How to Buy the Best Used Truck

Important Things to Consider Before You Buy a Used Truck

Man putting up 'for sale' sign in car, view through window
Dimitri Otis / Getty Images

Are you looking for a used truck? You'll find a little of everything out there, from rundown trucks suitable to haul trash to feature-rich trucks comfortable enough to use as daily drivers. It's a given that you'll ask the current owner as many questions about the truck's performance and upkeep as possible, and make sure that all of its systems are working correctly, but there are a few things that shoppers often neglect.

Don't Forget to Look Underneath the Truck...

If you know what to look for underneath, take the truck where it can be raised in the air for a complete inspection. Some shops will do this for you at no charge or for a small fee.

  • Look for leaks and damage (or repairs to previous damage).
  • Check the brakes, drive shaft, U-joints, and steering components.
  • Surface rust on the frame, axles, and springs are common, but if you can poke a hole through the metal at any point, or the metal has become weak and brittle, you're dealing with structural rust -- move on to another truck.

If you aren't sure what to look for underneath, pay someone to inspect the truck. An experienced technician can give you a realistic idea of what needs to repair and how much it will cost (or save you thousands of dollars by discovering problems you don't want to tackle).

Don't Let the Shiny Stuff Distract You...

A truck's flashy wheels, chrome add-ons, a lift kit or a high dollar stereo might be among the first things you notice about it, but ignore those features until you know what's underneath the trim.

  • That new paint might look great, but what was the motivation behind the job? Was the original surface dull, with a few scratches, or is the new paint hiding rust and body work?
  • If it looks like the truck has been driven off-road, how hard was it used? A large percentage of trucks equipped for off-roading never leave the pavement, but the ones that do are often well-worn underneath.

Don't Buy More Truck than You Want or Need...

I've seen too many people buy a truck on impulse, based on features they think they must have, rather than from a true evaluation of their needs. Making payments on a truck that's too large or too small gets old real fast.

Make a list to identify your wants and needs.

  • Is fuel mileage important, or are you willing to trade good fuel mileage for a larger engine with more power to tow and haul?
  • Do you need a truck for occasional trips to the home improvement store or to the dump? A small truck with decent fuel economy might be the best choice.
  • Is a 4WD truck a must for the roads you travel every day, or for snowy conditions in the winter?
  • Do you regularly carry more than one passenger? Jump seats in a small second row are not suitable for more than short trips.
  • Are you okay with either an automatic or manual transmission? Which accessories and/or safety features are must-haves? Jot down any characteristic that's important to you and take it along when you shop.

Run a CARFAX Report...

  • A clean report from CARFAX doesn't guarantee that the truck is problem-free, but the reports often reveal important issues.

Once You Buy a Truck, Stop Looking ...

Don't second guess yourself with the what-ifs. If you've done your homework, shopped around and made a careful decision, enjoy your truck and don't worry about the trucks that "got away."