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First Time Truck Buyer’s Guide

First Time Truck Buyer’s Guide

Taking your first step into the truck market? We have everything you need to know.

Many an employee truck driver has sat behind the wheel for hours on end thinking about the profits his employer is making, the long, tedious hours behind the wheel and the insufficient reward at the end of the month.

It is usually these guys who believe that the grass is greener for the truck owner driver. Be your own boss, dictate your own hours, drive the truck you want and earn more money to boot, and have the chance to grow the business into the next Eddie Stobart - what could be better?

Get Some Good Subcontractor Work

Maritine owner drivers ad

If only the reality were as positive as is seen through the rose-tinted spectacles of an employed driver. Let's face it, if it was easy we'd all be doing it already.

It sounds obvious, but there's no point starting a business unless you know what work is available. Call around the relevant companies that employ sub contractors - there are always plenty of adverts for these in the classified section of Truck & Plant Locator Magazine. Many of these offer container work, although the comment companies also have a 'Franchise' scheme if tipper work is more your bag.

Don't just listen to the headline rate in pence per mile from the businesses offering work, ask how much work there is and how regularly it will be coming your way. Some companies also offer added benefits, such as fuel cards to help with your cash flow and get you access to cheaper, bunkered fuel, for example.

Most important is when will you get paid. If the company takes 90 days or more then you'll have to bear the cost of two months worth of fuel before you see the cash.

Buying the truck - A Checklist

We have covered the basics of buying a used truck in more detail with our safety tips for buying a used truck feature and some background information in our truck search help system.

But here's a handy checklist:

  • Age - is the truck new enough to enter the London Low Emission Zone, (L.E.Z.)?
  • Make of truck - do you have a local dealer for parts?
  • Payload - is the truck flexible enough for what you might need?
  • Service history - does the truck have heritage?
  • Tyres - are they on their way out?
  • Interior - does it look well loved?
  • Engine - is it smoky/underpowered/noisy?
  • Warranty - will seller warranty drive line for 3 months at least?

Have You Got The Funding?

It's not just about getting the work, you have to survive the first few months when costs are highest. There's the cost of a truck - any finance offer will want a reasonable deposit. Don't forget the insurance and the money in the bank to show that you have enough to maintain the truck for at least three months.

Road fund licences aren't cheap either. It is unlikely that as a newcomer you will get much credit, if any on fuel - most companies will want something upfront, or at best take a weekly direct debit from your account.

Costs to consider

  • Truck (outright purchase or deposit for finance)
  • Road fund licence
  • O Licence - consider help here, as 80% are completed incorrectly
  • Parking/operating base
  • Servicing/inspections/repairs - see more here 
  • Tyres

Tips to get your first Truck operator's licence (O-licence)

The O-Licence attempts to prove that both the operator and the location are fit for purpose.


This requires finding an operating centre first - you're not allowed just to park on your driveway at home. It needs to be big and safe enough and located 'at an environmentally acceptable' location. If it doesn't belong to you, then you have to demonstrate that you have permission to use it.

This whole process means plenty of paperwork and patience and, of course, some money. The current cost is £254 to apply for a licence, plus £397 to issue the licence once approved.

There are three types of O-licence – Standard, Standard (international) and Restricted. You can forget the restricted version if you want to work for a living – it is just for companies transporting their own goods. If you are intending on journeys abroad, then you’ll need the international version. Just domestic trucking? Then the standard UK licence will suffice.

You need to renew the licence every five years and pay a continuation fee, making any changes that are necessary at that time.

The process is a little like planning permission, you are supposed to take out a local newspaper 'notices' advert declaring what you are hoping to do and your details are published by VOSA on their website - when you first apply and then when they accept you or turn you down.

The advert must appear at least once from 21 days before to 21 days after you make your application, to give people the chance to object.

You will need to designate a transport manager (probably yourself) who needs to have a CPC qualification (not just a driver CPC) - here's the government's booklet.

GV79 O-Licence FormThe whole process can take up to nine weeks and, if you make a mistake, the whole process could take a lot longer. There are companies that can help you with the paperwork - the RHA charges about £100 for some help in this area.

The operators licence also asks you details about your planned maintenance of the truck. You either need your own substantial facilities or a Repair and Maintenance (R&M) agreement signed with a local dealership. Click here for an example of the maintenance agreement.

Click here for the O-Licence application form. There is a booklet for guidance here.

Road fund licence

This is not straightforward as you might think. Most owner drivers will be looking at a tractor unit and trailer combination, so we'll use this as an example. First you'll need to know if you'll be running at 44 tonnes and pulling a triable trailer, (we're assuming that you're going for a three-axle tractor unit for payload and tax reasons). Next you need to know if the truck you have bought (are buying) has a Reduced Pollution Certificate (RPC). This entitles the truck to a discount on road fund licence for life.

The road fund tax system is so complicated it's best to show you the government's tax calculation chart here.

You'll also need to know more about the RPC Scheme.

Reduced Pollution Certificates (RPC) In The UK And What They Mean 

An RPC involves an annual check and certification of your vehicle, to see if it operates at at least two Euro levels above the other trucks of its age, (see our guide to Euro levels here). It is easier to carry it out at the same time as the annual test - many test stations will give you a discount for this.

It is this certificate that will get you a discount on your RFL. The RPC for Euro 6 trucks was time restricted, unlike earlier schemes that still run for the lifetime of the truck, as long as it continues to comply.

The London Low Emission Zone (LEZ) 


If you are thinking about driving inside the M25, then don't bother looking at any trucks older than a late 2006, unless they have been professionally fitted with additional emissions control devices (usually a diesel particulate filter or DPF).

If you take a standard pre-Euro 4 truck into the smoke then it will cost you hundreds of pounds for a 'daily charge'. Note that most dealers of used trucks will state in their advert which Euro level a truck is. If they don't know, then walk away.

So What Is The London Low Emission Zone (L.E.Z.)?London is launching the next stage of the low emission zone

London is the only UK city with a Truck Low Emission Zone.

The LEZ Rules

London’s LEZ covers a wider area than the congestion charge – it broadly covers the area inside the M25 – not just central London.

Operators turning off the M25 are warned by sign that they are about to enter the zone and must turn around to avoid paying the ‘charge’.

Operators who enter the LEZ and whose vehicles do not comply with the new PM emissions standard will be liable for penalty charges of up to £1,000 per infringement.

Trucks In Trouble

LEZ compliantThe new rules mean that a truck over 3.5 tonnes has to reach Euro 4 standard for particulate matter to be allowed into the zone without a charge. In practice, this means that any truck registered before the first of October 2006 will not comply. That’s a lot of trucks – we are told and many as 70,000 vehicles will not comply.

Truck dealers are used to the impact of the LEZ on the used truck market – the zone, originally introduced back in 2008 stipulated that trucks had to be brought up to at least Euro 3 standard for particulate matter. This meant that older trucks were moved away from the capital, either for local operations elsewhere in the country or exported abroad.

This has led to a depressing of the prices of older stock and an increase in demand for later, qualifying vehicles. Browse the classified pages of Truck and Plant Locator Weekly magazine and you will see the “LEZ compliant” banners across the qualifying vehicles.

Vans Too

vanAs it is the first time that vans have been included in the LEZ, the restrictions are less draconian than for trucks. Basically any van before a ‘51’ plate will no longer be allowed into the zone without charge, unless it has been modified and registered as such.

This has obviously stimulated the market for ‘newer’ used vans – meeting the Euro 3 standard and above, whilst the older vans have headed up the M1 for the last time.

Most new van makers are offering some kind of incentive for operators of these older vans to trade up to a new one ‘scrappage V2’. Since Scrappage V1 was a bit of a washout for vans, it is unlikely that these cashback incentives will drive hoards of van drivers to new van showrooms in their teenage vans, turning instead to the used market.

Stock Shortage

The situation is aggravated by the relative paucity of late used commercial vehicle stock. Good quality Euro 4 or 5 trucks are becoming as rare as hens’ teeth, as not many were registered as new since the economy nosedived in 2008.

The van stock situation has fared better, despite a similar registration crisis – this is thanks to a number of large fleets and leasing companies shutting up shop and putting their vans on the market. This is unlikely to continue and will lead to a spike in prices towards the end of the year and a large drop off into the second quarter of 2012 – most operators should be sorted by then.

The Solution – Fit A Filter

Is trading up to a newer vehicle the only option for operators? The simple answer is no. There are half a dozen or so companies who all have a solution to the problem. In layman’s terms, you can upgrade a vehicle that is as low as a Euro 0 to meet the standards by taking away the existing ‘acoustic’ silencer and replace it with a Diesel Particulate (DPF) filter. It is here where the layman has to turn into an expert, as there are varying technologies, with some better suited to specific duty cycles of the vehicles.

Retrofit DPF – The Costs

Before going into the technical details and looking at the options available from the manufacturers, you want to know if there is a business case for these systems. Again there is a reasonably simple answer It costs not much more to fit a filter to a six year old truck than a twelve year old van. With the exception of he odd ice cream van and other specialist vehicles, most filter makers are focusing on trucks, as the cost of conversion will be greater than the prices of most vans.

Customers should expect to pay about £2,000 to £2,500 for a light commercial with prices starting at £3,500 to £4,000 for a truck, increasing to upwards of £5,000 for more complex systems. The higher rated the truck engine, the more filters required and therefore the more expensive the systems.

The costs do not stop at installation stage – choose the wrong system and the truck will end up in the workshops more often with the filters out for cleaning – a process that for some systems involves sending them away for baking overnight in a large oven.

Filter Technology – The Types Available

The problem isn’t taking the particulates out of the exhaust gases; it is getting rid of the particulates from the filters – the process called regeneration. The filters therefore need to be able to clean themselves, or regenerate otherwise they will soon block up and need to be removed and cleaned.

For the filters to clean themselves, the systems need heat. Lots of it.

If a truck is worked hard up and down the motorway there will be sufficient heat generated in the exhaust system to use a relatively straightforward ‘passive’ filter system. If the truck spends its life in slow moving urban environments, then it may need a more complex and expensive ‘active’ system.

Active vs. Passive Filters

To burn off the carbon particulates, the temperatures required would be in excess of 600 degrees if a catalyst were not used. To lower the temperature, the systems use a catalyst. This usually takes the form of a precious metal that is contained within the filter itself (a ‘dry’ system) or has the catalyst injected into the fuel before entering the engine as a liquid (a ‘wet’ system).

Questions To Ask Of DPF Supplier

filterIs filter straight swap for acoustic silencer? Whilst all systems will need some type of monitoring devices, the installation is a lot easier if the DPF will use the same mountings as the original acoustic silencer. This avoids the need to have specialist fabrication skills and equipment on site. Most ‘dry’ passive systems will fit in this way.

  • How Are Filters Cleaned?
  • Do the filters have to be sent away?
If so you will need to check where the nearest facility is to you to make sure that you are not shipping your customers’ filters all over the country.
  • How frequently do the filters need cleaning?
  • What number of vehicles in use are the figures based on?

Key here is also the cost of cleaning the filters. Some companies offer a filter exchange service.

  • From which exhaust temperature is the system recommended?

The filter suppliers will help here and can even put a recording system in place to test the maximum temperatures achieved in a ‘duty cycle’. If in doubt, it may be best to specify a lower temperature system than may be necessary to avoid downtime later in the vehicle’s life.

Can We Install System On Site?

Cadwells ART System

There is still a business opportunity to become an installer/servicer of these filters. Many dealers have already taken the opportunity to increase turnover – the systems cost upwards of £400 to fit. Many of the simpler systems are straightforward nut and bolt jobs with some auto electrical work, whereas the more complex ‘active’ systems need some fabrication experience.

The active systems use additional heat sources to burn off the soot and ash in the filters, since the engine itself is never worked hard enough to generate the heat required even with a catalyst. This means that they are more expensive to buy, as they need additional control equipment. One supplier describes their system as a ‘mini-flame-thrower’ strapped to the underside of the truck. Would you have one of those if you really didn’t need it?

There are plenty of passive systems on the market and they all do the job of cleaning up the exhaust and meeting the standards, so the manufacturers have to compete in other areas. Obviously initial cost of purchase is one factor, but most systems are within 10 to 15% of each other.

It seems the area where benefits exist are in keeping the trucks out of the workshops for maintenance of the filters and the differences in the support systems for getting the filters cleaned – some companies work on an ‘exchange units’ basis, whilst others will give you an overnight service – helpful if you have a local facility, not very helpful if you are shipping filters to the other side of the county. Others claim that a simple wash with a pressure washer or ten minutes with the Dyson will return the filter to life.

‘Passive’ systems

CRTContinuously Regenerating Trap (CRT)

These traps are usually ceramic filters with a catalyst section in front which reduced the temperature required from 600 degrees to as low as 260 degrees in some cases, as long as it happens for at least 40% of the time. They are totally self-contained and can usually fit in the place of the existing acoustic silencer.

Catalysed Continuously Regenerating Trap (cCRT)

To bring the effective temperature range lower, the filters themselves can be coated with the catalyst, therefore improving performance which means that the exhaust temperature need not be so high for the system to passively regenerate.

Fuel Borne Catalyst (FBC)

Instead of using a catalyst in the filter itself, there are ‘wet’ systems that inject quantities of a catalyst into the fuel system, prior to it entering the engine. FBC is injected into the fuel via a dosing system and a supply of liquid catalyst stored on board the vehicle. Initially, FBC aids the combustion process within the cylinder, reducing the total burden of soot produced and ensuring that only catalysed soot enters the filter. Soot pre-catalysed with the FBC system will then combust at significantly lower temperature than would otherwise be possible. FBC DPF systems have been successfully employed on duty cycles where more than 80% of the operating cycle time is spent at lower than 250°C exhaust temperature. The system simply needs a long blast up the motorway every now and then to clear out the accumulated catalysed soot, as the soot is already catalysed. This means that FBC systems can usually operate on lower average temperatures than a CRT system.

‘Active’ Systems

Where the temperature of a vehicle’s duty cycle does not reach high enough levels for any of the cheaper, passive systems to work then the filters have to be ‘helped along’ to generate heat. The systems are usually used in conjunction with the FBC systems which store the soot ready to be burnt off – although there are exceptions – the system used by Huss needs no extra additive, just diesel, which is injected into the filter to ignite and raise the temperature.

DPFBecome An Installer

There are plenty of benefits in becoming an installer or distributor for a DPF system. Not least because there could be some interesting revenue streams for the second half of this year in installing systems, but there is a chance to earn money supplying the additive for fuel-borne systems, arranging for the filters to be cleaned or offering a filter exchange service. There is also some credibility in having a specialist on-site solution for emissions issues.

Convert Euro 3 Trucks For Used Stock?

A number of used truck dealers have wised up and are starting to convert late, quality Euro 3 trucks for stock, as used Euro 4 truck availability worsens. Just be careful which system you opt for. Chances are if you are based some distance away from London, a straightforward passive installation will suffice, as the vehicle has to get to London in the first place. If, on the other hand, you retail to companies inside London, their vehicles may never leave the confines of the M25 and converted Euro 3 vehicles with a simple CRT conversion will not be up to the job.

Further Down The Line

When dealing in used trucks that have been converted it will be important for the selling dealer to know which system has been installed to make sure that it is suitable for the customer’s duty cycle. ‘LEZ Approved’ is not the end of the story. If the truck was originally converted with regular motorway journeys in mind using a cheap and cheerful system, selling this truck to an operator who never leaves central London will be a recipe for disaster!

DPF Supplier Summary for Cleaner Trucks


Cheshire based specialist company Astra Vehicle Technologies has lots of experience from assisting companies in the earlier stages of the LEZ.

Director John Chadderton says: ‘We have launched a new website to ensure that companies are able to access and understand their options. The launch of our new FBC product provides even better options for companies that cannot afford to replace vehicles during the recession. And although we are based in Cheshire we have worked hard to make retro fitting easier for our customers by providing multiple facilities in London.”

Astra has two product options available – the Adastra FBC DPF system which was popular during earlier LEZ stages – and a brand new product, the passive Astra cCRF filter system uses fast reacting stainless steel oxidation catalysts, with the proven durability of high efficiency Silicon Carbide particulate filters.
W: T: 0151 348 5777.

Cawdell Group

Bob Cawdell MD and Founder of the Cawdell Group based in Derby, has developed a solution which is being manufactured in the UK, it is called ART (Advanced Regenerative Trap) he tells us, “ART is made using advanced materials for the internal workings, thus making it more durable than other solutions currently on the market. As a result, we can offer a two-year, in service mechanical integrity warranty.”

Cawdell continues, “The ART product is also competitively priced against its competitors, customers can expect a premium product at a similar price. Fitting time is approximately 4 hours, there are no sophisticated electronics and no fuel additives, and it is a fairly simple solution and is becoming very popular for this reason.”

They currently have a fairly stringent screening process when forming partnerships with new distributors and approved Installers, they have eight of these so far who are officially signed up mainly based in and around London and the South East, but their aim is to build a network of distributors/installers nationally. Cawdell are interested in talking to any potential partners.
W: T: 01332 755477

Clean Diesel Technologies

Surrey-based, Clean Diesel markets an upgradeable range of filters that enable the operator to start out on a cheaper solution and upgrade to the more complex systems to suit changes in operating cycles. The company has a straightforward, ‘Purifier e4 Highway’ CRT product, an FBC ‘e4 Urban’ system and a Purifier e4 Hybrid as their top of the range. If the hybrid is not able to operate successfully then Clean Diesel will give a free upgrade to their ‘active’ system. Cleaning is usually taken care of with an exchange filter scheme.

To monitor the performance of the systems, the iAD diagnostic system logs the performance of the DPF and the dosing. Where a problem is highlighted it can send a text message to a pre-determined number to warn the operator of the problem.
T:01342 894 590 W:


Cybrand are the UK importer of the German range of HJS filters. There are some key differences in the materials used for the HJS filters – the main benefit being that they can be cleaned on site using a straightforward pressure washer, rather than being sent off site for baking in an industrial oven. In addition, their ‘sintered metal’ filters can be worked for longer before any maintenance needs to take place. Cybrand quotes 120,000 miles between cleans, as opposed to 40,000 miles or so for a traditional ceramic filter.

The standard SMF product has the same dimensions as the original acoustic silencer and can operate with exhaust gas temperatures from 250 degrees. For lower temperature operation Cybrand has a coated version, the CSMF that will operate at lower temperatures.

The company has a network of six installation centres plus mobile teams and would still consider adding to the installation network if dealers are interested.
T: 0844 880 9830 W:


The disic catalysed range from dinex is available for all popular makes and models as a direct replacement for the OEM part – saving hours on fitting time. The Danish company has as many as 30,000 units installed throughout the EU.

T:01925 849 849 W:


Eminox has grasped the concept that dealers will make good partners when it comes to DPF technology. Fitment of the Eminox particulate filter is being carried out by all of Volvo Truck and Bus Centre London’s nine Dealerpoints. Others include Harris DAF, Purfleet Commercials and S&B Commercials. Eminox offer two systems, their CRT which, they claim, is Europe’s largest selling DPF with 60,000 units installed. Secondly there is the FBC system that uses Satacen to feed into the fuel system and electric glowplugs to assist regeneration.

Filter cleaning is carried out using a filter exchange system at £200 a time – operators should make sure to replace when the warning light instructs or every 12 months.
T:01427 810888 W:


Relatively new to the UK market, the Huss Group has plenty of experience in Germany and the US. Rather than offering a series of their solutions to the London LEZ issue, Huss is focusing on the specialist area of active systems that can operate with very low exhaust gas temperatures. Sales Manager, Simon Ward tells us, “We offer the MD System – the only active system that requires no additional additive or plugging in overnight. This keeps it simple from the operator’s point of view, as the filter is regenerated under the normal driving cycle of the vehicle.” According to Huss, there is no need to send their Silicon Carbide filters off for cleaning, giving them a vacuum clean with a Henry will suffice.

Although more expensive to buy – (fitted at approximately £5,500 +VAT) Ward believes that the savings in downtime and filter cleaning make it a cheaper alternative in the long run. Considering the resale value is important too. If a truck is suitable for any application inside the LEZ then its market value will be higher than one that has to operate on motorways too.

Still in the process of putting an installer network together, the aim is for 15 located around the country, with a concentration around London. Although discussions are well under way with a number of installers, the company would still be interested in talking to dealers who have the necessary fabrication skills to install the systems.
T: 0208 462 0463 W:


Pirelli are new to the UK market, launched at this year’s CV Show in April. The company markets a pre-filter catalyst passive system, the Feelpure Platinum, plus an FBC system simply called Feelpure. With the addition of glowplug heaters, the active Feelpure AR system can operate with exhaust temperatures as low as 160 degrees. Pirelli claim that they will have as many as 100 installation locations with a stock of 200 to 40 filters kept in North London to meet peak demand.
T: +39 02 938746000 W: