©2018 by Food Trucks Unlimited.

James's Top 10 Used Truck Buying Tips

Buying a used or older truck for your food truck business is neither good, nor bad. The wrong truck CAN put you out of business, but the RIGHT USED TRUCK CAN also be a great way to start a business on a budget. 

I have put together these TOP 10 truck buying tips to help you get started with the right foot forward!

10 - If you want to BUDGET  build, FORGET about diesel engines.

If you think you are getting a good deal on a used diesel step van, ambulance or other type of vehicle you are planning on turning into a food truck, YOU AREN'T. Diesel trucks are far less common globally than their gasoline counterparts. Because they are less common, the parts are more expensive and take longer for you to get your hands on. This is never a good situation when your truck is broken and you have events on the calendar! Believe when I say, Freightliners are GOOD when they're good. When they break, they break really good. You aren't getting back on the road in less than a week, and it's going to cost $$$! If you have a Big Budget and you will be driving coast to coast, I still recommend spending your money on a NEW gasoline powered truck. 

9 - The year of the truck is less important than the current condition of the truck. 

Older trucks can be an amazing asset, you can scoop up a 90's, 80's, or older model truck, that usually does not mean that you are buying a viable 3 year asset, but it could. It really just depends on how well the truck has been taken care of. 

8 - Don't buy an ODD-BALL TRUCK!

By the time I made my name as the food truck mechanic guru, I thought I knew everything about making a food truck easy to fix and as reliable as gravity or the sunrise. Then I met Cara Delala with Meatballerz food truck here in Atlanta. She told me she had been through several mechanics and still couldn't keep her truck on the road without constant breakdowns. She spent over $10K in towing fees in her first 2 years with her 1993 Utilimaster Aeromate. Parts were just not available. Repairs were constant. I was able to keep her rolling, but the business didn't take off until we found a chevy P30 and rebuilt the truck. 

7 - The Chevy P - Series Platform

The Chevy P-30 Platform is one of the most common platforms every produced, as mentioned, your parts will be the most available of anything else available out there. If you can find on "rust free" 1980 Chevy P30 with a 350 engine and a TH400 transmission (suuuper common in those years) We can replace the Engine and Transmission in it with a JASPER engine and transmission for about $12,000. We can rewire the whole truck for $1500, replace all the other vital components for maybe another 3K, by the time we are at 20K you have a 3 year unlimited mileage warranty on your entire drive-train and you are in business at a fraction of the cost of a new truck.

6 - Know the difference between "Surface Rust" and true surface rust.

Surface rust is exactly that, rust that has built up on the surface of the structural components of the vehicle. Depending on the geographical origin of the truck, rust can render a truck unusable within a matter of years. A Georgia, Texas or Nevada truck can be 30 years old and still have only TRUE surface rust. Trucks from snowy states where there is a lot of salt used on the roads can create enough corrosion within 3 to 5 years that it makes even 2015 and newer truck worth less than the 30 year old rust free trucks. Some of our competitors sell their Florida trucks (salt damaged from the ocean) for far more than they are worth, claiming it's "Only Surface Rust". It takes a metal working professional to really know the difference, but true surface rust can be treated, real rust damaged vehicles can cost your entire life savings. Don't leave it up to chance. 

5 ​- Sellers who say it has a "new" engine, and don't have the paperwork are lying

Chef Jess, who serves her amazingly delicious food out of the Pay it Forkward, honey comb wrapped truck bought her truck with the seller selling her the same line of B.S. The truck has done well enough to get through but we are putting her new engine in next week. It's a $5K job that could have possibly been avoided with an appropriate pre-purchase inspection (PPI). 

4 - Never buy without a PPI (pre-purchase inspection.)

"I had a friend of mine who is a mechanic check it out for me." As I look at the truck with one eyebrow raised trying to figure out how someone bought such a mess of a truck. Your mechanic friend may be a great mechanic, however, I have seen a lot of people who had a truck checked out and found themselves in a financial jam trying to keep an "Inspected" truck on the road. 

3 - Chevrolet, Chevrolet, Chevrolet

With newer trucks, it doesn't actually matter what the platform the truck is built on, anything and everything built after 2003 has the same expected life of about 150K miles. As long as you are looking at vehicles older that 2003, the Chevrolet P-Series step vans have the easiest to find and cheapest parts on the market. These trucks are some of the most common ever produced. That means Advance Auto Parts most likely has your parts in stock, and at the very least, we can find the correct part for your truck in a matter of days, not weeks!


DEAR LORD, THE THINGS THESE EYES HAVE SEEN! If someone is selling a food truck, it means one of three things. 

  1. The business owner has NO IDEA how to run a solvent business. (Fair enough, you might get a good deal,)

  2. The truck is a pain in the ass and has cost them every penny they had for investment, they are unable to keep pumping money into the problem (the truck). 

  3. The build-out is just not appropriate. 

From "professional builds" to back-yard bullsh!t, I have never seen a truck that was already built that was a viable business machine. 

1 - Will the truck put money in your pocket, or remove it from your wallet?

Above is the top 10 on my mind, but the number one tip really is, it's better to pay the bank for consistent, predictable monthly loan than it is to pay me random amounts of money every quarter to find an replace worn out parts on your truck.