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Want a used truck? Talk to your plumber

Online shopping for commercial vehicles grows exponentially during pandemic

Charles Bowles, director of strategic initiatives for Trader Interactive, gave tips to find and buy used trucks at the Work Truck Week event in Indianapolis on Wednesday, March 9. (Photo: Alan Adler/FreightWaves)

INDIANAPOLIS — The paucity of new commercial trucks and the wait times to get them have made searching for used models more popular and broader than ever.

People are willing to drive farther — more than six hours — to check out an online offering for a heavy- or medium-duty vocational truck. And they will pay up to beat out the competition, according to Charles Bowles, director of strategic initiatives for Trader Interactive, a business-to-business service based in Norfolk, Virginia.

“The availability of new is so far out in many cases, and they need something right now, so they search for used inventory,” Bowles said during the Work Truck Week conference on Wednesday. “We have to do unique things nowadays. It’s different than it used to be.”

Commercial Truck Trader, the site Bowles is associated with, saw online traffic for commercial trucks soar 102% from 2019 through 2021. A typical pre-pandemic year saw a 25% increase in traffic. The top five categories in demand are sleeper trucks, dump trucks, box and straight trucks, utility trucks and pickup trucks.

Dealerships starved

Dealerships are so starved for used trucks that Bowles said creative approaches are required. Sure, everybody should attend auctions, but since everybody already does, the chance of snagging a good piece of used equipment is low. And used truck prices at auction rose 96% year-over-year in 2021, according to J.D. Power Valuation Services.

“We’re bidding against everybody. We’re bidding against big rental companies, large dealership groups. That’s a tough one for us,” Bowles said.


Staying closer to home is often a better approach.

“One of the best practices is knowing and working well with your service manager,” he said. The department servicing trucks often has the best idea when someone is ready to dispose of a vehicle, either because appointments are scheduled or skipped, suggesting a loss of business and lack of money to get service performed.

“The service manager can actually be that point where we can source inventory,” Bowles said. “We can actually help them by reaching out, but you have to know your service manager well.”

Another source is private party listings from general contractors, delivery companies and other business owners looking to dispose of an asset without going to a dealership. They fear getting ripped off and want to avoid the hassle.

Smart dealers are reaching out to private sellers by vocation and making a cash offer, moving faster than other interested private buyers. So the dealer still gets the truck, but the seller gets more money and less hassle.

Paying attention to associations, whether the local plumbers’ group or the chamber of commerce, is another way to unearth underutilized commercial trucks.

“There are a lot of companies who have an urgent need for liquidation based on losing a job, losing a particular customer or account,” Bowles said. “The only way we’re going to be able to do this prior to them sending it to auction is by networking. You’re going to have a buyer for every piece of inventory they have.”  

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Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.

Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.