1. Shop Around.
Truck dealers can only advertise in their own region. A truck dealership in Ohio is not allowed to advertise in California. But dealerships are allowed to sell trucks to customers in other regions if the customer contacts them. As you travel, grab some truck papers from different regions of the country and consider contacting dealers that are far from you. If you already know what make of truck you want, call around to dealers around the country.
2. Compare Apples to Apples.
If you are going to be ordering a new truck, ask for a price quote along with the specifications- this will be about 10 pages long. Compare the spec sheets from different dealers line for line. You may find that a salesman who gives you a lower price quote also skimped out on some of the options without mentioning that to you. If you find that a salesman's quote has inferior specs, tell them which ones you want changed and have them resend the specs and quote. ALWAYS read through the specs line by line- don't trust anything verbal. You may have to pay a chunk of change to receive the faxes from all these dealers, but at least you'll know you're comparing prices, not options.
If you are shopping for a used truck, it's unlikely that you will be able to find two trucks that are exactly alike. You won't be able to compare apples to apples like you would if you were buying a new truck. Make a list of the specifications that are most important to you. What make and model are you looking for? How old and roughly how many miles? What engine do you want? What transmission? What rears? Once you nail down those requirements, you may have to compromise on some of the options. Power windows, gauge packages, color. Most options can be changed if they are not to your liking. The things that matter most are the things that are permanent, but you will want to consider the less important options once you have narrowed it down to a few trucks.
4. Get a loan from your own bank.
If you have the dealership set up financing, they are likely to add "points" to your interest rate. There is nothing unethical about this- you are, after all, using their resources to secure financing and they should be compensated for the work their employees do. But you need to decide if you are willing to pay the difference over the life of the loan. The bank may give you a 10% interest rate, but the dealer sets it up for 12% and will pocket the difference with each payment you make. Generally, the dealer will not disclose this information. However, you need to be aware that you may be able to secure a lower interest rate on your own. Consider- a difference of 3% will save you hundreds of dollars each month. It's worth it to do the extra legwork on your own.
5. Make sure you can afford the truck.
There are a lot of owner-operator contracts out there. There are many more mediocre owner-operator contracts than there are lucrative ones. Before you take on the risks involved with owning a truck, make sure you have a contract that can pay for it. Will you be pouring every dime you make back into the truck? Calculate the costs of fuel and maintenance and taxes. If you are a company driver, spend a few months putting your records on paper. Look at the bottom line- what will you have left after all your expenses? If you are not yet a driver, you will want to spend a couple of years driving a truck as a company driver before you decide to buy a truck on your own. Don't buy the lie that owner-operators with rates twice as high as company drivers are making twice as much. They may not even be making the same amount once you figure in all the expenses.
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