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Specing out Used Semi Prices

Pre-Tier 4 semitruck prices have subsided in comparison with 2012 models.

The curious trend of older semitrucks bringing more money at dealers’ lots or in auction yards has subsided, observes Bill Nelson. “Around five years ago, tractors running with a pre-Tier 4 diesel were highly sought after,” explains Nelson of US Auctioneers (, a national truck and trailer sales house out of Rock Island, Illinois. “There was a lot of discomfort in the marketplace among buyers not wanting to handle diesel exhaust fluid or having concerns that new emissions equipment would cause additional repair and maintenance costs.”

A sale snapshot of recent transactions regarding Class 7 trucks (found in the Pocket Price Guide) confirms Nelson’s observations that older, pre-Tier 4 vehicles are now generally bringing lower values. “Of course, mileage always has a strong influence on values,” Nelson quickly points out. “There are still buyers out there who prefer a Tier 4 diesel in the truck they are buying, no doubt.”

This edition of the Pocket Price Guide puts a focus on comparing prices given at auction for 2012 vs. 2007 model year vehicles. Hundreds of transactions with the emphasis on higher horsepower trucks were examined for this price comparison. 

“Farmers will seek out a truck with more power, as they are using the same tractor to haul grain out of the field as well as pull a flatbed loaded with machinery,” Nelson says.  

trucks more diverse in terms of features  

Buying a tractor truck compared with, for example, a combine or a tractor can be an exacting task, as similar model semis can vary greatly by their features. For example, Freightliner trucks can be running a Caterpillar, Cummins, Detroit diesel, or Mercedes Benz diesel engine.

Even then, you can’t assume just because a truck has a Caterpillar engine that it turns out the same horsepower. You can find the same model International trucks with Cat engines that range in power from 385 hp. up to 475 hp.

Further complicating the sorting process is that there are differences among semitrucks in regard to the following features.

  • Wheelbase: Wheelbase spacing ranged from 161 out to 234 inches among Peterbilt tractors that sold at a recent Ritchie Bros. auction. There is an advantage to having a wider wheelbase when it comes to meeting road limits or when crossing rural bridges. “A longer suspension does reduce your maneuverability in tight spaces when driving around farmyards or through country elevators,” Nelson points out.
  • Suspension systems: Primarily, this is a difference between spring suspensions (which are becoming increasingly rare) vs. pneumatic (or air-ride) systems.
  • Transmissions: Beyond offering various speeds (from eight up to 18 speeds, with 10 speeds the most common), transmissions are made by a variety of makers (Eaton Fuller is the most common). They can be either manual or automatic.
  • Axle ratios: Rear axle ratios vary with 3.42, 3.55, 3.58, and 3.73 being the most common.
  • Additional features: These include a wet kit (hydraulic system); aluminum steel vs. a combination of aluminum (outside) and steel (inside) rims; and a variety of rear axle weight rating (a 40,000-pound weight is, by far, the most common rating).

dig into a semitruck’s history before buying

The challenge with buying used trucks is that they were used for a huge variety of jobs. This is reason enough to dig deep into a truck’s past before buying.

“A common mistake farmers and the public, in general, make is not knowing everything there is to know about a particular item,” says Bill Nelson of US Auctioneers. “It starts with doing business with a reputable auction company or dealership that will tell you the bad along with the good about a truck.” 

Start your investigation by getting the name of the seller or previous owner. Call and ask how the semitruck was maintained, how it was used (local transport vs. over-the-road hauling, for example), and why it’s being sold.

Also ask for the maintenance logs and check to see if they were kept up to date. These logs reveal how well the truck was maintained and exposes any major repairs it has received. 

Investigate whether the truck was involved in an accident, what damage occurred to the vehicle, and whether it has a salvaged title assigned to it.

Research the truck’s engine track record online, looking for owners’ comments regarding chronic problems that occurred with the power plant.

Perform a personal inspection of the truck or hire a mechanic to examine the truck. This should include driving the truck (if possible) and looking closely at its structure. 

“Buyers usually ask about tires and brakes,” Nelson says. “These can be replaced. Look closely at the frame. It can be costly to correct if damaged.”

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