Purchasing a used semi-trailer can save you a lot of upfront costs - if you make the right decision. If you are thinking of becoming an owner/operator, it’s a cost-effective way of getting into the business. It’s also a cost-effective way to build your fleet quickly if your company is in a dramatic growth mode. However, if you don’t spend a little time, a used trailer can easily become an impediment to growth, as well as a business loss rather than a profit center.

Just like purchasing a new semi-trailer, matching your needs with the trailer’s functionality is the most important purchase criteria when considering a used semi-trailer. See our blog on “Choosing the Right Trailer for Your Truck.”

All that being said, here are five things to look for when purchasing a used semi-trailer:

  1. Perform a compatibility, background and market check. Obviously, you need to make sure the trailer is compatible with your truck. You also need to consider your budget. Remember that a lower price does not necessarily mean a better value. Get on the internet and check to see what is available and what the average prices are in your market for the type of trailer you are considering. Make sure the trailer has a current FHWA Inspection. Ask the seller whether they are an independent owner or a broker, why the trailer is being sold or why it was traded in. Ask to see any service records and make sure replacement parts are readily available.
  2. Check the structural components. Get under the trailer with a flashlight and examine the undercarriage for rust or damage. Surface rust can often be easily handled with proper care and maintenance, but structural rust could mean a shorter service life for the trailer or major maintenance further down the road. Make sure the slider rails are welded to the cross members, checking for cracks, irregular formations, or fresh welds that could be the sign of a major repair.
    If you’re buying a van or reefer, make sure the upper structure is sound. If you are with a partner or sales person, get inside in the daylight and check the door seals, ceiling, floor and sides for any light coming in. This is especially important with a reefer because it results in energy depletion. An older reefer, while usually cheaper, may also cost you more in terms of its operation than a newer trailer. Make sure the reefer unit works as well. You don’t want to be stuck hauling perishable cargo with a temperamental reefer unit.
  3. Check the lights. Make sure all lights, including brake lights and signals are all operational. Check all electrical connections and wires for fraying or other wear and tear.
  4. Check the brakes. Inspect the drums and linings for unusual wear and tear. Make sure the ABS system is working and its wires are not frayed or cut.
  5. Inspect the tires. A trailer’s tires can tell a lot about its condition. Naturally, you should always check tires for ample tread, embedded objects as well as bulges or other irregularities on the sidewalls that could lead to catastrophic failure while on the road.
    Uneven tire wear is often not a problem, but a symptom that could indicate a bigger problem with the axle, wheels, rims, brake drums, hubs, shocks or the tires themselves. Since trailer tires are rotated, nailing down a mechanical cause can be difficult. Shoulder wear, center wear and cupping and scalloping are also common symptoms of poor inflation. So check tire pressure first. Other common mechanical problems associated with uneven or premature tire wear include misalignment of an axle, poorly maintained or broken suspension components, or bad shocks.

Transport Services has a team of sales professionals who understand the industry and can help you meet your trucking needs while staying within your budget. They also have a reputation for offering used trailers in all configurations, and can walk you through the entire purchase process. If you have additional questions about purchasing a used semi-trailer, give us a call at 440-582-4900.

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