Ask A Pro: What To Look For When Buying A Used Truck

When it comes to buying a used truck the process can quickly become overwhelming, especially for first time used truck buyers. Buying a used truck means not only knowing where to look, but also knowing what to look for when inspecting the vehicle and how to to get the most out of your test-driving experience.


Whether you’re buying a used truck for personal use (vehicles like the Toyota Tundra or Tacoma or Chevrolet Colorado for off-roading or rugged travel) or business (trucks like the Dodge Ram 1500, Ford F-150, GMC Sierra, and Chevrolet Silverado or for heavy load transport), it’s important to have a thoughtful, thorough, and effective evaluation process before making a purchase.


In this guide, we’ll walk you through exactly what you need to do in order to feel confident that the used truck you buy gets the job done.

Understanding The Inherent Benefits And Risks Of Buying A Used Truck

Let’s start with the basics. If you’re buying a used truck, it’s likely that you’re trying to lower the initial cost of your vehicle. New pickup trucks (or any new vehicle for that matter) depreciate significantly the moment you drive them off the lot. Buying a used pickup truck is a smart way to defray costs while still getting good value for your purchase.


That said, it’s important that you make sure you or your business is okay with the risks associated with buying a used truck. The truth is, even with history reports (more on that later), you’ll never 100% know the history of the vehicle. It’s possible that you could be inheriting problems, and because the truck might be out of warranty repair, you’ll be paying out of pocket. While this risk is a normal part of used truck buying, it’s important to understand before you invest your hard earned money.

How And Where To Find A Used Truck

Determine Your Truck Needs Before You Start Looking

You know you want to buy a used truck, but it’s important to go deeper in your requirements list before you start actively looking. Make sure you know your “why” and what you’ll need as a result before you fire up a website or start looking around at local lots. Having a clear idea of what you’re looking for will help keep you focused in the buying process and potentially save you money.


Some common things to determine before you start looking:


  • Are you looking for a personal or work truck?
  • Does it need to be heavy-duty or light-duty?
  • Will the truck be used primarily in city or suburban settings or will it need to work off-road?
  • How important is four-wheel drive for your purposes?
  • Do you prefer a Manual Transmission or Automatic Transmission?
  • How do you feel about using a high mileage truck?
  • How big of a factor is fuel-economy in your purchasing decision?
  • Does it need to be full-size? Why?
  • Do you need a Crew Cab or will a Double or Extended cab work?
  • Are you planning to tow with this truck?
    • If so how much weight will you be pulling and what kind of trailer is it?

Beginning with the end in mind, and running a practical inventory like the one above will speed your buying process up and help you find exactly what you’re looking for in your next used truck.

Decide If You Want To Buy Your Used Truck In-Person Or Online

One of the biggest questions you’ll need to ask in your used truck buying process is whether or not you’d like to buy locally, online, or if you’re open to both options.


Online: If you’re wanting to buy online (typically something people choose for the larger selection and convenience), you’ll have a few websites and services to choose from. Generally speaking, and are less likely to sell a lemon and are what we’d recommend. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t bad trucks on those websites, but overall it’s a better bet than some other options.


We strongly advise against buying used trucks from websites like Craigslist or the Facebook Marketplace. People selling on these sites don’t have to pay for their ads, and in our experience, ‘free’ is a magnet for shady deals.


In-Person: If you’d prefer to make your purchase in-person, there a few things to consider. The first is that if you’re buying a used truck from a big name automotive supplier, you are less likely to get a vehicle with issues. Because the company’s reputation is on the line, they’ll do a lot more to ensure that the vehicle doesn’t have serious issues. As a result, used trucks from these suppliers are going to cost more because the company has to perform an inspection and cover their overhead.


Another good option that is a hybrid both in-person and online is Car Max. Generally, they sell quality trucks. We strongly suggest that you avoid buy here/pay here used car lots.


In general, we’ve found that any used truck that costs less than $12,000 has a decent probability of required some sort of repair within the first year of owning it. This doesn’t mean that a good used truck can’t be acquired below this price point, but it does mean that it is likely the vehicle will require work due to its age or number of miles.

Get The Most Out Of Your Used Truck Inspection

So, you’ve done your research, you’re ready to buy, and you’ve identified a truck that looks like it’ll meet your needs- now what? Below we’ve outlined the three key elements of a comprehensive used truck inspection. It’s important that you consider each of these factors to make sure the vehicle you’ve been advertised is actually the vehicle you’re purchasing.

Read The Vehicle History Report

A thorough inspection starts with the vehicle history report. We recommend that you always look at the vehicle history report of the used truck you’re considering. You can use services like Carfax to get a better idea about the history of a truck if the selling is reluctant to give that information (though this would also be a red flag.)


In general, we strongly caution against buying used trucks from the rust belt (Michigan, North of Indianapolis, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio— north of Cincinnati) as these vehicles are likely to have hidden corrosion issues because for their location that might not be reflected in the history report.

Know What To Look For On Your Test Drive

Always do a test drive, no exceptions. During your test drive, look for things like vibrations in the steering wheel or floorboard. Does the steering wheel pull to one side or another? Are the brakes touchy? These are all key things to take notice of. We recommend getting the truck up to highway speeds in order to get better insight into the different factors we’ve listed.


In general, be extra careful of used trucks that have had suspension modifications. We recommend getting suspension kits inspected by an expert before moving forward!

Take A Look Under The Hood

If possible, you should get the truck inspected by a trusted mechanic. Red flags to watch out for are an excess of electrical add-on components (especially if the wiring does not look professionally installed), corrosion on battery cables and terminals, heavily corroded drive shafts, leaks around ball joints, engine leaks, and leaks around the rear main seal of the differential.


Some other things to watch out for: be sure to take a look at the tread levels on the tires so you can factor in the cost of new tires to the overall cost of the vehicle if they are low. We also advise that you not purchase any vehicle (whether you’re car buying or truck buying) that has seat covers without removing the covers first. It’s impossible to know what kinds of stains or damage is being hidden underneath.

Don’t Get Ripped Off Because Of Hidden Truck Bed Issues

The bed of a truck is the perfect place to read in between the lines and get better insight into how previous owner(s) used the vehicle. Here are five things to keep an eye out for in the bed of any used truck you’re considering for purchase.

Dents In The Bed

If you notice a lot of dents in the bed of the truck, it’s likely that the previous owner was either careless with heavy loads or cargo being carried in the bed or a heavy user. This is usually an indication that the previous owner didn’t spend much time or money maintaining the vehicle.

Look For Drilled Holes

The presence of drilled holes in the truck bed means that there was equipment installed at one time that was eventually removed. This isn’t necessarily a deal breaker regarding the trucks value, but it’s good to know what those holes mean.

Inspect for Rust

While surface rust in the bed can be easily remedied, it’s important to determine how far along the rust has advanced. If you find rust all the way through the bed, then the integrity of the bed has been compromised. Be sure to check the underside of the vehicle for rest as well.


Remember: If you’re a Kentucky resident we recommend not purchasing vehicles that have been used north of the state “rust belt” line.

Examine The Hitch Mounts On The Truck Bed

The type of hitch mounted on the truck bed should give good insight into how the truck has been used. We caution against purchasing a half-ton truck that has a 5th wheel or gooseneck hitch mounted on the bed. There is a high chance that the vehicle's towing capacity limits have been put to the test. This means that there’s likely been a lot of strain on the transmission.

Look Under The Drop In Liner

Do not purchase a used truck that has a drop-in liner without taking the liner out to look underneath. Drop-in bedliners are an easy way for sellers to disguise damage to the bed. At LINE-X, we’ve seen huge holes in used truck beds, rusted out beds, spilled paint, spilled glue, and countless other issues hidden beneath drop-in bedliners.


Want to avoid nasty surprises like these when you’re buying a used truck? Swing by LINE-X of Louisville to have one of our "truck bedologists" (a.k.a. truck bed expert) if you would like us to evaluate how the truck you are looking at buying was used in its past life.