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Used Truck Judging 101
H Kent Sundling alias MrTruck spent twenty years wearing out pickup trucks like only
a farmer-rancher could. With over 1,000,000 miles pulling trailers, MrTruck has
a unique collection of truck stories that will educate and entertain. MrTruck
gave up his bib overalls and John Deere’s, in his quest to save the farm and
(after the divorce) he moved to the big city, (Denver) to sell trucks. Now
almost 10 years later he is still helping folks buy the right one.
Get a good used truck and keep it a decade or two like this Chevy I put 300,000
Used Truck Judging 101
Inspecting the truck, get help and a creeper
Just like back in 4-H and
FFA, you want to learn how to separate the Grand Champion Bull from the bum
steer that someone is steering you toward when looking for your best-used truck!
This is the report that requires work. You are in charge. You’re the customer.
Find out the facts about the trucks that are important to you. Where I sold
trucks last, if the customer had doubts about the condition of a used truck, I
would drive it in the shop where there was room and get a creeper for the
customer to roll under the truck and look for oil leaks and old mud caked in the
frame from extreme off road use. Some used vehicles tour auctions from around
the country and come from the last hurricane, tornado or flood area. It’s a
smart thing to wonder about a truck that has sand and mud stuck to the starter
and where do you suppose the seaweed wrapped around the U-joint came from? When
I was an auto broker with AAA Auto Club, some of the members we helped buy
vehicles for, would bring along a mobile mechanic to check out a used vehicle.
That’s a good idea, or take the used truck that you’ve narrowed down, to a
trusted mechanic. The mechanic will have list of checks to know if the truck’s
drive train is sound along the engines computers and sensors. If you are an AAA
member, they have a great service to certify mechanics that you can trust. Now
get your creeper, flashlight, notepad and oil rag to have some fun on
test-drives. And take long test-drives. Forget the short route with only
right-hand turns that your salesperson was taught to take you on. It’s your
money, your time and your fun!
rattle and role. Does the truck vibrate excessively at idle? Does it shimmy at
highway speeds? Does it need just tire balancing or bigger parts? Oil slicks,
I thought the oil went INSIDE the engine. Is oil dripping from the
transmission, engine, differential, power steering, transfer case etc.? Are
those same components wet with oil? Any thing else leaking, gas, antifreeze,
brake fluid? Any smoke from the exhaust? Is it black, blue or white? Any holes
in the bed? Are they from toolboxes or a trailer hitch?
- Go on my
website and get the TSB (Technical Service Bulletin) on the truck you’re
looking at. It will show the recalls and what modifications are sent to dealer
service departments to fix known problems. Not all of it may pertain to your
- Do a
Carfax report on the truck. Some dealers are doing this now for you. You’ll
want to know if the truck has a clean title or salvage title. Also take the
VIN (Vehicle Identification Number usually on the left base of the windshield)
to a dealer for the brand of truck you are looking at and have the service
department check the history with the brands national database. Then you will
know if there are any open recalls or known problems. And they can tell you if
there is any remaining factory warranty left. Don’t assume if the truck has
less than 36,000 miles that there is warranty left. Some factory buy-back
lemons go to auction and back to a car lot with low miles and no warranty.
- Find out
the rear axle ratio. Most trucks will have the axle code in the driver
doorframe or in the inside of the glove box door. There is usually a tag on
one of the differential bolts with the ratio info on it, (another reason for
bringing your own creeper.) When in doubt get the service department to help
you decode it. 3.55 rear axle ratio will pull smaller trailers with a ½ ton.
3.73 is better for medium loads and 4.10 does best for your biggest loads.
3.73-axle ratio is the only way the GM Duramax diesel comes. With Ford you
have to go to a F350 dually to get the 4.10 option. Dodge diesels can have
3.55 or 4.10 in 2002 and older, 3.73 or 4.10 in the 2003 model.
- Look under
the surprisingly new bedliner to see what the bed floor really looks like. A
lot of the time the new bedliner is there to hide the holes from the hitch. I
don’t worry if a truck has a rear receiver hitch especially if it was part of
a factory tow package. But a hole or holes in the bed where a fifth wheel or
ball was attached might be a truck to avoid unless it’s exceptional in every
other way. There is no way of knowing how big a trailer was pulled with the
truck. Most of the folks I know, who pull trailers, usually pull a little too
heavy. If the truck pulled a trailer that was thousands of pounds over the
capacity, (like I would) it can strain the drive train and give you premature
transmission, clutch, U-joint and axle replacement.
- If you’re
looking at an automatic transmission, be sure to look for an external tranny
cooler. No I’m not talking about the lines that go through the radiator, but a
separate cooler in front of the radiator. If you are sure the truck didn’t
pull a trailer in a previous life, then you can ad an external tranny cooler
if the rest of the truck checks out.
- With 0%
interest on new trucks, like last fall and this summer and fall, more
trade-ins are flooding the used auto lots. Expect more selection and lower
prices on trucks this fall. The price you get for your trade-in will certainly
be lower. It works both ways; don’t forget to remind the salesperson of that.
been told this for years, but it’s still true. Sell your trade yourself for
the most money. And it’s easier to know where you are in the deal if you’re
just working with the numbers on one truck, not a truck and a trade-in.
- If the VIN
checks out and the service records show the truck is clean, bring your creeper
and roll underneath and look for abnormalities in the frame and look for
evidence of being used off-road a lot. You know, the caked in clay inside the
frame channel and bent steel brake lines and rusted shocks. Make sure the
differentials, transfer case, engine and transmission aren’t leaking. If you
have remaining factory warranty, what you find will be fixed, but if there are
a lot of things wrong it will cost you too much time. Check the gaskets around
the driver door, the threshold and the carpet to see if the wear matches the
miles on the odometer. Check the paint for over spray by the door hinges, hood
hinges and where the fenders meet the liner. Try each gear including reverse
with the brake on to see how fast it engages each gear and how much play,
(roll) it has. If it moves too much before you fill the axle move, you could
have wear in the pinion gear or u-joints. If you hear too much noise in the
tranny when you engage, then there is another problem. Once again if the truck
has factory warranty, all these things can be fixed and you have peace of
mind, I just don’t want to see you with chronic problems. The mechanic can
check how the tranny engages. And the normal stuff, seeing what comes out of
the exhaust, water, oil or carbon monoxide. Checkout the 4×4, if a shift on
the fly, engage the button or dial, put in 4×4 hi with the hubs in auto or
lock and do the circle to see if it hops. This is what you want. Then stop the
truck and put in 4×4 lo and drive slower in a circle. And if manual 4×4 do the
same with the floor lever and the hubs engaged. The mechanic will have list of
checks to know if the truck drive train is sound and checking computers and
sensors. Some trucks have solid hubs, so they are always on and you just
engage the transfer case with a lever or switch.
with diesels will have 5 year or 100,000 mile warranty from the factory when new, so as I
stated above, have the VIN checked with the same brand service department to
see if there is any warranty left. On a diesel it’s important to have the
mechanic check the radiator fluid and maybe have it tested for metal and oil.
And the other side, check the oil and see if any water in it. With diesels
it’s important the radiator fluid had a conditioner added at the right service
interval. If the radiator fluid gets bad it can pit the sleeves and water
jacket called cavitation.
- One way to
look at buying a truck new or used is your future needs. Find the salesperson
and dealership you trust and build a relationship. There are some good ones
out there. The month I got out of the business, my oldest son rolled his truck
and we had to go truck shopping. I had forgotten how hard it was. We started
out going dealer to dealer, reading the paper, looking on the Internet and I
just tagged along as dumb ole dad playing with my granddaughter. After my son
and daughter-in-law got tired of the search and after changing their mind
several times on which vehicle would work for them, they felt like most folks
car shopping, frustrated! I got on the cell phone and called one of the
veteran salespeople I bought from and trusted as an auto broker. I told him
what they wanted and then we went and picked it up. Of course I have the
advantage, knowing the dealer cost of vehicles and who to trust. But the point
I was trying to make to my kids was, you’re going to buy a lot of vehicles
over your lifetime. Find the salesperson and dealer you trust and build a
relationship and send them your friends. You still need to do price research
to keep everyone honest, and let me help you sort which truck is your
best choice, but in the same areas of the country used and especially new,
cost all the dealers very close to the same. I would think a positive
relationship with a salesperson and dealer you trust would take some of the
stress out of something you will do over and over again.
Used Truck Judging 101
1999-2004 H. Kent Sundling and MrTruck.net. All rights reserved including digital rights.
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