Used Truck Judging 101

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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
miles on.

Used Truck Judging 101
Inspecting the truck, get help and a creeper
October, 2002


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!

  • Shake
    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.
  • You’ve
    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.
  • Newer trucks

    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

© Copyright
1999-2004 H. Kent Sundling and All rights reserved including digital rights.

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