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How To Buy A Used Semi Truck

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How To Buy A Used Semi Truck

A First Timer’s Guide to Purchasing A Pre-Owned Heavy Duty Truck

Purchasing a used semi truck may be the most expensive purchase you make behind purchasing a home, and in some cases buying a used truck maybe more expensive.

This short guide will walk you through the process, so you can find a reliable and profitable used semi-truck.

Advantages of Buying a Used Semi Truck Vs New

  1. Go To Work Today – If you order a new rig today, you could be waiting, waiting and waiting.
  2. Lower Purchase Price – Currently in 2023 there isn’t a huge gap between purchasing new compared to a late model pre-owned truck. However, this will be short lived. Due to added equipment for new emission requirements, new upcoming models could see increases of $20,000 or more.
  3. Reduced Insurance, Taxes and Registration – Over time the savings will be substantial.
  4. Less Depreciation – If and when you decide to sell, you will find that a used truck will lose its value less over time than a brand new semi truck.
  5. More Features For Your Money – While upgrades can cost you an arm and a leg when buying new, they don’t translate in the pre-owned marketplace. Drivers get more bang for their buck buying pre-owned semi trucks.

Where To Begin When Considering Buying Your First Semi?

Start with The Math

Whether you are planning on long hauls, short hauls, or construction, do the math. Make sure what you are hauling is going to be profitable.

The switch from a driver to an owner operator is challenging. In Canada 55% of Owner Operators fail in the first 18 months. In the US that number is considerably higher.

When It Comes To Spec’ing Your New Rig – Talk To A Knowledgeable Salesperson

Some specifications are easier to identify than others. Items such as: length of truck, engine horsepower, suspension, frame length, transmission speeds, front and rear axle weights, manual vs automatic, fuel economy, and cab size are obvious. Others are not.

We recommend you talk to a knowledgeable new or used semi-truck salesperson to help ensure your used semi has the right specifications.

10 questions you should be able to answer when talking to sales

  1. What application do you plan to use for the class 8 truck?
  2. What type of freight are you hauling?
  3. How many pounds is your typical load?
  4. How many miles will you put on your truck each year?
  5. What type of terrain will you be running in?
  6. How many drivers will be using the truck?
  7. What features are a must have?
  8. What types of maintenance and service shops are close to you?
  9. What are the three must have spec’s?
  10. What traffic lanes you are in? (ie, coast to coast, local, intrastate)

Setting a Spending limit

Once you have determined your needs and the specifications for your rig, it is now time to create a forecast on how much to spend.

Besides the cost of the truck take into consideration things such as:

  • Initial Cost to Go To Work
  • Repair and Maintenance Costs
  • Insurance
  • Taxes and Fees

Line Up Financing

With a budget in place, try to secure financing prior to buying.


  • Interest rates are on the rise. With increased interest rates comes a tougher standard to qualify for a loan.
  • Don’t Miss Out – There is nothing worse than finding the truck you need within your budget only to lose it because you can’t qualify for a loan or you can’t get your application pushed through quick enough.

Here are several questions to ask when applying for used truck loan

  • What is the process?
  • What is the current interest rate?
  • How long does it take to get approval?
  • What does a first time buyer need to qualify?
  • How much down will I need to purchase the used truck?

Here is a list of items needed to fund your truck loan

  • Down payment
  • Copy of title
  • Invoice including unit’s VIN and purchase price
  • Insurance quote
  • Make sure your operating authority is in place

Finding the Right Used Big Rig

You know your application, you have the proper specifications, a reasonable spending limit is in place and you have begun the finance process, it’s time to find the perfect truck.

Where do you find preowned semi trucks?

A Private Party Purchase

A private party purchase is an excellent way for an owner operator to find a quality used truck.


Advantages of buying from A Private Party
  • Owner contact – You can talk to the owner directly about the vehicle.
    • Pro Tip – Dirty trucks, missing records, may give you a hint on how the previous owner treated the truck.
  • Pricing is cheaper than a dealership.
  • Maintenance records should be readily available.
Disadvantages of a private party purchase
  • Once you exchange money and paperwork, you are on your own.
  • May be hard to find financing.
  • Buying used trucks sight unseen from a private party can be risky and complicated.
  • Less stringent safety standards compared to buying a semi truck from a dealer.
Things to Consider, Questions to ask when buying used trucks From a Private Party
  • Maintenance records are great, but for your own peace of mind get a 3rd party inspection.
  • If they are not the original owner, what do they know about the previous owner(s)?
  • Make sure any warranties are transferable.
  • Fraud and scams are rampant in the private party marketplace, buyer beware.
    • Pro Tip: While not quite as sophisticated as CARFAX, you can find out some information on the truck you are going to purchase from a company called RigDig.
Where’s The Best Place To Find A Private Party Truck?

Print Magazines

Believe it or not printed magazines still exist, the most popular being Truck Paper. You can find Truck Paper Magazine at truck stops or have it mailed to you weekly.


Most people today find private party trucks for sale online, where they can see 1,000s of vehicles across the state, across the country, across the world.

Top online Sites

While you can find thousands of used trucks for sale on the internet, there are a few big players who dominate the used semi trucks space.

Truckpaper.com is not going to win any awards for design and layout. But, if you are searching for private party trucks, TruckPaper.com is the leader.

Other popular sites for finding and buying private party include: Craigslist, Commercial Truck Trader, Facebook Market Place and Iron Planet.

Buying a Used Semi at an Auction

Once held in muddy fields, reserved for wholesalers and large companies, auctions have become mainstream and are a viable place to buy trucks. With the help of Ritchie Bros., in person and online auctions have become fashionable. You can even buy a new truck at an auction.

With that said, if you are new to the trucking business, we strongly recommend that you think twice about buying from an auction. Buying used trucks at an auction offers too much risk compared to the reward.

Advantages of Purchasing from An Auction
  • You could save thousands of dollars compared to purchasing retail.
  • Finding the Hard To Find – Auctions can be beneficial in your search for older models or used semis with unusual specs.
  • Inventory – The large auctions are a great place to find most of the major brands in one location.
  • You Call The Shots – You decide what is a good deal.
  • Many auctions now offer aftermarket warranties.
Things to consider when buying from An Auction
  • You Could Pay More Than the Vehicle is Worth – Auctions are competitive and buyers often time get caught up in winning the bid and spend more than the vehicle is worth.
  • Ending Up With The Wrong Specs – It’s much easier, especially online to bid and purchase a semi that does not have the specs to meet your needs.
  • You cannot take the vehicle off-site for a thorough inspection.
  • Unforeseen Repairs – These aren’t new trucks, unforeseen repairs maintenance is the #1 reason we don’t recommend auctions for first time buyers.
  • Yes, you can purchase an after market warranty at many auction houses, but there are limits, and you have downtime to consider.
    • Pro Tip: Fees and Transportation Costs – Don’t get caught off guard. Fees and transportation costs need to be included before you buy used at the auction.


Buying Used From A New Truck Dealer

Most manufacturer dealerships have used trucks in inventory. A new truck dealership can be an excellent place to find a late model used truck.

Keep in mind, however, their objective is to sell new trucks.

Benefits of buying a used truck from new truck dealer
  • If they specialize in Peterbilt’s and you are in search of a Peterbilt, you have a subject matter expert on hand.
  • Dealerships refurbish and repair their inventory when they purchase it. They hire professional auto repair or mobile semi truck repair technicians to make sure that the vehicles are in pristine condition.
  • Dealers can be picky about the trucks mileage, engine, transmission and other key specs. They keep what they want and wholesale or send unwanted inventory to auction.
  • They should have plenty of warranty options.
  • You may get a bargain. Dealers are experts at putting a value on equipment they know. Sometimes they have an unfamiliar make or model in inventory and they will sell it below market value to move it quickly. Other times, they don’t know the resale value and sell it for less than it is worth.
  • You can take a test drive
Buying From A Reputable Used Truck Dealership

A reputable used truck dealership is an excellent option for anyone, but especially for a first time buyer.

A smart used truck salesperson doesn’t want to sell you one used truck, they want a customer for a lifetime.

Benefits of buying from a Used Dealership
  • A good used dealership will show you what repairs and refurbishment they have completed.
  • Used dealerships are versed in several makes and models.
  • Most dealerships offer an after market warranty.
  • Many are experts on selling sight unseen.
  • You can take a test drive or ask for a 3rd party inspection.
  • Used dealers will have a variety of price points to choose from. Not everyone needs a low mileage late model truck.
Finding The Perfect Truck

Buying a semi truck isn’t rocket science, but it does require patience, research and discipline. Doing your research today will save you money now and will help you prevent unwanted and untimely mishaps in the future.

While owning a big rig may be your passion, at the end of the day, it’s a business.

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