8 Tips for Vacuum Truck Shoppers

Do you have champagne taste on a beer budget? Consider what you can — and cannot — afford when shopping for a vacuum truck.
8 Tips for Vacuum Truck Shoppers
Keep in mind when buying a vacuum truck that it may be difficult to find parts and service for “one-off” special-built trucks that are highly customized.

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As demand for vacuum trucks increases and the lead time for taking delivery of new trucks rises to six months or more — not to mention tight equipment budgets — pre-owned vehicles are an increasingly popular option. 

“More than half of our vacuum truck sales nationwide are pre-owned vehicles,” says Mike Suiter, industrial sales manager for Jack Doheny Companies, which sells and rents a wide variety of equipment nationwide, including wet-dry industrial vacuum trucks, hydroexcavators and wet-dry DOT vacuum trucks.

“Our sales of pre-owned vacuum trucks have risen about 60 percent compared to about five years ago,” he says. “The market for used vacuum trucks keeps getting larger, so demand is up.” 

So what should buyers consider when looking for a pre-owned truck? There’s a lot to consider, but Suiter offers the following basic tips: 

1. Get a good warranty. Typically the length of a warranty depends on the truck’s age and condition. Many manufacturers offer several levels of warranties, ranging from no warranty for “as-is” units to up to six months for work-ready units to one year for fully remanufactured/rebuilt trucks (excluding the chassis).

Also, be aware that some sellers provide separate warranties for the chassis and the vacuum module. And a dealer might not service both warranties; sometimes a dealer might handle issues with the vacuum module while the chassis dealer might be responsible for chassis-related issues. As such, it’s wise to finalize warranty details before buying, as it’s tougher logistically if the dealer you buy from doesn’t handle both warranties. 

Moreover, consider the locations where warranty service is provided. If you live in Iowa and buy a truck online, and warranty service is offered only in Pennsylvania, you may want to reconsider your options. In some cases, an inconveniently located warrantor might pay a company in your area to provide warranty service, Suiter notes. 

2. Get the proper paperwork. Be sure to obtain a copy of a clear title and release of liens. “If the seller can’t produce one, look elsewhere,” Suiter advises. Also, sellers should provide federal certification that the truck passed its annual U.S. Department of Transportation inspection. 

“If the inspection is current, you can jump in the truck and get right to work, as opposed to getting pulled over and getting taken out of service because the inspection papers aren’t in order.” 

3. You get what you pay for. “We see a lot of guys with champagne taste on a beer budget,” Suiter says. “You have to understand the dollars and cents that go into remanufacturing and making units work-ready. 

“It’s not uncommon for us to put anywhere from $30,000 to $90,000 into a machine, which results in a higher sale price. Look for a reseller that offers a wide variety of units within your budget category.” 

4. Beware of customizations. Keep in mind that it may be difficult to find parts and service for “one-off” special-built trucks that are highly customized. Suiter says he’s heard of contractors who get a great Internet deal on a truck, only to find it’s impossible to get parts and support. 

5. Be wary of tight-lipped sellers. If a dealer or private party isn’t forthcoming with information like how many hours are on a truck, previous owners, service records, references or contact information for the previous owner, run the other way. 

6. Don’t forget about the rubber. “The biggest thing I see people miss is the condition of the tires,” Suiter says. “Even recaps are $300 apiece, and new tires cost $600 to $800 apiece. The inside tires are hard to inspect, but don’t overlook them.”

7. Buyer beware. Ask for maintenance/service logs and a history of any major repairs. If they aren’t available, it shouldn’t automatically rule out buying the vehicle. But you should then perform more due diligence in inspecting it. If you’re not mechanically inclined, bring along a qualified mechanic to do an inspection for you. 

8. Put major components through their paces. Thoroughly test such things as the power take-off, vacuum and water systems and ask if any of them have required major repairs. “It’s a good idea to check the blower tolerance to determine the wear on the loads, whether the PTO system leaks, if pumps were rebuilt recently and if hydraulic hoses are wet or dry,” Suiter says. 

Overall, Suiter recommends buying from a reputable dealer who can support you after the sale. That includes not only performing major components, but also teaching you how to maximize the machine and become more successful.


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