If the dealer is franchised to a brand of truck, (DAF, Mercedes, Ivceco etc.) they are usually a more reliable bet for buying unseen, as they have the reputation of the truck maker as well as their own to take into account. This reassurance does come at a cost - it is unlikely that you will be buying the cheapest used truck around, but at least it should turn up as described if you are buying unseen.
That's not to say that all franchised dealers are perfect and all independents are crooks - far from it. There have been plenty of franchised dealers going into administration over recent years and there are plenty of independents doing an excellent job.
It pays to visit to the dealer – just to see the truck
Trucks are unique even when rolling off the factory line as a new vehicle - there are engine ratings axle ratios, cab sizes and plenty of interior options.
Today's trucks also come with an extensive options list that you may need to check out when used.
Will you get a real feel for the truck from a series of photos and even a video?
What to check for at the dealership
Second only to viewing the truck, it is important to pay a visit to check out the dealership. It is easy to set up a good-looking website with 'borrowed' photos of display sites and workshop facilities - but do these facilities always actually exist?
When you arrive, take a good look at the overall appearance of the dealership. If the company is lapse about maintaining their facilities, what does this tell you about their pre-sales preparation of their vehicles?
Check the workshops
Ask to see their workshops - often a dealer will say that the truck "has been through our workshops" or will do so prior to sale. Check this out - don't be fobbed off that the workshops are on a different site, they are unlikely to be too far away or the dealer would be forever travelling between one and the other.
If the dealer uses another company for the maintenance work, ask where they are and pay them a visit – a third party company should have records of the work carried out on your vehicle. Even if the truck went through the dealer's own workshops, chances are that here should be some documents to support this?
Where does the dealer get his trucks from?
Was the truck simply bought by the dealer? Was it ‘sold as seen’ at an auction, with little or no paperwork, then simply shown the steam cleaner and a bit of elbow grease? Or was it sourced from a regular contract where the dealer can vouch for the service and inspection regime of the he previous operator? In this case, the dealer may have other information, for example was the truck only ever driven by one driver and has been accident free?
When the truck has been acquired directly from a fleet, a good dealer will have more knowledge, more records and more confidence in the quality of the truck they are selling.
I've paid; will the dealer be around to deliver my truck?
It is possible that almost any company could go bust, but some companies are more likely than others. So what happens if you hand over your £20,000 for your used truck and the company goes into receivership before you get your truck?
It will be a lengthy process getting your truck, if you can get it at all, so you might want to credit check the company before handing over the money or consider using an Escrow service. Credit checking a company is relatively straightforward, especially if you have the company number. It can be carried out online these days for just a few pounds.
Credit checking the company will give you details of the history of they go company - how long it has been trading for, who the directors and shareholders are and how healthy their bottom line is.
A truck dealer that has been in business a long time with a healthy balance sheet is less likely to go bust than a new start up with lots of County Court Judgements (CCJ) against them.
Use the Internet
Try searching online for the dealer's name - often their website will come up and if they advertise on trucklocator.co.uk then their listings should appear too, but scroll further down and you may well find mention of their names in forums where other customers have reported bad, (or good!) experiences.
I can't visit the dealer, but I need the truck
If you absolutely don't have the time to visit the dealer and are prepared to buy the truck unseen and the dealer unseen what can you do to improve the situation and put your mind at rest?
Ask for photos and information
Firstly get the dealer to send you as many photos as possible - not just of the good stuff, but of any damage too. Almost everyone we know now has a smartphone so they could record a short video off the engine running. If the dealer is not willing to do this then you should ask yourself some questions about their view of customer service.
If there is a service history can this be emailed or faxed to you - again a simple photo on a smartphone should do.
Get a referral
The dealer must have some happy customers who you could talk to. They should be willing to give you one or two numbers just to check them out. Obviously they will only give you the details of customers who have had good experiences but, should they refuse to give you any details at all, then the alarm bells should ring.