Becoming an Owner Operator
Purchasing a used big rig is a great way to jump into trucking entrepreneurship. There is money to be made in trucking, and successful owner operators can make more money than company drivers. There are advantages to buying used rather than new. Buying used can make your dream of owning your own business come true.
Buying a truck and taking your career to the next level can be a scary thought. What truck should I buy? Who do I buy from? Should I buy a new truck or used? Let’s take a look at a few things to consider when buying a used truck.
Why Purchase a Used Semi?
- Buying a used truck is more affordable, especially for the first-time owner-op
- New trucks depreciate the most in the first few years off the lot
- Your down payment on the lower cost used truck allows you to have more equity in your business
- Payments on financing your truck purchase will be your highest fixed cost. A lower payment or shorter financing term will help you run profitably.
What to Consider When Buying a Used Big Truck
What you will haul is the first thing to consider. You cannot custom spec a used truck, but you can look for a truck spec’d to the utility. Dry van requires a different truck than pulling triaxle or B trains.
Don’t get me wrong, it would be nice to roar down the open road, pulling an 80,000 lb gross weight dry van, with 550hp and a power train and rear-end to match. But you’re operating costs will sink your business. And if you take a dry van fleet truck and hook up to a max weight B train, you’ll wear out your power train and rear end, assuming you can even get out of the yard.
“You want to buy for what you’re planning to haul. Your truck is a business tool. And your business needs to maximize earnings.” Says John Cole, our Safety Manager and Driver Recruiter at Len Dubois Trucking. “Flashy chrome and a big motor will make you feel great. Your bottom line won’t feel too great.”
“A big thing to consider is the weight of the power unit if you’re pulling dry van, like what we do here at Len Dubois Trucking. You’ll want your unit to weigh 20,000lb or less. You need to be able to haul 45,000lb of freight, which is what a lot of shippers require.” He added.
Devon Palmer, Used Truck Sales Manager at Beaver Truck Sales says, “Think like a good tradesperson – the right tool for the job. For regular dry van, you should look at 455hp with a 2.47 ratio and direct drive transmission. If you’re planning to pull something that needs more muscle, like a B train or Turnpike, you’ll look at 500hp with a 3.42 ratio and an overdrive transmission. Of course, your needs can change with the topography. Mountain driving might change your requirements.”
Aerodynamics should play a big role in your purchase decision. There is a lot of science in how the air flows around the truck and how to reduce resistance and save fuel. “Look for the aerodyne models. Every major manufacturer has them. They’re much better on fuel. The simple math is this, every mile per gallon added is at least $1,000 per month straight to your bottom line. If you have the right truck and good driving habits, you will save a lot of fuel.” John advised. “If you can add closer to 2 miles per gallon, you’re getting close to your average truck payment. That’s huge.”
Consider the age of the truck. Trucking companies are looking for newer equipment and will have their own rules when it comes to owner operators. A common way of thinking is a maximum 10-year life cycle for an over the road truck. Maintenance costs increase, and reliability decreases as the truck turns more miles.
“We can’t have trucks breaking down frequently,” John says. “Reliability is a big concern for us with older trucks. We can’t miss a pick-up or delivery time because trucks are constantly broken down on the road. And we don’t want owner operators to fail because maintenance and repair costs are through the roof.”
Who to Buy From
Where you buy your truck is just as important. You can buy from an owner-op who is selling their truck. It is a great option if you know the person and you know they have kept it in good condition.
“Buying a used truck from a reputable company fleet is a great option,” John said. “Company trucks are spec’d to make money. Our company fleet is made up of long-legged highway units spec’d for dry van – 450’s aerodynamic Volvo’s.” John said. “Good companies keep their fleets in good condition. You have to if you want to be profitable. And because the trucks are usually single owner trucks, you’ll have the complete history and maintenance records.”
Another great option is buying from a reputable dealer. Factory dealers often offer aftermarket warranties and have financing options.
“The nice thing here is our used trucks are reconditioned. We’re able to go through the truck in the shop and fix up cabinet doors, paint frame rails if it’s needed and things like that. We’re also able to fill in some missing repair history information about Volvo brand trucks through the records we have access to.” Devon says.
Like any big purchase, you want to know you’re getting a quality vehicle. Look for a unit that you know has been well maintained and is in good condition. You want the vehicle history. Most importantly, you want the maintenance records to ensure the previous owner did not try to save money by neglecting regular maintenance. Both John and Devon have one more piece of advice.
“Get an oil sample. Testing the truck’s oil will tell you a lot about what’s happening in the motor. It’s well worth the relatively small cost.” John says.
“Keep up with preventative maintenance (PM) once you purchase your truck. I’ve worked on trucks. If you maintain them, they’ll be good to you. I know a lot of owner ops, some successful, some not. The successful ones, the ones who make money, keep up with the recommended PM schedule.” Devon advises.