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The suspension of your RV or trailer is a complex system, and keeping it in good condition goes a long way towards safety and top performance. One of the suspension’s most important components is the trailing arm, which ensures that the vehicle’s body pivots in alignment with the suspension. The trailing arm is held together by pins and bushings, pieces of hardware as vital as they are small.
As part of our preventative maintenance services, Vancouver Axle & Frame pays special attention to the trailing arm and all of its hardware. Since 1959, we have successfully serviced and repaired the suspensions of RVs, trailers, and a variety of other vehicles. Our long tradition of excellence and proven reliability makes VanAxle the logical choice to get your vehicle equipped with the best hardware and ready to hit the open road.
Bushings link together the axle and the body pivot point to ensure an aligned and effective suspension. Holding the trailing arm to the chassis of your RV or trailer, bushings help to smooth and straighten a suspension’s movement.
Highways are rife with opportunities for your vehicle to bump and shake, but bushings absorb these impacts, protecting both your vehicle and eardrums. While they can last for some time, bushings eventually do wear out for a number of reasons, including:
Outdated Bushing Material:
Unfortunately, it’s all too common for bushings to me made of inadequate materials like rubber or plastic, which crack and harden over time. As an upgrade, VanAxle offers bronze and copper bushings.
Bushings do not react well to constant moisture. If your vehicle is leaking coolant or gas onto the bushings, their deterioration will be accelerated.
Ungreased Pins and Equalizers:
Complementary pieces to bushings, pins and equalizers are crucial components to trailing arm suspension. Unlike with bushings, it’s important to keep pins and equalizers well-greased.
Daily wear and tear will cause bushings to break down and ultimately fail over time, degrading your suspension and disrupting your travels. Maintaining and replacing bushings before they become too worn will save your RV or trailer from future repairs and wasted money. To know when it’s time to service your vehicle’s trailing arm bushings, look out for these simple warning signs:
Part of the suspension’s job is to evenly distribute weight as the vehicle turns. Worn trailing arm bushings can cause a weight imbalance, resulting in a “loose” feeling when steering.
Bushings are like pillows for your vehicle’s suspension. When fresh, they offer adequate cushioning to the various metallic joints and pieces, ensuring that they operate smoothly and quietly. Because bushings harden as they wear out, noises are no longer muffled, making for a loud and distracting drive.
When trailing arm bushings aren’t operating at full capacity, it’s easy for your vehicle’s suspension to become misaligned, causing an imbalance in weight. This extra weight puts more pressure on tires, creating heat from friction. Left unaddressed, it’s common for tires to wear down or even blow out after time.
An RV or trailer is a major investment, and VanAxle is committed to helping you protect it. We understand that maintaining your vehicle’s trailing arm bushings takes time and energy, which is why we’re here to help. See why so many vehicle owners partner with us for all types of maintenance and repair.
From our family to yours, we hope you have a safe and happy Holiday Season whether you are on the road or cozy at home!
If you’re planning to escape the cold winter weather and head out in your RV, there are a few things you must to do before you fire it up and head south. Read on to get some tips to make sure your winter trip is fun, warm, and most of all, safe.
Take a full accounting of every square inch of your RV, especially if it’s been in storage all summer. Check the roof access ladder, the slide-open tops, the TV antenna. Look at the solar panels and make sure everything is secured. Make sure all of the windows open easily, and unroll the awning and check for holes. Fix anything you see that needs it. Check the blinds and make sure they’re in working order.
Also, wash and wax the RV. While you’re doing that, you can keep an eye out for any issues you missed the first time around.
Check your tires!! The average life of an RV tire is about 6 years, but there are countless factors that can shorten that life, so make sure you inspect these carefully each and every season. Be sure they’re properly inflated and the tread isn’t worn down. Check the jack, too. It should be lubricated and working properly. Test your alignment. You don’t want to fight your RV for control on the road.
Other things to check before you leave for the winter include the plumbing, the electrical system, the AC power system, the sewage system, and all of your safety features including the fire alarm, CO sensor, propane detector, and the fire extinguishers. Test the brakes! The time to discover there’s an issue with the brakes is while you’re checking them before you leave on your trip, not in the middle of it.
If your RV is the type to be hauled behind a truck, make sure you check the engine and tires of the truck as well.
Spending the winters tooling around the warmer parts of the country in your RV is a fantastic way to avoid snow and ice. Before you leave, make sure your RV is up to the task, and have a cold-weather-free winter!
That gently-used heavy-duty truck you’ve added to your fleet has gone through tires at an alarming rate. It’s also a huge gas hog, and your driver complains of backaches after a long haul. You’re referred to the shop of a heavy-duty truck mechanic who speculates that your truck may have been in an accident which caused one wheel to sit back further than the other. The misaligned wheel had been the culprit of the ongoing short tire life, gas guzzling, and driver discomfort. Looks like it’s time for a wheel alignment.
Without a proper alignment, driving can become unsafe and expensive. Misaligned wheels are often the source of handling problems, driver fatigue, decreased fuel efficiency, excessive wear and tear on tires, and higher maintenance costs on components.
As fuel and tires account for the two highest operational costs of a trucking company, wheel alignment can help control these costs. Below we will discuss the benefits of alignment in a heavy-duty truck, along with signs and symptoms and causes and effects of misalignment.
If you were to randomly select a number of heavy-duty trucks on the road today, particularly highway tractors, you would likely find at least a degree of misalignment in the majority of them. Mike McCoy of Bee Line estimates that about half the trucks and trailers on the road today are out of alignment.
Alignments are an essential part of preventative maintenance in heavy-duty trucks. Often, the cost of new tires far exceeds the cost of regular alignments, and trucks with misaligned wheels can experience tire drag, which can burn up fuel at an alarming rate. The worst-case scenario for opting out of wheel alignments is experiencing a tire blowout or other accident resulting from loss of control of a misaligned truck.
Driving over poorly maintained or gravelly stretches is sometimes unavoidable. If you regularly travel over roads potholed in Swiss-cheese style, your alignment may be in trouble. The same applies if you tend to slam your wheels on curbs when turning, have recently been in an accident (even a minor one can affect the frame of your truck), or just fail to maintain your truck: you may have shocked your chassis. You may have affected how your tires sit and altered your alignment.
Hitting one deep pothole at a high speed is all it takes to tear open a tire, throw your truck’s wheels out of alignment, not to mention damage your suspension, shocks, steering, and other parts.
In addition to road conditions, your driving habits and your payloads will affect your tires. Barreling over speed bumps, braking hard, and cornering maniacally can adversely affect tires; the same goes for hauling loads with a high center of gravity. These types of behaviors and loads can cause portions of tire surface to peel off, which causes a weight imbalance of the tires and a wobbly vibration in the steering wheel. With wear and tear on the tread, the tires are less able to grip the road and respond in an emergency. Such tire drag also minimizes fuel efficiency.
Don’t automatically blame your tires for excessive or irregular wear. The tires may only be exhibiting the signs and symptoms of the actual cause: an alignment problem. When you inspect your tires, you might notice:
Keep your tires on the truck and get to your mechanic for an alignment check. The mechanic will examine the tire and wheel position so that the cause of the wear can be identified. Maybe the culprit will be traced back to the truck or axle. Know that you’ll never find the cause if you remove the offending tire from your truck.
Early signs of irregular wear can be caught early in the life of a tire, often in the first 20% to 30% of its life. Caught early, a tire can sometimes be saved by remounting it or moving it to a different wheel position.
When tires themselves are the cause of the problem. Sometimes a tire is the culprit of its problems. Minimize risk by avoiding cheaply made tires, which tend to have poor design and a short life expectancy. Also, do not use the wrong tires for the wrong application (such as buying tires with a tread that is too aggressive for over-the-road use).
Happily, most types of tire wear are preventable through regular maintenance.
Attempting to drive a truck with alignment problems can be physically taxing since you must constantly correct the steering wheel, which can cause neck, back and shoulder pain, not to mention exhaustion, frustration, and burnout.
Your level of discomfort will depend on how often you drive the truck and how misaligned it is. A misaligned truck can compromise safety, reduce productivity, and adversely affect driver job satisfaction. If you own a trucking company, you may experience a higher turnover in drivers who might seek employment with another trucking company (one who emphasizes safe, well-maintained trucks). In short, alignments are good for employee retention and the bottom line of a trucking business.
Blowouts can cause serious injury or death to other drivers, with tire rubber becoming a deadly projectile. Road alligators (big pieces of tire tread) left from tire blowouts can obstruct the road and cause a vehicle to swerve and crash or may cause damage to the chassis of a vehicle that passes over the alligator.
When done correctly, an alignment places your tires perpendicular to the ground, parallel to each other, and pointing in the right direction. Your tires will rotate in a straight line, which will make for even tire wear and easy steering. During an alignment, angles are measured in tenths and hundredths of degrees or inches. What you may perceive as a “slight” misalignment can put you in danger of loss of tire traction or a tire blowout. Misalignment may adversely affect your steering and suspension and eat up tires and their related parts and adversely affect handling. Left unchecked, your steering and suspension can be affected.
At Vancouver Axle and Frame, serving the Fraser Valley, BC, we know that measurement and correction of all the major alignment angles is necessary to achieve maximum truck efficiency. That is why our equipment, designed and manufactured by Bee Line, promotes the concept of “Total Vehicle Wheel Alignment” to extend tire wear, maximize fuel efficiency, and improve vehicle handling. Total Vehicle Wheel Alignment means measuring and correcting all alignment angles, not just toe and rear tracking.
As a result of increased tire and fuel costs, harmful emissions, and driver fatigue, many trucking companies have turned to our laser technology as a more accurate method of wheel alignment than the method mechanical gauge with manual calibration being carried out visually.
For the best results and the greatest cost savings for you, we recommend you get your wheels aligned every 12 months at a minimum.
You might want to coordinate your alignments to be done right before your annual safely inspections and keep your trucks on an ongoing schedule.
Between your annual inspections, monitor your tire wear regularly. Any uneven wear you see is a red flag for misalignment. It’s also a good idea to align any new vehicles you add to your fleet. And, of course, if your vehicle has been in an accident, recheck your calibration before putting that vehicle back on the road.
Still not seeing a profit in your fledgling trucking business?
You could be burning through too many tires.
Like human feet stuffed into shoes and forgotten until you’re limping, your truck’s “feet” might be neglected until you’re scraping on dips and chewing through tires at an alarming rate.
Tires and wheels keep your vehicle in contact with treacherous roads, which cause wear and tear on tires. Neglecting your tires can be dangerous since a flat tire that shreds or throws pieces can do serious damage, up to and including a fire if your tire creates sparks.
If your truck is your livelihood, you simply cannot afford to have your vehicle off the road for long. If you employ drivers, their safety and ability to make a living are priorities. If you want to be legal and stay in business, your vehicles must pass safety inspections.
The Cost of Preventative Maintenance Beats the Cost of Replacement
Although weather conditions, road conditions, and the driving behaviors of others can create hazards that are out of your control, you can take measures to minimize your risk of flats, blowouts, and other unwelcome surprises. Preventative maintenance is the best way to get the most mileage and years out of your tires—and avoid the infinitely greater expense of replacing tires. What can you do to maintain your tires and prevent premature tire wear?
Check your tire pressure. Each time you over-inflate or under-inflate, you not only shorten the life of your tires, but you worsen your fuel economy. Over-inflated tires show the most wear in the middle, while under-inflated tires will wear most at the edges.
Buy a good tire gauge and check your tire inflation each day that you move or drive your heavy-duty vehicle. Make sure you check the pressure when cold—never when hot.
Also mind the temperature outdoors since tire pressure can be affected by changes in the temperature. Even if the tires look fine, you can’t be sure until you check the pressure. Small changes in pressure can really add up over time: tires can lose up to two pounds of pressure each month.
Don’t overload your tires. Always weigh your vehicle when it’s fully loaded. Include all passengers, cargo, and tow load. Weigh each axle end separately to be sure you don’t exceed your tire ratings and to ensure your loaded weight is properly distributed.
Beware the sun. UV rays are as bad for tires as they are for human skin. Ozone in the air can cause dry rot in the sidewalls of tires. When your vehicle is parked, cover the tires to block out harmful UV rays.
Rotate your tires. A telltale sign that you need to rotate your tires is when one tire wears faster than another. Check your manufacturer’s recommendations for tire rotation. Wear and tear can decrease the lifespan of your tires. Make time for regular tire rotation every 5,000 miles or at intervals recommended by the factory.
Beware old tires. Your tires may look good, but check their dates of manufacture. If your vehicle was made in the United States, you’ll find a DOT number on the inside sidewalls which tells you how old the tires are. If you’re not sure how old your tires are, have them professionally inspected.
Get routine alignments. Misalignment can be caused by damages from collisions/accidents, nudging a curb, driving off road or on uneven surfaces, replacing a steering joint, to name a few causes.
Even a misalignment of 1 degree can cause tires to fail long before their time. Signs of misalignment on tires can include uneven tire wear over the tread, wear at the shoulder of the tire, and premature aging despite having recently replaced a tire.
At Vancouver Axle and Frame, our Beeline laser wheel alignments offer the best alignment equipment in the industry. Beeline equipment allows us to check the following essentials that other shops may be unable to do:
Toe and Tracking
Toe out is when your truck’s wheels point out to the sides. Toe in is when the wheel point to the inside. Whatever the case, improper toe will create problems and increase wear on your tires.
Tracking misalignment will cause irregular tire wear in the steer tires. Bee Line gauging equipment uses lasers to measure for proper toe and sets the tracking parallel to the centerline of the chassis.
Camber and Caster
Too much camber causes wear on the outer half of the tire tread; too little camber will cause tires to go bald from the inside out. Caster is the angle of the front axle, which can affect vehicle handling.
Bee Line allows the perfect camber and caster settings for your vehicle. This ensures the best axle correction for longer tire and vehicle life.
Checking a vehicle’s turning radius is essential for a proper alignment. If you notice irregular shoulder wear or feathering, you might have an improper turning radius. Bee Line equipment measures and displays the Ackerman Angle for proper turning radius.
King Pin Inclination (KPI)
KPI is the angle needed to pinpoint bent spindles, bent king pins, and more. Reading KPI is essential to the proper alignment of a vehicle. Some shops use alignment systems that provide only basic angles in their standard readout. Bee Line measures true KPI.
Other Benefits of an Alignment
Once you get an alignment, your tires will run cooler and last longer. You’ll also:
Save money on fuel. When your wheels are misaligned, your engine must work harder to move your vehicle, which requires more fuel. It’s best to get your fleet of heavy duty trucks on a maintenance schedule for regular wheel alignments since misalignment can be so subtle you don’t notice it until the damage has been done.
Lower your emissions. Regular alignments can reduce carbon dioxide and other harmful emissions emitted from your commercial vehicle.
Preserve your whole truck. When kept in balance with regular alignments, the other mechanical parts of your truck will be less stressed and have a longer life.
Increase driving comfort and safety. Once your vehicle is aligned, you’ll also notice a much more comfortable drive. You won’t be fighting the vehicle to move in a straight line.
Also, you’ll also enjoy safer handling. Even a seemingly “slight” adjustment in wheel alignment can make all the difference in driver comfort.
Make Alignment Services Part of Your Preventative Maintenance Schedule
Because of increased tire and fuel costs, harmful emissions, and driver fatigue, many trucking companies have turned to our laser technology at Vancouver Axle and Frame. Our equipment provides the most accurate method of wheel alignment. For best results, you should get your wheels aligned every 12 months at a minimum. You might coordinate your alignments to be done right before your annual safety inspections, and then keep your fleet on an ongoing schedule.
Between your annual inspections, monitor your tire wear regularly. Any uneven wear you see is a red flag for misalignment.
Have you added new vehicles to your fleet? Has your vehicle been in an accident? Bring those vehicles in for alignment before putting them back on the road.
Get the most life out of your tires: make alignments part of your vehicle’s or fleet’s preventive maintenance program! Contact Vancouver Axle and Frame now to set up your heavy-duty truck alignment. We’ll place you on a preventative maintenance program. Our diagnostic technology, combined with our knowledgeable, honest staff and spacious, organized shop, sets us apart for alignment services.
Buying a used heavy duty truck is complicated. Even if you’re mechanically inclined and try to do your own inspection, you might miss a defect that could be costly to repair. Read on to learn how to inspect a used heavy-duty truck as we focus on a five specific systems in detail: powertrain, suspension/steering, brakes, lighting system, and tires/wheels. We’ll outline the components to check and problems to look for during a used semi-truck inspection.
Simply put, the powertrain system produces and converts energy to move a vehicle. This system includes the engine, transmission, and driveshaft. Some basics to check:
The engine should look clean, without caked-on grease and oil. Check the level of the engine oil, which should be filled according to factory specs. The condition of the engine oil is something to take very seriously. A safe bet is to get an engine oil analysis to test your oil’s viscosity and to check for the presence of fuel, water, coolant and dirt in the oil.
Once the engine is warmed up, check the exhaust for blue or white smoke, either of which could indicate that the engine burns oil.
Check the coolant reservoir. Is it securely attached? Check for cracks, leaks and bends in the reservoir. Hoses attached to the coolant reservoir should be free of wear and tear.
Check the level of coolant fluid, which should be topped off and greenish in color. Use the correct type and amount of coolant according to factory specs.
Check the air filter. Do you see excessive dirt?
Check the transmission fluid color, smell and level. A burnt smell is never good and could forewarn you of transmission problems.
Start the engine. Do you hear any knocking noises? Thuds? After the engine has been running, check your oil, coolant, air, and fuel lines to make sure there are no leaks underneath the truck.
Check the belt driven alternator. Is it securely attached? Make sure all wires are connected. The belt itself should be free of cracks and frays.
Check the general hoses, driver and passenger side. Make sure hoses are securely attached. You should see no abrasions, cuts, bulges, or leaks.
Check the belt-driven water pump for secure attachment. Check for leaks, cracks, bends, or breaks. The belt should be free of cracks/frays.
Check universal joints, yokes, drive shafts, boots/seals, center bearings, and mounting hardware for wear and tear and looseness of parts. Check for proper phasing.
Check axle housing(s) for cracks and leaks.
Inspect axle breather(s)
Check drive train grease fittings: Make sure they are lubricated.
Check drive axle(s) oil for proper level, type and condition.
Check transmission wiring, connectors, seals, and harnesses for damage and proper routing.
Check interaxle differential lock operation.
Check transmission range shift operation.
When all’s well with your suspension, you’ll be able to steer easily, even on rough terrain. Your suspension should also maintain correct axle alignment and spacing. You should have a smooth ride whether your truck is loaded or unloaded. Some basics to check:
When cornering, does the truck force you to slow down more than usual?
Does the truck dip forward when you apply the brakes?
Is steering difficult when riding over bumps in the road?
Check the steering wheel. Is there too much free play? Too much play happens when you turn the steering wheel, yet the truck does not steer. Do you feel a sticking or binding when you turn the wheel? You might simply need to add power steering fluid. Another possibility is a power steering fluid leak or problems with the power steering pump.
Check power steering pump, mounting, and hoses. Are there leaks, cracks or bends? Make sure the pump is properly secured.
Check power steering fluid. The color should be clear, pink or red. A black or dark brown color is a sign of contaminated fluid. Top off fluid level according to factory specs.
Check steering gear. Is the gear securely attached? Are there leaks?
Inspect steering shaft U-joints, pinch bolts, splines, pitman arm-to-steering sector shaft, tie rod ends, and linkages. Do you notice wear and tear?
Check kingpins. Are they worn?
Check wheel bearings. Are they loose? Noisy?
Check non-drive hubs: Check oil level and condition of all. Are there leaks?
Check springs, pins, hangers, shackles, spring U-bolts, and insulators. Inspect for wear and tear.
Check shock absorbers. Are the shocks securely attached? Are there leaks?
Check air suspension springs, mounts, hoses, valves, linkage, and fittings. Make sure there are no leaks or damage.
Check suspension ride height. Write down your findings.
Check axle locating components (radius, torque, and/or track rods)
Check front axles and attaching hardware for wear and tear.
Check kingpins, steering knuckle bushings, locks, bearings, seals, and covers for wear and tear.
Check shock absorbers, bushings, brackets, and mounts, which should be solid and free of wear and tear.
Check leaf springs, center bolts, clips, pins and bushings, shackles, U-bolts, insulators, brackets, and mounts for wear and tear.
Check axle aligning devices such as radius rods, track bars, stabilizer bars, torque arms, related bushings, mounts, shims, and cams.
Check condition of tandem suspension equalizer parts.
Inspect and test air suspension pressure regulator and height control valves, lines, hoses, dump valves, and fittings
Inspect air springs, mounting plates, springs, suspension arms, and bushings
Brakes are your vehicle’s most important safety system since they control slowing and stopping. We will focus on hydraulic and air brakes.
Hydraulic brakes use the properties of liquid—brake fluid—to transfer the brake pedal movement to the wheels and slow or stop your vehicle.
When you press the brake, does the truck slow but not stop the right way and roll a bit? This could be caused by low brake fluid, a leaky master cylinder, air in the hydraulic system, worn brake pads or shoes.
Does the brake pedal feel soft instead of firm? You may have a leak in your brake line. You may have air in the system (your brakes may need to be bled). The brake fluid may be contaminated. Maybe the prior owner is not using the right type of brake fluid.
Does the brake pedal vibrate? The brake rotors/drums may be warped. The tires could be out of balance or worn out. The front wheel bearings might be loose or worn out.
Some basics to check:
Test the anti-lock brake system warning light operation (includes trailer and dash-mounted trailer anti-lock brake warning light).
Test the anti-lock brake system electronic control and components. Self-diagnose or use electronic/scan tools to diagnose.
Check for poor stopping and problems with wheel lock-up. You should not have these problems if the anti-lock brake system is functioning properly.
Check the operation of anti-lock brake system air, hydraulic, electrical, and mechanical parts
Check anti-lock braking system wheel speed sensors and circuits
Check the operation of the automatic traction control (ATC) warning light
Check operation of the power line carrier (PLC)
Air brakes don’t work instantly like hydraulic brakes. Air needs to flow through your brake lines before you can brake. Water in your air brake system can cause serious trouble; in cold weather, that water can turn to ice and block air from passing into the brake lines. This could cause your wheels to lock up.
Basics to check:
Check for poor stopping, early wear, air leaks, pulling, grabbing, or balance problems.
Drain air reservoir/tanks; check for oil, water, and dirt/foreign objects.
Check air compressor drive gear, belts and coupling.
Check air compressor inlet; inspect oil supply and coolant lines, mounting brackets, and fittings
Check air system pressure controls; governor, unloader assembly valves, filters, hoses, lines, and fittings
Check air system lines, hoses, fittings, and couplings
From headlights to reflectors and turn signals, you need to see and be seen to operate your heavy-duty truck legally and safely. The basics:
Make sure all required lights are working properly.
Wiring problems can cause lights to malfunction. For example, the lights might stop working when you hit a bump in the road. A bad connection or bad wire can be the culprit.
Check lights by walking around the perimeter of the truck and trailer to check the lights and their functions:
Test the following functions:
Make sure that Lights, Reflectors, & Reflective Tape are:
The care of wheels and tires is essential to the safe operation of a heavy-duty truck. When neglected, you face poor handling at best to blowouts and accidents at worst.
Do all tires match in diameter and tread? Mismatches in tires cause more wear and tear on your drive train.
Check tires for proper mounting. Improper mounting adversely affects wear patterns.
Check the tread depth of each tire with a gauge and compare with new tire specs. You’ll then know how much tread is left in your tires. Uneven tire wear could mean an axle misalignment.
Check tires for cuts, cracks, bulges in the sidewall. Such insults can be caused by impact, overloading, or driving with underinflated tires.
Check tire air pressures; adjust specs according to manufacturer
Check condition of wheel mounting hardware. Do you see cracks? Are any parts loose?
Check condition of wheels. Do you see cracks or damage? Are wheels properly aligned?
Check wheel lug nuts and bolts. Are any nuts or bolts missing?
Check condition of valve caps and stems. Are any caps missing? The caps keep dirt and debris from the stems; if enough dirt works its way in, your tires could lose air.
When you realize we have not even begun to discuss all of the systems you’ll need to inspect, you might be overwhelmed. While you might choose to perform your own cursory heavy duty truck inspection, your safest best is to get a professional mechanic to inspect your vehicle. A pro will catch anything you may miss-and spare you the headaches of buying a lemon. Plus, you’ll have more power at the negotiating table when a professional mechanic inspects your vehicle and lists the problems that need attention.
Let Vancouver Axle and Frame perform your vehicle inspection for you. We are an ICBC Designated Inspection Facility. Contact us today to schedule your inspection or call today to set up your inspection appointment at (604) 882-5113
Looking to buy your first semi truck and can’t afford to buy new? Hoping to expand your fleet on a budget? Although buying a used heavy-duty truck can be an attractive option, it is also a gamble if you’re not sure what to look for. If hidden problems cause a catastrophic failure, you could be taken off the road and even out of business. Here’s our road map of the steps to take to end up with a good buy, the specs you want, and a reliable, mechanically sound heavy-duty truck that will serve you for years to come.
The used heavy-duty truck market is vast and a bit overwhelming. You might start your research from your laptop and look online for used commercial trucks. Consider getting started on the website Commercial Truck Trader to see what’s on the market and get average prices for the makes and models of truck that interest you.
With research, you’ll soon learn which brands perform well over time and which brands offer lower overall reliability. The latter, often called throwaway trucks, are cheaply made, not built to last, and seem to make it to the scrap yards all too soon.
How to spot a lemon truck. Do you see tons of listings for the same make and model at too-good-to-be true prices? Run. This tends to be the pattern for lemons. Don’t buy someone else’s problems.
Visit online trucking forums. Forums can be an excellent source of unbiased information and anecdotal research from those who’ve driven and possibly even worked on the heavy-duty trucks that interest you. Some forums even include used truck listings.
Downtime and repairs are costly. If you want a reliable, functional, mechanically sound heavy-duty truck, you don’t necessarily need to opt for the top-of-the-line brands, which will cost more to maintain (the assumption being deep pockets). You will pay more for parts made exclusively for certain brands simply because of their name being stamped on them.
When choosing your brand of truck, plan for what you’ll do if you break down in the middle of nowhere. The last thing you want is to get stranded because you can’t get a small, but vital, part for it. This is sometimes the case with more obscure brands of truck. Make sure that you can easily get parts for the truck–and from at least two separate suppliers to avoid being left in the lurch.
Make sure you can live with the specs on the used heavy-duty truck you buy. A few guidelines:
Engine. This major component alone justifies the importance of getting maintenance records (more on that below). An unexpected engine failure could put you out of business if you’re operating with little in reserves.
Learn about the specific engine of the truck you’re considering. Research the types of problems this engine has had and at what age the problems occurred. How often was the oil changed? What kind of oil was used? Who changed the oil?
Transmission. Another big-ticket component: research for transmission problems among the trucks you may buy.
Consider, too, whether you want a manual versus automatic transmission. Depending on what you’re used to, you might want the convenience of automatic. A veteran truck driver might insist on driving a manual.
Driveline. Check the truck’s axle configuration and transportation regulations for your area. Be sure to buy the right axle configuration (4×2, 4×4, 6×4, etc.) for what you’ll be carrying.
If you’re towing equipment, you won’t need as much power as if you haul 40-ton trailers long distance regularly. RitchieSpecs is a good source for this type of information.
Fuel economy. Many specs can improve fuel economy, from engine size to cab size, fixed fifth wheels that minimize trailer gap, horizontal exhaust, fuel-efficient tires, and idle reduction technology, just to name a few.
Mileage. The total number of miles on a truck’s odometer is one of several indicators of wear and tear and, although not a guarantee, looking at total miles driven can help you rate the condition of the engine, transmission, and drivetrain.
Unlike passenger cars, a big rig can run for hundreds of thousands of miles when properly maintained. This is where service records come in. If you’re buying a truck that you learn was used for OTR applications, mileage may not factor in as much as the overall condition of the truck, which may be mint, a late model year, with a verifiable history of impeccable preventative maintenance.
Sleeper size. If you do mostly long-distance hauls, you’ll actually do your fair share of living in the truck. Like other long-term relationships in life, you can’t afford to get this one wrong, so be sure you can live with the sleeper size.
Type of freight and geography of hauls. What types of trips will you make? Will you do long-distance hauls of heavy goods over rough or hilly terrain? Deliver goods within a mostly urban area? You’ll need a truck with the right amount of horsepower and correct axle configuration. An under-powered truck can be costly, so know before you begin to shop
What major parts were replaced? Does it have a new transmission? Were the oil and fluids changed regularly? Who did the maintenance? Although not a guarantee when you buy a used heavy-duty truck, maintenance records will tell you about quite a lot about a truck’s history and how it was (or wasn’t) looked after. If you know that the truck has certain original parts, you can budget for their repair or replacement in the future (e.g., transmissions and rear ends).
Not every truck buyer has the good fortune to personally know the original owner but, if you do, you’ll reduce your risk since you’ll get the full history of the rig and maintenance records and learn about any accidents or any major work that was done.
If you have no maintenance records whatever on the truck, run a vehicle history check. Make sure the records are legitimate, with the VIN matching the vehicle. Check the history of repair work to make sure there are no recurring patterns of breakdowns that could signal a more expensive problem. RigDig.com gives you ownership history, insurance claims, accidents, mileage history, and more.
Don’t sign anything or put any money down until you call your agent and get a quote. You don’t want any surprises with quotes that are less affordable than you thought.
Although you’ll probably pay more for a heavy-duty truck buying from a local dealer than you would when dealing with a private owner, you tend to have more recourse buying from a dealer with a reputation to protect.
You can probably finance the truck. Note that some finance companies can be particular about what trucks they will finance. Depending on your jurisdiction, most will not finance a truck that has not passed a DOT inspection.
You may get a short warranty if something breaks soon after you buy. Some dealers offer a 50/50 warranty, which is better than none at all. Just know you’d still be on the hook for half the cost of a repair (an engine overhaul would still cost a bundle, but would be less of a hit).
Some dealers offer an extended warranty. Beware: these can be prohibitively expensive. Read the fine print–some warranties may not offer enough coverage on major parts to be worth their cost.
When you buy directly from a fleet company which is upgrading to more current models, you may be able to speak directly to the person who drove the truck. Now you have access to the history of the truck from an unbiased third party.
Is the fleet updating with the same make and spec of truck that they’re selling with just newer models? If so, that is generally good news for you, since the vehicles they’re selling have probably been reliable.
However, some company drivers don’t treat their trucks with the care that an owner operator would, just as not all owner operators maintain a truck with the diligence you might expect from them, either.
Get a trustworthy, qualified mechanic who specializes in heavy-duty trucks to inspect yours before you make the deal. A bumper to mud flap inspection should only be done by a trustworthy third party garage, not the selling dealer. The truck mechanic can write down any problems found during inspection of the major systems of the truck, which you can take back to the seller and negotiate a deal.