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Buying used trailers: What to look for and ask about

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The current freight environment is booming and remains favorable for carriers. New dry van trailer builds, however, are booked nearly through the end of the year, which presents a challenge for growing fleets that want to add hauling equipment to their arsenal. Outside of tightening up your operational efficiency, buying a used dry van trailer is going to be your best short-term bet in getting new-to-you equipment into your fleet to capitalize on the increased freight demand.

“In a market that’s as strong as it is today—when build lead times are already out through the end of the year—customers need something, today, that they can put freight in,” said Jeff Weber, Great Dane’s director of used trailers. Weber joined Great Dane late last year with the goal of beefing up Great Dane’s used trailer offering. “Plus, the buying cycle is much shorter than in years past. A used trailer program helps our customers expand or shrink their trailer fleet to meet their business demands.”

In addition to Great Dane, other trailer OEMs are tightening their focus on used trailer offerings. Utility Trailer Manufacturing Co. recently announced a used trailer website that allows users to view a large volume of local and national inventory at various price points. Many of the dealers in the Stoughton Trailers dealer network offer used trailer services with painting and decal removal, as well as any necessary repairs required to sell the trailers. Most dealers provide pick-up and delivery services for both purchased and sold trailers.

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The first step in the buying-a-used-trailer process is to communicate your application needs and find out how readily available a dealer might have used trailer stock that can accommodate your operation. Most trailer OEMs leverage their national dealer networks to provided a large inventory of used trailers. However, each OEM’s capabilities are different related to how they work within their dealer network.

Once you’ve identified the trailers that could work for you, you’ll want to thoroughly inspect the unit. The biggest bullet points here are:

✓ tires (tread depth, recaps, virgins);
✓ wheel ends (oil/grease, properly lubed);
✓ brakes (lining, pads, ABS);
✓ suspensions;
✓ flooring;
✓ upper couplers; and
✓ trailer electrical system (lights).

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In addition to doing your own inspection, you’ll also want to ask for the service history of the trailer. While there’s no service history standard in the industry, well-maintained trailers should have some record that can be provided by the dealer or the previous owner. Sean Bicknell, director of national accounts with Utility Trailer Manufacturing Co., recommended asking for these records:

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  • Preventative maintenance schedule history on the trailer from the original owner;
  • Repair history from the original owner; and
  • Maintenance and repairs performed during the OEM inspection pre-buy.

Speaking of trailer OEM inspections, there is no industry-wide used trailer inspection standard. Each trailer manufacturer and dealer location employs their own inspection processes. You’ll want to be sure you’re clear on your trailer dealer’s specific inspection process.

“We have a specific inspection process that brings the trailer to our service department,” Great Dane’s Weber said. “We check all of the components to bring them up to federal and DOT standards for safety, and we bring that trailer up to the used trailer trade terms that our customers demand. It’s a robust inspection process. The trailer would meet any federal inspection standards that it would be put through out on the road.”

Federal inspections and PM standards are typical across trailer OEMs, though inspections may also depend on the age and condition of the individual trailers.

“Typically older trailers, like storage trailers, we sell ‘as is,’” said John Benz, president of Trailines Inc., a Stoughton Trailers dealer, who also noted that some components repairs are open to negotiation. “For example, we typically don’t replace swing doors unless the customer makes the request, and then it can be negotiated into the price. However, many customers would rather buy the doors from our parts department and install them in their own shops.”

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Utility also thoroughly inspects its used trailers, including trailer exterior, interior, bottom and top rails, floors, lining panels, doors, tires, wheels, suspensions, brakes and electrical system, Bicknell said.

“Every used trailer is inspected to ensure all used trailers meet Utility Trailer Manufacturing Co. terms and conditions,” he continued. “Our used trailers must also have a current certified FHWA inspection form. Properly maintained and fleet owned and operated used trailers offer potential buyers in the secondary market tremendous value as it relates to remaining operational and productive life of the vehicle.”

The value of a used trailer can’t be generally stated; the ROI depends on the age and condition of the trailer and what application it’s going into.

“We have customers who always buy used trailers,” Great Dane’s Weber said. “The reasons for this are set by the application. Maybe they have applications that are abusive on their trailers and that would eat into the residual value of a new trailer too quickly. Or maybe they’re running routes in the southern United States where deicers like liquid chloride won’t deteriorate the trailer like they would in the northern states.”

Well-maintained trailers offer productive lifespans that reach into 10 to 15 years. If you’re looking to add several seven-year-old trailers to your fleet, you can expect that they’d have at least a three-year lifespan before their operational costs grow beyond their value. If the used trailers you’re considering are up to snuff, keep a close eye on their maintenance costs as you roll them into your fleet. But before you plunk down the cash for a used trailer, keep in mind that, as with any equipment, you get what you pay for.

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“One of the most important things fleets need to realize is that the market is constantly changing,” Benz said. “In the past 15 years, I’ve seen 10-year-old trailers sell for as little as $1,000 and as high as $15,000.”

Working with your trailer dealer and doing your own inspection and used trailer homework can help you reap the benefits of adding trailers to your lineup today.

This is just one part of the June issue’s series of used trailer articles. Read the rest here:

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