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What to Know Before Shopping for Commercial Vehicles

What to Know Before Shopping for a Commercial Vehicle

Perhaps you’ve been considering expanding your fleet for a while now. Maybe you’re a one-vehicle outfit and it just broke down on you for the last time. Or you might be looking into starting a business for the very first time. No matter the reason, you’ve decided it’s time to purchase a commercial truck or van. But how do you actually get started? Even before researching and buying a specific vehicle, there are a number of things you need to consider. Especially if you’ve never purchased a truck or van before, it can be an overwhelming process.

To help smooth the ride, we recently held a live Facebook Q&A about the heavy equipment buying process. Here’s where you can watch the recording of the Facebook Q&A. We’ve also put some of those tips right here on the blog! Before shopping for a truck or van, here are three steps you need to take: 

1. Build Your Wishlist

Before shopping online or in-person for a commercial vehicle, you need to think through the kind of work you need to do and what features would be required to get the job done. To get started, we commonly ask drivers and fleet managers questions like:

  • What will be the vehicle’s primary purpose (OTR transport, regional or local delivery, utility, towing, etc.)?
  • What distances will you drive the vehicle?
  • Does your work require a certain cargo size and weight capacity?
  • Does your work require a certain towing capacity?
  • Does your work require specific upfits (cranes, flatbeds, dumps, HVAC, plows, shelves, ladder racks, food truck, etc.)?
  • Does your cargo need to be refrigerated?
  • Will you need to spend the night in the cab? For how long?
  • Do you need room for passengers? How many?
  • Are you looking for a certain fuel efficiency?
  • What vehicles are you licensed to drive?

You’ll also need to find out if there are any federal, state, or local regulations that might require you to buy a specific vehicle type. For example, in some states your wishlist will need to meet certain carbon emission standards.

2. Determine Your Budget

You’ll want to purchase a truck or van that is within a price range that works for your business’s financial situation. To know if a commercial vehicle is going to fit within your allotted budget, it’s important to consider the total cost of ownership for the truck or van, not just the sticker price. 

Here are three things to remember: 

  • The down-payment: You’ll have to pay a percentage of the price to the dealer up front. This can vary depending on the vehicle you’re buying, dealership policies, and the financing you’re able to obtain.
  • Recurring expenses: Unless you pay the full cost of the truck or van all at once, you’ll have monthly payments to make, plus bills for commercial vehicle insurance. As you drive the truck, you’ll need to buy fuel and, depending on the available property your business may or may not own, you might have to pay for vehicle storage.
  • Maintenance and repairs: It won’t be every month (hopefully!), but from time to time you’ll have to pay for preventative maintenance to keep your commercial vehicle safe and operational. It’s also likely that at some point during your ownership of the truck or van, you’ll have to pay for unexpected repairs, which always seem to happen in the most inconvenient time. The best advice we can offer is to plan ahead for those expenses.

New commercial vehicles will cost more than used trucks or vans, of course, but keep in mind that used units come with some risk of needing additional unexpected repairs. Don’t forget that some dealers will let you trade in a used vehicle to help offset the price of buying a new one.

Remember to factor in your return on investment. It’ll help offset some of your costs. Map out the potential profit a new truck or van can help you generate by taking on new jobs or by simply working more efficiently. Finally, ask yourself if you’ll be able to sell the truck or van used once you’re done with it or want to upgrade, which could bring in additional money for your business.

3. Choose Your Vehicle Class

There are 8 classifications of commercial vehicles. Commercial vehicles are classified based on their gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR), the maximum total weight of your vehicle (plus any passengers, cargo, fuel, etc.) that is safe. Vehicle class can influence a number of things, including the price and if you’re required to have a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to operate the vehicle. Here are the national vehicle classifications: 

  • Light Duty
    • Vehicles considered light duty:
      • Class 1 (GVWR: 0 – 6,000 lbs.)
      • Class 2 (GVWR: 6,001 – 10,000 lbs.)
      • Class 3 (GVWR: 10,001 – 14,000 lbs.)
    • These vehicles include pickup trucks, cargo vans, step vans, walk-in vans, box trucks, and other city/local delivery trucks.
  • Medium Duty
    • Vehicles considered medium duty:
      • Class 4 (GVWR: 14,001 – 16,000 lbs.)
      • Class 5 (GVWR: 16,001 – 19,500 lbs.)
      • Class 6 (GVWR: 19,501 – 26,000 lbs.)
    • These vehicles include large walk-in vans, box trucks, delivery trucks, bucket trucks, single-axle trucks, beverage trucks, rack trucks, and school buses.
  • Heavy Duty
    • Vehicles considered heavy duty:
      • Class 7 (GVWR: 26,001 – 33,000 lbs.)
      • Class 8 (GVWR: 33,001 – 150,000 lbs.)
    • These vehicles include garbage trucks, dump trucks, cement trucks, furniture trucks, semi trucks, and city buses.

Once you have built your wishlist, determined your budget, and chosen your commercial vehicle class, you’re ready to begin actually shopping for your next truck or van and inspecting potential purchases. For tips on that part of the process, you can check out our companion article about researching and buying commercial vehicles. And if you’d like to really take a deep dive into any of these topics, don’t forget to watch the recording of our Facebook Live Q&A


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Ethan Smith
Ethan Smith
is the Content Manager at Trader Interactive, managing marketing content development for ATV Trader, Commercial Truck Trader, Cycle Trader, Equipment Trader, RV Trader, and more. Ethan believes in using accessible language to elevate conversations about industry topics relevant to marketplace buyers and sellers.

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