How to inspect a second-hand tractor head

Greg Whitaker's top tips on spotting a road-ready used truck

There are a plethora of second-hand truck heads in the GCC, and not only from Europe.
There are a plethora of second-hand truck heads in the GCC, and not only from Europe.

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You’ve probably noticed diversity on the roads when it comes to GCC heavy haulage. Unlike more regulated markets, ancient L-Type Mercedes-Benz units gently smoke in the same boiling traffic queues as the very latest European tractor heads.

In fact, if you look hard enough, you’ll be able to find pretty much any make or model of truck from the last 20 years driving on Middle Eastern roads.

With so many about, there is every chance that at least a few of them will be for sale, but which should you choose?

The first step, according to auctioneer Ritchie Bros, is to make sure to buy a machine with power and axle configuration suitable for your needs. This might seem obvious, but once again, you only need to glance along the nearest traffic jam – and witness trucks pulling semi-trailers loaded far beyond their axle weights – to understand how important this is.

Having identified what you need, the next step is to inspect some used examples. According to Keith Lupton of Jebel Ali-based World Wide Auctioneers (WWA), the local market prefers trucks from Europe.

“You’ll find buyers all day for anything first used in Germany as the perception is that they have all been well looked after,” he says.

It’s certainly true that most fleet operators in Northern Europe have regular maintenance schedules, and it’s also the case that a good number of perfectly acceptable machines are exiting the EU due to their incompatibility with low-emissions zones in major cities. However, the trucks will still have seen significant action.

The first step, therefore, is to examine the vehicle for evidence of accident damage. If possible take an engineer with you, and get the truck head up on the ramp. If not, it would at least pay to bring a flashlight and a mirror on a telescopic wand.

Trucks first used in Europe often hide accident damage well, as repairs paid for by insurance firms usually bring outer bodywork back to the condition of a new vehicle. A bent or worn steering linkage is a sign that all might not be well, as is a distorted chassis.

Check the engine for any leaks. These can be repaired, but anything that has been left unattended should tell you about the previous owner’s attitude to maintenance. Ask for the paperwork. It may have been completed in a language you don’t understand, but you should still be able to get the gist of what it says and discern whether the vehicle has had – or requires – any major expenditure. In this respect, Google Translate could prove to be a valuable tool.

Like modern cars, truck units built in the 21st Century are likely to be wired with a vehicle network connecting the ECUs and modules, rather than the traditional switch and relay design. This allows for greater telemetry and fewer wires, but can be problematic when things go wrong. Taking a scan tool with you – even if you just want to plug it in to see if it picks up any fault codes – is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, and will only take a minute to employ.

Finally, take the machine for a spin (or have one of your operators do so). If the unit feels like it’s lacking in power, or if the transmission doesn’t change cleanly, then you’ve probably hit on why its current owner wants to offload. Use the faults you identify as haggling points – or go and find yourself a better vehicle. After all, there is plenty of fish in the sea.

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PMV Middle East - August 2018

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