Right Driver

What should you consider when buying a tractor unit for your business?

You’re going to spend a long time staring at the road from your tractor unit, so it’s important that you choose wisely or all those miles will be filled with regret. Tractor units come in various configurations, so to get the most from your lorry, take into consideration the advice and questions below.

What type of tractor unit do you need?

As we’re in the UK and not America or Australia, there’s a 99.9% chance that you’ll be buying a cab-over tractor unit, not a bonneted or conventional one; you wouldn’t want to drive a bonneted tractor unit through a small town’s medieval road layout, and neither will you want to take the length penalty that means you can’t transport as much in your trailer.

Your decision will primarily be based on the towing weight requirements dictating the engine power and axle configuration.

Common axle configurations are:

  • 4×2 (two axles, the rear one is powered)
  • 6×2 (3 axles, either the second or rear axle are powered)
  • 6×4 (3 axles, the second and rear axle are powered)
  • 8×4 (4 axles, the front two steer and the rear two are powered, or the front one steers and two of the three rear axles are powered)

Purchasing a lorry with a lift axle can help save fuel and tyre wear.

In terms of engine power, more horsepower and torque means more fuel used, but less frustration when hauling heavy loads.

Picking newer engines means they may comply with newer Euro regulations for emissions (e.g. Euro VI from 2014 onwards).

Buy using cash, or finance it?

Before you consider buying, do your research so that you know what people are asking for the lorries you’re targeting in the marketplace.

If you can get a good interest rate, it may be more fiscally prudent to lease a truck rather than use all your capital to buy one outright. Sure, you’re paying interest, but you can claim the interest against your business expenses, and you’ve not had to shell out lots of cash that you can only claim back as you depreciate the vehicle.

However, paying cash might get you a better deal.

How ‘used’ is your lorry?

Consider the service history vs the mileage vs the age vs the reliability. A well-maintained older tractor unit could be a very reliable purchase and, as long as it’s easy to find spares, you might experience minimal downtime. A much newer truck could be more reliable initially, but over time the electronics start to fail, and parts are more complex and expensive to fix.

However, an older unit will undoubtedly use more fuel. If your mileage is low, then this will have less effect.

A good rule of thumb is that if the history is difficult to trace, it’s probably got a history you don’t want to become a part of.

What are you towing?

There are two main towing options: a fifth wheel and a bolt and pin connector (e.g. Ringfeder). Does the height of the fifth wheel match your trailer? Do you want any additional features such as safety notifications about high-hook (poor fifth wheel connection), or jackknife sensors or air-assisted opening for the bolt and pin coupling, etc?

How’s the exterior?

How much life do the tyres have in them? Having to replace 6 or 10 of them is a chunk of money.

Is there any rust or corrosion?

What’s the paint finish like?

Is there any obvious sign of damage?

Does the description in the ad match up with your expectations of the vehicle?

Do all the lights work?

Mechanical check

Does the engine sound smooth, and does it drive well?

Have you had a mechanical check from a professional?

Is there any excess play in the steering?

Does the suspension feel OK?

Do all the gauges and buttons work?

Have you taken it for a test drive to ensure that there are no unusual noises, that the brakes work, the coupling works fine, and so on.

Interior features

Does the seat feel OK?

Do you have the right features in the cab, such as the sleeper area, and any driver comforts?

Additions and servicing

Will you need to have any additions to the vehicle to ensure that it is right for your business?

Do you have a local service agent for the vehicle?

Can you take the vehicle immediately or does it need some work doing to it?

Can you get a warranty?

Are you sure that the seller owns the vehicle (make sure that their debt is fully paid to their finance company when you take over the vehicle).

Darren has owned several companies in the automotive, advertising and education industries. He has run driving theory educational websites since 2010.

Posted in Advice
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