A Pumper Shares 10 Tips For Buying The Right Vacuum Truck For Your Business

After a negative experience buying a used vacuum truck, longtime Colorado pumper Leonard Brown shares his experience with the hope of educating others.
A Pumper Shares 10 Tips For Buying The Right Vacuum Truck For Your Business
Leonard Brown stands next to an International 9300 with 4,000-gallon tank, one of eight trucks in his fleet.

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Leonard Brown, owner of Brown’s Septic in Del Norte, Colo., thought he had a good deal on a used vacuum truck. It was July 2013. One of his trucks was down (an ’82 International needed a crankshaft) and forest fires were creating demand for portable restrooms, which Brown had on site.

Things were hectic. Brown was busy and needed to move – fast. He located a 2008 International with a new 2,500-gallon tank, pump and all the accessories that seemed a perfect fit. Brown called the seller and was told he could take delivery in three to five weeks. What followed were months of excuses, unanswered calls – and no truck.

The builder, more than 1,000 miles away, said he needed 50 percent down to satisfy his bank, which wanted 100 percent payment before releasing the title. Brown agreed to full payment, hoping to expedite what was becoming a nightmare of a transaction.

No rookie to the process, Brown has been in the septic business most of his life, beginning with his dad in 1968. He has eight vacuum trucks and years of buying experience – often sight unseen. He even purchased a 2006 International 5900 from a builder in Kansas while waiting for his other truck to be finished. He’s had many positive purchase experiences.

In February, Brown called the builder and said he would be there the next day to pick up the truck – finished or not. What he got was a truck, tank and unmounted pump, certainly not what he ordered. Finishing the job cost another $10,000.

Looking back, Brown says there were many lessons to be learned and hopes his story helps others avoid a similar experience, especially when doing business from a distance.

Here are 10 tips to consider when buying your next truck:

Don’t rush. Do your homework, Brown says. It only takes a few seconds to do an online search. Does the seller’s name raise a red flag? If you’re buying from a business, are there liens or judgments against the business? No need to go further.

Ask for references. The local chamber of commerce is a good place to start. What do they have to say about the builder or seller? Have your finance company do a background check. Is the builder bonded? Call the references the builder or seller provides. Were they satisfied with the builder’s work and service or were there “small” problems along the way? Would they buy a truck from this individual again? Why or why not?

Arrange for a reasonable downpayment. Brown says most builders will ask for 10 to 20 percent down. Anything higher could mean the company is strapped for cash. If buying a used truck, the seller might not insist on anything down in a handshake agreement. But new or used, you certainly don’t want to give full payment up front.

Know what you’re buying. Get an itemized listing of the truck being built, including each nut, bolt and accessory. Don’t settle for a vague agreement that only lists truck, tank, pump and all the accessories, Brown says. The year, make, model and size of the pump, tank, type of hoses, valves and chassis should be clearly stated. How will the tank be finished? Is there a warranty?

Get a delivery date – in writing. Agree on when, where and how you will take ownership. Apply a penalty if the builder doesn’t deliver on time. Don’t take delivery of a partially furnished truck or accept promises that a PTO will be added “at a later date.” Check your invoice. Are the items you ordered properly installed and in working order?

When in doubt, check it out. While not always possible, being able to kick the tires on the truck you plan to buy has advantages. How well has it been maintained? Take it for a ride. In today’s Internet age, good deals can be found online. Sellers looking to protect their reputation willingly point out imperfections. But there’s no substitute for a personal inspection.

Ask for photos or video. When purchasing a complete or nearly complete truck, ask the seller to supply detailed photos or video of key components. Does the work meet your satisfaction? Pictures certainly are worth a thousand words when buying used equipment – are there signs of rust or cracks in the welds, body or frame? Do valves or hoses need replacing? Look inside the tank, under the hood and beneath the chassis. Check the odometer and equipment hours. If you’re working with a builder, ask to see photos of his shop and tools. It might look good from a distance but is there actually work being done inside?

Understand what you’re signing. Read over the purchase agreement. Have your lawyer or a business-savvy family member give it a second look, especially if you’re new to the business. Does everything seem in order? Are there items missing or financing terms you don’t understand?

Talk to vendors and OEMs. Can trusted suppliers recommend a builder or seller you might not be familiar with?

Network. What do fellow pumpers you met at seminars and trade shows have to say about the builder or seller?


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