Tips for Purchasing a Used Truck

Lightbulb next to wooden letter blocks scattered on a wooden table with center letters spelling the word "TIPS"

When you are considering purchasing a used truck, it’s best to have a game plan. If you just walk into a dealership’s lot because you see the words “used trucks for sale” and dive in headfirst, you may be asking for trouble (depending on the lot, of course). However, with just a little bit of research, you can get a better deal, and more importantly, drive away knowing that you made a good decision.

First, do some research on the businesses in your area that have used trucks for sale. Read some reviews, and find a business to shop at that other locals seem to trust. When you have a few places picked out, set some ground rules for yourself about how you are going to approach the potential purchase.

Most importantly, don’t allow the sales representative to make you feel rushed into the purchase. Tell the dealer that you will need an hour or so with the truck. If you are being rushed, just leave, and take your business elsewhere. If the sales rep has to resort to using scare tactics to get you to rush into a bad decision, move on. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

Know how much money you are willing to spend going in. Figure out what you can afford, and don’t go over that amount. A used car dealer is likely to try to get you to spend exactly your budget or even more; so the salesperson will most likely ask you about your budget right away. It may be a good idea to lowball the dealer so that when they try to suggest something that is slightly over your stated budget, you are still under your actual budget amount.

Make a 12-point inspection checklist to make sure you are not getting sold a lemon, and check off the list when you find a truck you are interested in. You don’t have to know a ton about cars to make yourself seem like you know a ton about cars. If you go into a sale with the intention of performing a thorough inspection on a vehicle before considering a purchase, you are far less likely to be taken advantage of.

Ask to see a Carfax report. Not every dealership will have the proper paperwork for the history of the vehicle in question, but most reputable businesses will.


12-point Inspection Checklist

Make sure that you have good daylight and level ground before starting the inspection. Scratches, dings, dents, and other defects are hard to see in a lot that is not well lit. Fluid level checks will not be accurate if you are on an uneven surface.

Check the body paneling thoroughly to make sure all the pieces fit together evenly. If you find areas that are uneven or strangely connected, it could be a sign of serious body damage from a previous accident. Glide your hands around the bottom of the paneling and doors to check for signs of rust.

Check for raised spots on the roof of the vehicle. If you see them, that means there is probably rust underneath. If you see these raised spots on the roof, you might want to look elsewhere on the vehicle, as well—or ask the dealership to look into the issue before moving forward.

Inspect the inner sides of each tire for fluid leakage. If there is brake fluid or other grease buildups on the inside of the tires, it is probably due to a leak that needs to be looked into before you consider purchasing the vehicle. You should also check the tread of the tires to make sure they still have plenty of life in them. There’s nothing worse than investing in a new ride and then having to replace the tires right away. There is no reason why the dealership or private seller shouldn’t make sure that all of their automobiles, used trucks for sale included, are fitted with proper tires.

Pop the hood, and check the fluids. The coolant should be greenish in color. If it’s not, the truck may be prone to overheating. Inspect the air filter and the engine surface for excessive dirt and grime. Some buildup is to be expected, but a filthy air filter and engine is a good sign that the vehicle was not well maintained by its previous owner or by the dealership itself. Check for recent engine work as well, like shiny new parts on an old looking engine, or look for the edges of new gaskets. Most vehicles should not need any engine work done within the first 70k to 80k miles. Last but not least, smell the transmission dipstick. If it smells like burnt cork, you do not want this vehicle. This is a sign of serious transmission issues that you don’t want any part of.

Crank up the engine, and listen closely for thuds or knocks. If you hear them, the vehicle most likely has a bad crankshaft or connecting-rod bearing. Repairing the engine of any vehicle is incredibly costly, and purchasing a vehicle that will most likely need major engine repair is simply a bad investment.

Set the truck to fast idle. If you can’t get the truck to fast idle, have the engine checked by a mechanic before moving forward with the purchase. After the truck comes off of fast idle, put on the emergency brake and check to make sure that it doesn’t slip. Throw it in park, and let it idle some more. Cover the tailpipe with a wadded-up rag. If you don’t feel any pressure while holding the rag in place, you probably have a leaky exhaust. Put the truck into drive, keeping your foot on the brakes, and check how it idles.

Check all the switches and functions of the car. Check all interior and exterior lights as well as all electronic functions, such as windows, seat adjustments, air conditioning, heat, radio, and everything else you can find. Make sure that everything is functioning as designed.

Open the trunk, and inspect underneath the mat for signs of rust. A small amount of rust is to be expected, even on newer cars, but major signs of corrosion means that the vehicle has been exposed to the weather to its detriment, and fixing it may be more trouble than it’s worth.

Drive the truck for 10 to 15 miles, then shut off the engine and allow it to cool before restarting. If the engine has trouble starting back up or hesitates before taking charge, have a mechanic check the engine before you make a purchase. Once you’ve got it started back up, take the truck on the highway, and then accelerate slowly. Listen to the transmission as you accelerate for smoothness as it shifts between speeds. If the engine sounds jerky or rattles as you accelerate, that’s a red flag.

When the road is clear, slam on your brakes. You need to know that the brakes will perform when you need them to. If you can find a gravel road or a bumpy road, try it out to test the shocks. If you can’t find one, bounce the truck’s front end by pumping the brakes. If it bounces more than three times, the shocks need to be replaced.

If the odometer shows that the truck has been driven fewer than 40,000 miles, check for signs that the odometer has been tampered with. If the brake pedal edges are worn down to a nub, that’s a good sign that there are more miles on the vehicle than the odometer is displaying. Look for other signs of wear and tear on the vehicle. If it seems like the odometer has been tampered with, move on to another dealership. If they are willing to deceive you about the miles on the vehicle, there’s probably more that they are hiding, and they aren’t a trustworthy business partner.

There are plenty of ways to make sure that you are not getting duped when you are buying a used track, even if you don’t know the first thing about trucks. The most important thing you can do is go to a business with a good reputation.

At McCluskey Auto in Cincinnati, Ohio, we pride ourselves on providing honest service and thoroughly check each vehicle’s history and hardware before we put a “for sale” sign on it. If you are in the Cincinnati area and are searching for used trucks for sale, come to McCluskey Auto. Even if you have bad credit, we’ll get you in a vehicle that fits your needs and budget.