Mileage or Engine Hours: Which Should You Rely on When Buying a Used Semi-Truck?

Automotive Articles

No one said that buying a used semi-truck was a walk in the park. In addition to the usual signs of wear and tear, there's also mileage to consider. The number of miles spent on the open road can help tell the tale of a prospective purchase.

But while some shoppers go by the number of miles driven, others make their choices based on the number of hours the engine has spent running. So which metric is the one you should focus on when buying your used truck?

Why Track Engine Hours?

When it comes to medium and heavy-duty trucks, mileage isn't the only metric used to determine a truck's overall longevity and keep track of maintenance. In certain applications, trucks may spend more of their time idling in one place than being constantly on the move. There's still plenty of wear and tear going on in both cases, so there has to be a way to keep track of the engine wear that occurs at idle.

This is where the idea of tracking engine hours comes in. Most medium and heavy-duty trucks come equipped with an engine-hour meter, either located on the instrument panel inside the truck or somewhere close to the engine under the hood. Just as an odometer keeps track of the number of miles driven, an engine-hour meter tracks the amount of time the engine spends running, whether it's idling or operating under full load.

Tracking engine hours is important for many maintenance tasks, as many fleets and owner-operators schedule their truck maintenance based on the number of hours an engine spends in operation. Engine hours may also be taken into account when it comes to overhauling or replacing older diesel and gasoline engines.

Which Metric Is More Important?

Although you understand the need for tracking engine hours, you may be wondering whether you should rely on this metric when choosing your used semi-truck or stick to the tried-and-true mileage found on the odometer.

When it comes to long distance over-the-road (OTR) trucking, mileage is still king. Your engine may be turning, but so are your wheels. Other components, including your axles, suspension, tires, and wheel bearings, are also getting a pretty good workout as the miles roll on. Choosing an OTR truck based on mileage is still a safe bet considering all of the wear and tear that has to be taken into account.

When it comes to local deliveries, however, mileage may not be as important as engine hours. If you're looking at a medium or heavy-duty box truck, for instance, you may want to take both mileage and engine hours into account considering the relatively short distances traversed by these and other similar trucks. This way, you can account for the wear and tear experienced not only on the road but also at the docking bay.

For utility trucks that spend a vast majority of their time idling in one location, engine hours takes on an outsized importance. Although the suspension, axles, and other components may appear to be in good shape, the engine on a used utility truck itself may require extensive servicing or even a complete overhaul due to the number of hours it's spent at idle.

Consider Both When Choosing Your Used Semi-Truck

There's no harm in considering both engine hours and odometer mileage when choosing your next used semi-truck. In fact, doing just that might be a safer bet that can help you vet your potential purchase more effectively. Keep these and other factors in mind as you search for the used truck you need for your operations.

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