Buying the right used vacuum truck means lots of research and planning — and sometimes driving across the country
Ronnie Tamez knows a thing or two about getting what he wants out of used trucks. When he sees the right deal, he’ll go to great lengths to make it happen — even if that “great length” is the approximately 3,200-mile drive from Miami to his hometown of Battle Ground, Washington.
Tamez, owner of First Call Septic Services, purchased the automatic Freightliner pumper truck from National Truck Center in Miami. Before buying the used truck — his third — Tamez researched National Truck Center and hired someone to inspect it before he and his wife, Jennifer, flew to Miami to pick it up and begin the long drive home.
“I’ve learned a lot from my other purchases, mainly that the trucks are being sold for a reason. People don’t usually sell a good vehicle,” Tamez says. “With National Truck Center, they built me a fully engineered tank on site, so while the truck had 300,000 miles on it, the rest was just about new.”
Tamez carefully planned his trip. After talking to the Department of Transportation, he found out that if his wife came with him, rather than an employee, they would not need to follow the standard DOT rules regarding how long a driver can be behind the wheel before a mandatory break. In addition, by putting a sign on the truck saying “not for hire,” he could avoid most of the inspections pumper trucks receive while traveling.
“Fellow pumpers told me I would get into all kind of trouble doing this, but I have done this before and did my research,” he said. “I had to stop at the weigh stations of course, but there were no inspections.”
Tamez also carefully plotted out the route, looking for hotels that would not have an issue with him parking the pumper truck overnight.
“The hotels were good. I wanted to make sure they had enough room and that they understood the pumper was empty,” he said. “We had five days to make the trip so we kept moving along.”
The trip was not entirely smooth. Eight miles from National Truck Center, a valve failed on the truck. “As luck would have it, we were in the parking lot of a Sears. An Uber ride to Freightliner and a new air brake dryer later, we were back on the road four hours later.
“It was one of those things that could have happened at any time, anywhere. No one could have predicted it. Fortunately, we were close by and got it fixed so we could get back out on the road and get going.”
If you’re looking to buy a used truck, Tamez gives this advice:
Do your research – Look at the company or entity selling the vehicle and learn why they are looking to sell. Also, what kind of track record do they have?
Nothing is ever turnkey – Some sellers advertise their trucks as “turnkey” and ready to get right to work. That is unlikely, Tamez says, since most used trucks need some kind of work or customization for the new owner, even if it’s just new decals advertising the business. For example, with his latest purchase, Tamez not only put the company’s name on the truck, he also decided to update the brakes. “I bought a used truck. I knew it would not be perfect,” he says.
Usage – While Tamez’ new vehicle had 300,000 miles on it and he drove it cross-country, he is not worried about how many miles are on the truck since his vehicles average about 30,000 miles annually. In other words, think about how many miles you plan to place on the truck annually rather than how many miles are currently on the vehicle.
Size – How big of a tank do you need? If the tank size is a little larger, will employees be able to do more jobs before coming back to the shop, allowing workers to be more productive?
Think about comfort – While Tamez’ current truck has air-ride suspension so the cross-country trip — and local trips — were comfortable, a previous truck was anything but. “Get in the truck and see how it feels. If it’s not very comfortable and you’re going to be driving all day, that’s not the way to go. You’re going to really regret it.”