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6 Tips For Buying a Used Semi Truck

February 13, 2024

Whether you are setting out on your own as an owner-operator or want to build up the fleet of your existing business, buying a semi truck is a huge financial commitment. A new semi truck could cost $150,000 or more. If you want to keep your costs down, buying a used semi truck is the way to go!

However, before you start shopping auction sites and for-sale pages, you need to learn what to look for when buying a used semi truck. On that note, join us as we explore how to buy a semi truck that’s used without taking on undue risks. We’ll also discuss the best used semi trucks to buy, where to find them, and some key factors you need to consider before opening your checkbook. 

Should I Buy a Semi Truck?

Buying a semi truck is a great way for commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders to strike out independently. As a semi truck owner, you’ll be free to choose your own loads, negotiate rates, and increase your earning potential. Over time, you can obtain multiple trucks and hire your own drivers. 

Whether you are about to purchase your first truck or have already acquired a few, going the used route is a great way to save money and mitigate risks. Buying a used semi truck can help you limit how much debt you take on when launching your new business venture, meaning you’ll have more flexibility to purchase things like trailers, equipment, and insurance. 

Buying a Used Semi Truck: Common Questions

Buying a used semi truck can be beneficial and exciting. However, there are some questions you need to consider first, including the following:

What’s a Good Mileage for a Used Semi Truck?

When buying a used semi truck, the first thing you need to consider is the mileage. Typically, the higher the mileage, the lower the price. However, you shouldn’t focus on just getting the lowest price possible. Instead, prioritize opportunities that deliver the most value. Paying pennies on the dollar for a truck won’t do much good if it’s constantly in the shop. 

Generally speaking, you should focus on trucks that have between 200,000 and 500,000 miles. If you want a truck that will need minimal upfront repairs but also costs more, stay on the lower end of that spectrum. Conversely, if you don’t mind turning a wrench to save a few bucks, look at trucks in the 400,000-500,000 mile range. 

How Much Is a Used Semi Truck?

Older semi trucks may cost as little as $15,000-$20,000. Late model used semi trucks with lower mileage may cost upwards of $60,000-$70,000. Again, the trick is to balance your budget with other priorities, such as age and mileage requirements.

Many factors impact the price of a used semi truck, including the following:

    • Make and model
    • Engine and transmission type
    • Features (i.e., day cab versus sleeper cab)
    • Upgrades (chrome, lighting, safety features)
    • Age
    • Mileage
    • Condition

 

Two trucks that are the same age with approximately the same mileage may vary significantly in price based on these other variables. The most reputable brands tend to hold their value better than lesser-known makes and models. 

For instance, a used Freightliner will typically cost more than a lesser-known brand, assuming all other variables are equal. However, buying a used Freightliner can be advantageous, as the brand has a vast market share, which makes sourcing parts and getting repairs relatively easy. 

What’s the Best Used Semi Truck to Buy?

When buying a used semi truck, there isn’t any single “best” option. You need to consider a wide range of factors that will impact your return on investment (ROI), including the initial purchase price, the remaining service life of the vehicle, how much first-year maintenance and repairs will cost, and how well the vehicle suits your needs. 

For instance, let’s say you see two different used semi trucks at auction. The lower mileage option is $15,000 more expensive, but it is a brand you trust and appears to be in better overall condition. The other truck is a decent brand, but it needs some immediate attention to make it road-ready. 

If you go with the cheaper option, you may end up paying well over $15,000 in repairs and lost opportunities due to downtime in the first year. In that scenario, the cheaper truck would actually cost your business more to operate. 

6 Tips on Buying a Used Semi Truck

Ready to start your search for a used semi truck? If so, here are six simple tips to help you land a great deal on a reliable truck.

     1. Use a Reputable Auction Site

First, you’ll need to find a reputable auction site like Purple Wave. As a nationwide auction site, Purple Wave offers a massive selection of used semi trucks and equipment. Our site also prioritizes transparency, providing the seller’s information on every auction listing. Most importantly, we don’t have holdback prices, meaning you’ll get the truck you want as long as you’ve got the highest bid. 

Choosing a reputable auction site is the best way to protect your investment. When bidding on and paying for used semi trucks, you can enjoy peace of mind. While for sale by owner (FSBO) and other purchasing options are not necessarily bad, many of these channels don’t offer the same levels of protection as a reputable auction site. 

     2. Consider Your Intended Usage

Are you planning on running day-trip loads, or do you want to hit the road to maximize your earning potential? That’s a huge consideration when buying a used semi truck. Naturally, day cabs are cheaper as they have less equipment and amenities. However, over-the-road (OTR) trucking may offer more opportunities, especially if you live in an area that doesn’t have great local load options. 

You should also consider what type of freight you are planning to haul. For instance, purchasing a truck and trailer combination might be cheaper than buying them separately if you want to haul refrigerated cargo. That’s not always the case, though, so make sure to explore multiple purchasing options each time you buy. 

     3. Choose a Semi Truck Brand You Trust

There is a ton of debate among truck drivers about which brand is the best. Some swear by Freightliner or Mack, while others would never buy anything but a Volvo. At the end of the day, it all comes down to personal preferences. Those brands are great options, as are Kenworth, Peterbilt, and International.

Prioritize the manufacturers you trust and look for the best deals. Choosing a semi truck brand you are familiar with is especially important if you plan on doing any of the repairs. You don’t want to be stuck learning about an unfamiliar model when you’re in a rush to get back on the road. 

     4. Make a List of Your Priorities

The more features a truck has, the more expensive it will be. Therefore, you need to make a list of your priorities. Some factors to consider before you start shopping include

    • Budget
    • Age
    • Make and model preferences
    • Transmission
    • Engine
    • Day cab or sleeper configuration

 

Once you’ve covered the essentials, you can move on to optional features like an automatic transmission, power locks and windows, heated seats, and cab size. While you might need a sleeper cab, you don’t have to have an oversized cab and heated seats. Amenities are nice, but it really boils down to engine power and reliability.

     5. Find Out if There Is a Warranty

If you are buying a used semi truck, it probably won’t have a warranty. However, there are exceptions. If you purchase a low mileage, late model truck, it may still have some warranty left. 

Spending a little more for a truck that is under warranty can help keep surprise expenses down during your first year or two of ownership. That said, there can be substantial price differences between used semi trucks that have warranties and those that don’t. 

     6. Review the Ownership History

Find out how many previous owners a truck has, what it was used for, and if it has been in any accidents. While multiple owners aren’t necessarily bad, it can indicate that the truck may not have been taken care of as well as it should have been. 

Checking the accident history is especially important. Semi trucks are huge machines, and the forces involved during a crash are significant. Seemingly minor impacts of a collision may negatively impact a truck's performance and life expectancy. Generally, you should avoid trucks that have been in a crash. 

Truck and Equipment Auctions From Purple Wave

The most crucial step when buying a used semi truck is finding a reputable auction site you can trust. At Purple Wave, we do business with transparency and have a nationwide presence, making it easy to find the trucks and equipment you need at prices that make sense for your budget. Explore Purple Wave auctions and place a bid on a quality used semi truck today.