Buying a Used Truck from a Private Seller: What to Look For, and Why

March 30th, 2016 by

2016 Ram 1500

2016 Ram 1500

There are plenty of used trucks out there to choose from, and if you know what to look for, you won’t get stuck with a one-year beater. Especially if you buy one of the used Dodge Ram trucks for sale . Not only are these trucks everywhere, but they are also some of the most reliable used ones floating around. Even so, the if the previous owner neglected or overworked it, he or she could have damaged it or worn it down too much; and the last thing you want is a truck that’s been abused like that. After all, these trucks aren’t immortal.

Here are some thing to look for when buying a used truck, which is a lot different than buying a used car.

Why It’s Different

While you should always thoroughly inspect every used vehicle you plan to purchase, it’s important to probe even deeper when inspecting a used truck. Why? Used trucks have different purposes than used cars. Sure, a good chunk of them have never even touched a back road, but as a whole, trucks have been and always will be meant to handle rugged situations.

That means another sizable chunk of them have been used off-roading or as work vehicles. Whether it was used for work or play, these are much more high-stress environments than just driving around a city, and they come out battered because of it.

Therefore, it’s important to not only differentiate between a working truck and a street truck, but to also understand that a working truck will demonstrate more signs of wear.

Check for Rust


Let’s focus on why checking for rust is a more crucial task on a truck than a car. As an example, let’s talk about a truck that has lived a farming life, and one that might have plowed a lot of snow storms over the years.

More than likely, a truck that’s been used as a farm vehicle has spent the majority of it’s life in wet soil. While this is a noble pursuit for a truck, too much time in wet conditions is bad for it. If the truck never leaves the farm, then the wet soil and humidity are going to take a toll on the underside of the truck, because it never has a chance to dry out. Although the truck might look good on the outside, it could be practically falling apart from rust-rot underneath.

If a truck was used to plow snow, you need to take salt into consideration. The only thing worse than water when it comes to turning a truck into a rust bucket is the salt on the roads during and after a winter storm. If the undercarriage isn’t properly cleaned, then it will develop some serious rust problems.

It’s also important to know that even if you live in a tropical climate where salt isn’t needed, the truck could be from a place where salt has been used all winter. Always ask questions about where the truck came from, and always make sure to check for rust.

Look for Signs of Heavy Towing


There are a couple of other things to check for that are unique when it comes to used trucks. The first – and most important – is to check for any signs of heavy towing. If the truck was used to tow heavy objects, such as a horse or equipment trailer, that puts a lot of added wear on the engine, transmission, and some mechanical parts of the truck. For you, this could mean unavoidable problems in the future.

First, it opens up the engine and transmission to a host of problems — especially if it was being used a lot, but not properly cared for afterwards. Second, it most likely shortens the time you will own this tow-truck, compared to one you might have bought that was just a daily driver. Let me explain: if you paid $3,000 for the truck and the transmission goes, it’s likely that a rebuilt transmission will cost close to the same amount you paid for the truck. Therefore, it’s easier and more financially advantageous to just buy another used truck.

If most of the wear and tear happens under the hood, how can you tell if the truck was used for heavy towing? While the engine and transmission would need to be inspected by a mechanic to reveal any stress experienced while towing, there are a few tell-tale signs…

The first is checking the trailer-hitch. In case you don’t know, the trailer-hitch is the ball that sticks out of the back, and is what the trailer hooks onto. Check and see if this is worn. If there are scrapes, scuffs, or if the base it sits on has an impression of where the lip of the trailer sat, then it has been used for towing a lot.

A couple of other obvious signs are a trailer wire and a bent-in rear license plate. If the truck did so much towing the license plate has become bent because of it, then the majority of miles the owner put on this truck was with a trailer attached. If avoiding it is an option, it’s best to do that. Or, have it inspected by a mechanic before you decide to buy.

Look for Signs of Heavy Off-Road Use

Another thing to be wary of is heavy off-road use. This puts a whole different kind of wear and tear on the vehicle, and the signs are far more obvious. First, ask the owner how much off-road use this truck has experienced. Then, you’ll want to start by checking the underside (and sides) of the vehicles for any scrapes, dings, or bent parts. Not only is this bad for the truck, but it’s also a sign it was used for off-roading.

Next, make sure to check the tires. Inspect the amount of wear and tear, and if they are big off-road tires, you can bet they were worn-in on a trail.

Finally, it’s time to check the suspension. Push up and down on the front end and see how it feels. If it’s loose or you hear any funny noises, just walk away. It will cost you a pretty penny to fix a truck like that, especially one with a suspension oriented towards off-roading. Or, take it for a test drive and hit a bump or two. Don’t speed over it, but still apply enough power so you can see and hear how the suspension reacts to a decent size bump.

The last thing you want to hear is a clang or feel the truck barely bounce back from the bump. If that’s the case, this truck has a pretty worn suspension. You don’t even need a mechanic to tell you this truck is a no-go, and it’s best to just avoid it if you notice any suspension or handling problems.

Work or Play, Get it Inspected

Whether this truck was used for working or playing in the woods, you need to ask thorough questions about its history.

I’ll say it again: if you are unsure, get it inspected by a trusted mechanic, who will be able to diagnose any issues and advise you on your potential purchase.

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