The Waste Gate

Used Truck Shopping Tips

Published in the August 2011 Issue August 2011 Column

We build a lot of project trucks here at the Diesel Tech offices. It's a fun and rewarding process once the truck starts making big power numbers. But each project has to begin with a cheap, used truck. That, unfortunately, means dealing with used car salesmen. Here's a few of my favorite tips.

1. Dr. House is right, everyone is a liar.
Used car lot guys. Used car lot girls. Everyone inside a dealership who isn't filling out a credit app. Everyone who is filling out a credit app. The guy with the ad on craigslist. People on eBay. Your neighbor. And even you (if you've ever sold anything). Don't believe me? Ever heard (or said) the following? "The guy who traded it in just drove to work and back in it." "I've kept it in the garage since I bought it." "They're all highway miles." "It's dripping oil because we just had the oil changed." "I bought it from a retired couple who towed their travel trailer to Arizona with it." "My kids never ride in it." And my personal favorite, "I'm a clean freak, it looks detailed all the time."

2. Assume the guy you're dealing with knows absolutely nothing about the truck you are looking at.
It doesn't matter if you're in a converted motorhome/office on a used car lot or in the glass-window showroom of a big OEM dealership, the salesman's eyes gloss with dollar signs when you walk through the door. They're not truck experts; they're sales experts. Granted, if I worked at a dealership, I wouldn't want to study up on my Toyota Prius specs either. Just don't rely on anybody at the lot to tell you which transmission a particular model year has, what tests have been ran on the truck, if it's had any modifications or if its injectors have ever been rebuilt. Once you figure out what brand, model and year fits your budget, spend a couple nights on forums and auto web sites learning every single detail about that truck. I bought a Ford from a dealership seven years ago. On the first test drive with the salesman riding shotgun, I got "I think so, but I'm not 100 percent sure on that" to every question I asked, including when I asked if the truck had adjustable pedals... as I was adjusting them.

3. A detail job is designed to distract buyers like a magician's hot assistant.
Put yourself in the shoes of a lazy high school kid working in a car lot's detail shop after school. What is the least amount of effort you can expend and still get paid? Then go look in all those spots--behind the rear seat back, in the seat back pockets, the carpet under the floor mats, hard-to-reach spots under the hood, etc. Those places that didn't get hit with the detail will give you a better indication of how the truck's previous owner/owners treated it. It takes some serious talent to get a french fry inside the gauge cluster.

4. Bottom line + perceived value + some spending cash = asking price.
Everybody thinks their truck is a gem and that when the ad is posted, their phone will go crazy with people dying to own it. That might be true for the guy selling a cherry `94 Toyota super cab truck for $2500, but not for everybody else.

The trick is to find the seller with the most inflated price over his bottom line. And it doesn't matter if it's a dealer or a private seller. Here's how you do it:

Go in like you're just some Joe Schmo who just got talked into buying a travel trailer down the street and now you need a truck that can tow it. Make him think he's about to make a sale that will let him retire. Then hit him with a barrage of questions, followed by a barrage of information that he should have known. Then open the hood and crawl in. Stick your head two inches from the turbo. Reach back and feel something on the back of the cylinder head. Get down and crawl on your back under the truck. Wipe the side of the engine block with your hand, slide out, stand up next to him and lick your finger. Sniff the paint on the hood and then stare at the rocker panels like you're diffusing a ticking bomb. Crawl inside the wheel well and grab every arm, spindle, shaft and wire in the suspension. Repeatedly make audible "Hmmm" noises. Stand up. Let about 30 seconds of awkward silence go by as you make deep-thinking facial expressions. Sigh deeply, keep your stare focused on the truck and say "You were asking what, again?"

Bottom dollar, every time.

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