Buying a Used Food Truck (2019 Guide)
When it comes to starting a food truck business, the first question is always “How much does a food truck cost?” If you’re buying a used food truck from an owner, the standard price is around $50,000 – $100,000. If you’re looking for real world examples, you can go to the Roaming Hunger Marketplace, where you’ll find pre-owned trucks, trailers, and carts for as low as $35,000 (or less). The real costs of buying used, however, can be a lot more complex. While it may seem like a steal, buying a used, as-is food truck is like buying a home that’s a fixer-upper. What you see – and sometimes what you don’t – is exactly what you get. Below we’ll tell you how to be a smart shopper as you invest in the most important piece of your new food truck business.
The Pros and Cons of Buying a Used Food Truck
AffordabilityThe price of a used, as-is food truck is significantly less than building or leasing a new truck. This can be a great fit if you’re handy/resourceful, and willing to invest some time into fixing it up (instead of paying someone else to do the same). For more information, here’s a handy guide on how the costs compare between a used and new food truck.
Possible PermitsA used food truck may already be permitted – ask the seller when and where to see if it’s in the areas you want to serve. For more permit tips, check out our Tips And Tricks To Make It In The Industry article.
Warranties are likely expiredNewly built food trucks come with warranties, but on a used food truck the equipment is likely older: that means you’re out of pocket when your fridge or generator breaks.
Unexpected repairsDirectly related – when you buy a used truck and cooking equipment, you aren’t 100% sure what works and what doesn’t. Make sure you have some cash on hand to cover future repairs.
Outside financing is to get toughTraditional lenders have a hard time evaluating the quality of a used food truck, so they’ll likely choose not to loan at all. Expect to pay cash.
No flexibility in layoutThe kitchen layout and equipment that it comes with may or may not work for your food concept – it’s hard to bake pizza on a truck designed for burgers. So be ready to (possibly) compromise.
Permitting and inspection troubleJust because the food truck was once on the road doesn’t mean it’ll pass permitting and inspection again or that it was ever permitted to begin with – so be doubly sure not to assume otherwise.
Aesthetic problemsA used food truck might look a little rough. Plan to put in some serious elbow grease or about $800 (standard) to have your truck professionally deep-cleaned.
What to Do Before You Buy a Used Food Truck
- Learn the truck’s history. Ask for the VIN of the vehicle in advance and run it on VinCheck.info to look for accidents, liens, a salvaged title, mileage, etc. Remember, the truck probably had another life before becoming a food truck – that’s normal – but you want to know as much about it as possible.
- Check with local food truck authorities. Do your research and talk to local government agencies about permitting and inspection requirements everywhere you expect to serve food. (Again – they might even be able to tell you if the truck you want to buy is already permitted to serve there!)
- Create an inspection list. You’ll want to focus on the condition of big ticket items like the generator, engine, transmission, and cooking appliances, but that’s no reason not to check whether the turn signals work and how much tread the tires have. Make sure to leave empty space to make notes next to each item during the walkthrough with the seller.
- Get expert’s opinion. When you go to view the truck for sale, try to bring both a commercial automotive mechanic and also someone with experience cooking on a food truck. They should be able to advise both on the reliability of the food truck and also help determine whether it’s a good fit for your needs. Even if costs a couple hundred dollars for their time, this will be money well spent to ensure you’re making a sound investment.
- Decide what’s important to you. Just like buying an older home on a budget, buying a used truck means you’ll probably need to make compromises. Think hard about what’s going to actually contribute to the success of your food truck business and use those answers to evaluate whether the used truck you’re considering is right for you.