As a mobile food vendor, the investment in a truck or trailer is the biggest one-time business expense you’ll make. It’s a tough reality that selecting the wrong vehicle will end up costing considerable time, money, sanity and even the viability of your business if the on-going maintenance is too high. This is not a decision to be taken lightly!
At M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks we understand the warning signs you need to look for to protect yourself from investing in a lemon. This post can help avoid these pitfalls evaluating the purchase of a food truck on a website like eBay, Craigslist, or any other independent seller.
The Online Assessment
The evaluation of a prospective food truck doesn’t begin with an on-site visit. It begins before making contact with the seller and evaluating the online listing.
By being selective online, you can quickly filter through the majority of low-grade vehicles and shady sellers. The first warning sign is when a seller provides few blurry photographs of the vehicle online or in some cases none at all. For a major purchase like a truck, a seller should be providing more than just a couple low-quality photos with a disposable camera. In the world where everyone has an iPhone in their pocket, securing a photograph that provides an accurate idea of the condition of the trailer is simple and requires little technical prowess.
Assuming the listing has passed the photo check, you’ll want to investigate the seller profile more in-depth. This option is not available within Craigslist, but it is an option if you’re looking at vehicles on eBay. Detailed seller information can be found by selecting the Seller Information link on the product listing of any item on eBay as shown in the screenshot below.
Here are some of the characteristics of a reputable seller on eBay. All of this information is available on eBay to prospective buyers:
- Seller has been a member of eBay for more than 6-months. The longer an individual has been active on eBay the better the chances that they are interested in selling longterm and not just trying to turn a quick buck. They’ve got a reputation to uphold.
- Seller has a history of positive reviews. eBay publishes any positive and negative feedback from a seller over the last 12 months. If you find a truck that is being listed by someone with numerous bad reviews, it’s worth staying away from this individual.
- View the Detailed Seller Rating: This rating will only display for individuals that have sold 10 or more items on eBay. This is another indicator of the trustworthiness of the seller.
- Additional Resources. You can learn more about the signs of a high-quality seller by reading this article on eBay.
Unfortunately, websites like Craigslist do not offer this level of protection due to the more anonymous nature of the website. Still there are clues you can examine to ensure the truck is worth looking at in person. Sellers that take the time to provide the mileage on a vehicle, the condition, list of any cooking equipment (if applicable), and other candid vehicle descriptions are a good indication you’re working with someone reputable.
Assuming the listing passes the online test, it’s time to schedule an on-site visit to evaluate the truck. To make the most of the visit, we recommend following the guidelines below and asking a specific probing question about the history of the vehicle.
Bring a Mechanic
If you don’t consider yourself to be mechanically inclined, it pays to bring a professional mechanic along for the ride even if you need to compensate them for the time. If you’ve got a willing friend that will come along for free, even better! Having someone knowledgable that can inspect the engine, tires, and interior of the vehicle can prevent you from making a 5-figure mistake that you’ll have to live with for the next few years.
Even if you decide to make an offer on the truck, bringing a mechanic can also help your negotiating position. Having someone that can speak from a position of authority about the quality of the engine and potential items that will need to be fixed in the near future could knock a few hundred or a few thousand dollars off the asking price.
Ask the Right Questions
Being prepared to ask the right questions about a food truck is one of the best ways to protect yourself. One question we always recommend finding out is where the vehicle came from. If it the truck originated from a fleet of vehicles such as FedEx or a postal service vehicle you can be more confident the the vehicle was maintained well over it’s life. This is, of course, the ideal scenario.
In reality, the individual you are purchasing from a Craigslist ad might have very little knowledge of it’s history. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad vehicle per say, but it does raise questions about the previous care of the vehicle and increase the value of a mechanic. Remember, a food truck will be more than just a vehicle to get your from point A to point B. Your living will depend on being able to serve food across the city so make sure to do your due diligence.
Know What You Need Before Shopping Around
This may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people get this wrong. Before you even consider purchasing a food truck or trailer, you need to make sure it’s the right size to fit your needs. For example, anything less than 7-feet in height within the kitchen area will make it extremely difficult to install cooking equipment. Also, the size requirements for equipment on a coffee truck versus a pizza truck will vary greatly too. Bottom line, make sure you’ve built out a list of equipment and have a good idea how much space you’ll need before you start looking into the purchase of a vehicle. Don’t make the mistake of buying a truck first and making an equipment list later.
If you need help finding a high-quality used food truck, we encourage you to give us a call. Over the years at M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks we’ve developed relationships with individuals that work with truck fleets and are able to locate vehicles that have been correctly cared for by their previous owner. And if you do end up purchasing a vehicle online, we will also help modify and customize the truck so it’s road ready!