A Brand New Deal

by John G. Smith, Technical Editor

It’s easy to spot the informed buyers at your local truck dealership. They’re the ones who ask the probing questions. Their facts are up to date, and they have a firm grasp of any work the equipment will be required to do.

But if you’re looking to purchase a new truck for the first time, what questions should you be asking, besides “How much?”

1. Does the power match my application?

There’s always an attraction to big power, but you get what you pay for. Big bores and high horses will pull you up a hill, but the trade-off comes in the form of higher fuel consumption and extra weight.

Conversely, equipment will be plagued by breakdowns and warranty issues if you don’t spec’ enough power for a particular application.

“They typically all know what colour they want under the hood,” Premier Peterbilt general sales manager Chris Al says, referring to how most buyers at the Brampton, Ont. dealership have a favorite engine brand.

But the weights you’ll be hauling and the terrain you will travel should dictate the numbers associated with the engine and the rest of the drivetrain.

One issue to consider is the truck’s gradeability – a percentage that indicates how well the vehicle will climb a specific grade at a given speed.

A truck’s startability will ensure that you have enough torque to get the equipment moving in the first place, and that can be a deciding factor in choosing a transmission.

A direct drive transmission, for example, will enhance startability with a higher ratio in a lower gear. That makes it a sound choice for a P&D application, but a 1:1 gearing ratio at the top end means it won’t be very efficient on the highway.

Overdrive transmissions tend to offer less startability in lower gears, but they’re a better choice for over-the-road applications.

2. Can I accommodate the extra weight?

“Everybody wants a big, fancy, heavy truck,” says Peter Cook, dealer principal and sales manager with Valley Equipment, a Freightliner dealer in Hartland, N.B. But heavier spec’s could lead to lost contracts.

Shippers who are paying the freight will want to be able to move 46,000 lb. of goods in a reefer, or 50,000 lb. on a flatbed, regardless of whether you wanted a bigger sleeper, he says.

It all adds up.

In addition to payload, you’ll also need to consider the weight of auxiliary equipment such as snowplows.

Still, components are available in an array of materials, and the widespread use of aluminum can shed hundreds of pounds from a given configuration.

3. Do I really need the chrome and chicken lights?

Everybody loves a good show and shine, but the cost of related upgrades might require a reality check.

Cook, for example, recently had a customer who barely had enough money to put down on a truck, but insisted on a $500 stainless steel sun visor.

“Those are stupid purchases,” he says. It’s fine if you can afford the options, “but you should look at it first as a business.”

Still, some creature comforts deserve more than a cursory glance since you’re going to spend a lot of time in the truck, says Doug Haimes, sales manager at the Volvo Manitoba Truck Centre in Winnipeg.

Dash controls should all be within easy reach – particularly the ones that are in constant use as you drive – and the driver’s seat should match the size and shape of your body.

4. Can I really afford the asking price?

In the end, a purchasing decision always comes down to money. Those who stretch the limits of their finances could be forced to turn in their keys before the end of a five-year payment plan.

While the option of a residual payment may seem like a good idea in favour of spending more money up front, it’s important to remember that you’ll also have less equity in the equipment when it comes time for a trade-in.

If you need to sell the truck part way through the financing term, it might be worth less than the amount you owe. And in the event of a serious accident, your insurance company will pay the market value of the truck, but you’ll be left to cover the rest.

“Some (buyers) have grandiose dreams of the dollar bills they’re going to make,” Haimes says, referring to drivers who ink their first contracts as owner/operators. “A few of them might need to come back to reality and look at good quality used trucks.”

5. Should I extend the warranty?

Warranties will play a key role in the need to CYA (Cover Your Assets), and you need to carefully consider every detail of the related plans.

While most buyers will have their eyes firmly fixed on existing contracts, they should also consider other work the truck might be asked to do in the future, suggests Bob Semaniuk, the sales manager for Co-Van International Trucks, which serves the Greater Vancouver market. Sure, 350 hp might pull a dry van through the region’s Lower Mainland, but that same engine (or other drivetrain components) could buckle under heavier stresses of runs along the region’s mountainous Coquihalla Highway. And that will become an issue with warranty claims.

Details such as whether towing bills are covered should also be considered.

“A transient breakdown is probably the most serious thing that can happen to you,” Cook says. A dealer who didn’t sell you the truck isn’t likely to cut you much of a break.

Keep in mind that premium components also tend to carry longer warranties than their cheaper counterparts.

Components such as engines, transmissions and rear ends are the most likely to benefit from extended warranties, Cook adds. “Everybody can afford an alternator or a front wheel.” But sources of labour-intensive maintenance such as electrical systems may also be worthy of the added coverage.

Past owners of the same model of truck are the best source of information about potential problem areas. Then again, you could also budget for such repairs.

6. Is my information up to date?

Some buyers tend to base their opinions on information that’s long out of date, says Semaniuk. “Some of them still think they want trucks without power steering.”

Misconceptions about engine performance are most likely, since some spec’s and fuel economy have been affected by the recent introduction of equipment that complies to new emission standards.

7. Would I buy a used model?

If the truck is brand new, there’s a good chance that you won’t be the last one to own it, and there are ways to maximize future resale values, says Premier Peterbilt’s Al.

“The higher-horsepower, higher-torque engines are typically more sought after in the resale market,” he says, referring to on-highway trucks with more than 400 hp under the hood.

“Ten-speeds typically don’t move that well.”

Even if you’ve left team driving assignments behind you, it might still be a good idea to spec’ an upper bunk for the future buyer, he adds.

And the ever-coveted engine brake will save the wear on your other braking components in the years that you operate the truck.

Have your say

This is a moderated forum. Comments will no longer be published unless they are accompanied by a first and last name and a verifiable email address. (Today's Trucking will not publish or share the email address.) Profane language and content deemed to be libelous, racist, or threatening in nature will not be published under any circumstances.