Navigating the used fire truck market

When buying used is your best option, here are some key factors to get the most from your purchase


By Robert Avsec

Many auctions and used fire apparatus dealers are reporting strong demand for used fire apparatus. At the same time, however, they are reporting that the supply of quality used fire apparatus available for purchase is very low.

That's because many departments are keeping their apparatus they bought in service longer. And those departments that lease are more frequently purchasing the apparatus from the leaser — a large segment of the used apparatus sold in the United States comes from trucks returned to the leaser at the lease's end.

While market conditions will affect price and availability, used apparatus can still be bought. Here are some of sources and what they offer:

  • Auctions (both public and private): In most cases, the buyer is purchasing the used apparatus as is.
  • Used apparatus dealers: These dealers purchase used vehicles and resell them; they may provide some refurbishment or services prior to reselling, or they may sell as is.
  • New apparatus dealers: These dealers may accept used apparatus as trade from a new-apparatus buyer, after which they may resell directly to a department, sell to a used apparatus dealer or sell to an auction.
  • Used apparatus consignment dealers: These dealers market the apparatus for sale while the owner continues to use it. No money changes hands until a buyer is secured. A key point here is that the owner retains the title for the apparatus until the sale is final. When purchasing from a consignment dealer, ensure that the purchase agreement includes the prompt transfer of the vehicle title upon completion of the sale.

Wanted: fire truck
The Internet is a good, low-cost tool to use in your search for a used fire apparatus. Unfortunately, it is an unregulated marketplace where the admonishment, "let the buyer beware," should be your mantra.

Unscrupulous companies will use the Internet to inflate many aspects of their businesses, including size of staff, number of sales, and number of satisfied customers.

Many state chief or firefighter association websites have discussion boards, Facebook pages, etc., where members can ask questions of their fellow members. It is good to ask members where they bought their used apparatus, how satisfied were they with the service before and after the purchase, and would they recommend that seller.

The National Fire Protection Association's buyers guide lists 22 vendors that sell and finance new and used fire apparatus. Along with each company's listing, NFPA provides links to pertinent information found on the company's website. This feature can be a real time-saver in your research efforts.

Stay diligent
One key phrase to keep in mind as you conduct your research: Conduct due diligence.

According to USLegal.com, "Due diligence is a process of acquiring objective and reliable information, generally on a person or a company, prior to a specific event or decision. It is usually a systematic research effort, which is used to gather the critical facts and descriptive information which are most relevant to the making of an informed decision on a matter of importance."

When conducting due diligence, use one or more of the tools described earlier to look for information that includes, but is not limited to:

  • Dealer reliability
  • Price reliability
  • Warranties
  • Service before and after the sale
  • Previous customers

Get in touch with at least five of those previous customers for each dealer that you're considering doing business with and solicit their feedback on the above items. Even better, do so by asking them to complete a short survey on-line; there are many free on-line survey tools that are easy to use, such as, SurveyMonkey, Zoomarang and KwikSurveys.

In your survey, ask those previous customers to rate your statements using a 1-4 scale that describes their level of agreement with the statement (1, strongly disagree; 2, disagree; 3, agree; and 4, strongly agree). I like a 1-4 scale rather than a 1-5 scale because the absence of a 3-Neutral keeps respondents off the fence.

Example statements could include:

  • The dealer provided accurate information regarding the mechanical condition of the used fire apparatus that we purchased.
  • The dealer responded to our questions, problems or concerns in a timely and professional manner.
  • We would recommend this dealer to other departments for the purchase of used fire apparatus.

Be sure to include a couple of key statements on your survey that enable the respondent to provide written feedback, not just about the dealer, but also their purchasing experience. These are a few that I really like.

  • Tell us three things that you would do again when purchasing a piece of used fire apparatus.
  • Tell us three things that you would not do again when purchasing a piece of used fire apparatus.
  • Tell us three things that we might not know about purchasing used fire apparatus.

Using a survey instrument offers a number of benefits for the potential buyer. First, it's an accepted methodology for conducting due diligence. Second, it's a way to garner feedback from real customers who have already been down the road you're considering taking. And third, it provides a solid package of documentation that supports your decision on the vendor you use.

Used apparatus is certainly a seller's market these days, which is all the more reason to be a well-prepared buyer before stepping into that arena.

 

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