a half decades and counting I have driven every truck on this list – and some far more than others.

Initial Considerations When Choosing Your Truck

There are lots of things to take into consideration before you buy your truck. Here are a few to think about;

  1.  Your Budget and Source of Funds
  2.  What You Intend to Haul and Do With the Truck
  3.  How You will Operate – Leased On or Independent
  4.  Age of the Truck – New or Used
  5.  Mileage and Condition of the Truck
  6.  Location of the Truck at Time of Purchase
  7.  The trustworthiness of the Seller
  8.  Availability of an Existing FACTORY Warranty
  9.  Potential Maintenance and Repair Costs
  10.  Resale Value Considerations – There are two approaches here. The first one is my preference and that is to forget about resale value completely – the value (with this approach) is in the truck moving freight for you period. That means you can buy an older, cheaper to buy former mega carrier fleet type truck very cheaply, (10-20k in most cases) yet which will still move those loads just as good as a brand new big hood ego truck – at a fraction of the cost. So think about that. How many loads would you need to pull to pay off a 20K truck vs a 120K plus truck? Having said that – it is your choice – and the other choice is focusing on resale value. In which case you very well may want to go for a used but solid Pete or KW etc. vs a Volvo 670 or FL Cascadia or similar.
  11. Your Own Personal Preferences – Once you have done your homework, and you have a very good idea of what is what and you know what specs you need to do the job you have in mind, then it is time to go buy your first truck. So long as you can afford it and you are making an informed decision – much of what you choose is going to come back around to what you want too. If you want max money faster – buy the older Volvo or Freightliner ex-fleet truck. If you choose the other route then go ahead and go for the big hood… your choice.

Buying a brand new truck, especially for a brand new owner operator is almost always a very BAD IDEA.

Unless you have very deep pockets, and substantial trucking business experience too – then you are going to be making a huge mistake by buying a new truck in most cases.

So that means you are going to be looking at used equipment to begin with – if you want to make better decisions and achieve Trucking Business Success vs going broke and going under within twelve to twenty-four months…

So how old is too old for a truck?

That will depend on how you answer some of the other concerns. For example – if you intend to lease on to another carrier and operate under their authority – then they probably will have an age limitation of some kind you will have to comply with if you want to work there.

Often it will be no more than 15 years old – or in some cases, it may be that they say the engine can be no more than X number of years old, etc.

Do keep in mind this is set by the company/motor carrier – so it will be whatever they want it to be. Some will be very strict and others may not care at all – so long as your truck can get the job done.

But do be aware of that – and be sure to find out before you go buy your truck. It would be a real shame to find out after the fact that you can’t haul any freight with the company you wanted to work for because they won’t allow your truck there because of its age.

If you are going to get your own authority then it doesn’t matter so much for the same reasons. You get to decide what age is acceptable to you and what isn’t.

Thinking about Buying an Older Commercial Truck?

Here are a few things to consider about older trucks;

  1.  Price Ranges – The older some trucks are the less they cost – and you can buy some for $10k or even less. Others will range from about $15,000 up to about $60,000 or so – and in that range, you can find more than plenty of good solid trucks to consider. Paying more than that is probably a bad idea too. Do keep in mind that while those at the bottom of the price range can look good and even seem like a great deal – and they can be that too – they are still old trucks and you WILL have to repair, replace and upgrade stuff if you buy one, either immediately or very soon after you get it. You are also taking a bigger chance the older it is and the more miles it has. Research what it costs to rebuild or replace the particular engine in that truck – then decide if you can afford the risk and if you want to take it or not.
  2.  Mileage Issues – The miles on the engine are more important than the age of the truck to a point. For example a former team truck can have twice as many miles as a sister truck of the same age from the same company that was used as a solo driver truck. One has twice the wear and tear on it as does the other – and twice as many miles tells you that.You need to understand what miles matter and what doesn’t. Some people think 250k miles is high mileage for a truck – that makes me smile if not outright laugh – because it isn’t. For a personal vehicle it would be – but for a commercial truck that’s barely broke in good as far as I am concerned. A good engine in a good commercial truck that is even decently well taken care of should be able to last for more than 1,000,000,000 miles or even much more before you have to completely rebuild or replace the engine. Of course if it has been abused it can have problems a lot sooner – and if it has really been taken great care of, it can go longer too. That’s why you need to have some knowledge (or pay someone you can trust who does) to look at the truck you are considering and evaluate it well before you buy it.
  3. Commonly Available – How common is this truck in the big fleets and with other smaller carriers that still have multiple trucks? Contrary to some people’s opinion of that being a bad thing – from a business point of view it is a VERY GOOD THING! The more trucks there are (especially common former fleet trucks like Volvos and Cascadias) the less valuable they are when they are older generally speaking (simple supply and demand). That means you can get a good solid work truck at a bargain price. Next it also means there are plenty of new and used parts available almost anywhere and practically any commercial truck shop can and will work on them – and they are already well familiar with them. Some high dollar trucks will not fair so well in any of those categories… and that makes them bad business decisions for the same reasons.
  4. Financing Issues – This depends on how you are going to fund your truck purchase. If you have cash great! Then you decide what you want based on the other criteria here and don’t have to worry about how to pay for your truck. You are also a rare individual too – most owner operators will wind up financing their truck. If that is the case for you then be aware that most commercial equipment lenders and many banks will not loan you money on older trucks – or if they do – they are going to want a lot more down and upfront to make the deal. This is common sense as the older the truck the less the retail value and the less they will get if they ever have to repo it from you and sell it. That’s why they do what they do regarding the age of the truck.

My Final Thoughts On Purchasing Your First Truck

The best advice I can give you is to take the time to get informed – and do your own homework thoroughly about the type of truck you want.

Narrow that down to a specific truck. Then go inspect it in person thoroughly, take some coveralls and some gloves supplies and spend some time getting under it, in it and all around it checking everything you can. Start early in the morning and be ready to leave the lot by mid to late afternoon. Do not show up at 4:30 in the afternoon in dress clothes to buy your truck!

Be careful who you take advice from.

There are many successful trucking business owners – and many more who are struggling and barely making ends meet – if that even – and who will go under before the end of the coming year. Follow their advice to your own peril – and if you do, then you will go down just like they do. Yet they are all too happy to tell you that you should get that big hood truck and worry about resale value, etc. etc. In other words, they are telling you to repeat what they did!

Do understand that I am not slamming the trucks – they are beautiful machines (my personal favorite is the 1999 Freightliner Classic XL and of course the 379 Pete) and I love them too – but remember you need to be making smart BUSINESS decisions if you want to have a successful trucking business. Buying too much truck – that you may want but certainly don’t need – and can’t afford will destroy your business before you even get started good.

The new ones are very expensive when talking about the sought after brands and models – and even the old versions like I like are still far more expensive than a Volvo 670 that is 15 years younger… add to that the fact that almost every major component that matters is going to be worn out and needing to be replaced or rebuilt at that age. That won’t be cheap either…

Make Your Money First

Then you can have whatever show truck you like and easily be able to actually afford it later – or you can go ahead and get your dream truck now, then struggle to pay for it for years to come. Many try that route and most lose it back to the finance company or the bank within a year or two if not sooner.

Make better decisions so you can achieve Trucking Business Success.

As always this information is meant to inspire and motivate you and help you make better informed decisions. Whatever you decide is up to you – you are the captain of your own ship, responsible for your own actions as will you be the one who reaps the rewards or pays the penalties too.

Want to learn more about trucking? You can find many of my courses on Udemy and you can come  join our Trucking Business Success Facebook group if you are not already a member.

Until next time, be safe and take care.

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