Adams, Aerials, Apparatus, Pumpers, Rescues

Apparatus Purchasing: Used Fire Trucks, Part 2

Issue 8 and Volume 21.

By Bill Adams

This article continues the analysis and discussion of used fire apparatus sales, an often overlooked segment of the apparatus market that could be worth well over $70 million per year.

Glenn Usdin, owner of Command Fire Apparatus in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; Jim Keltner, owner of Jon’s Mid America Fire Apparatus in Rogersville, Missouri; Greg Still, owner of Missouri Fire Apparatus in Grovespring, Missouri; Barbara Bauman, co-owner with Jennifer Bauman of FIRETEC in Randolph, Vermont; James Wessel, owner of Brindlee Mountain Fire Apparatus in Union Grove, Alabama; and Brian Reyburn, co-owner with Stuart and Cindy Reyburn of FireTrucks, Unlimited, in Henderson, Nevada, provide comments. They answered some specific questions regarding the used apparatus market.

At what age does a rig’s resale value significantly decrease?

Usdin: “The key points in the value of a used unit are five to seven years, 10 years, and then 20 years. Each of those age marks represents a significant point of notice in the value of a used unit.”

Still: “20 years.”

Baumann: “By 10 years of age, it’s worth about half the original purchase price.”

Reyburn: “It all depends on what kind of rig it is, but 10 to 15 years old is a typical disposal time for departments. Some departments dispose of a rig because it is scheduled to be disposed of, but in many cases the truck still has a lot of life left. Trucks over 15 years old start to decrease in value at a more rapid pace. We have seen the resale value reduced when trucks have been taken out of service but not sold for five years or more.”

Wessel: “15 years.”

At what mileage does a rig’s resale value significantly decrease?

Usdin: “100,000 miles is a hard number for many used purchasers to get out of their heads. Rural departments that might not put 1,000 miles a year on a unit have a hard time with the concept of a 10-year-old unit getting 10,000 miles per year.”

Keltner: “50,000, depending on the rig.”

Still: “Over 50,000 miles and then 100,000 usually results in the vehicle being sold for salvage pricing.”

Baumann: “Rigs with over 100,000 miles are hard to move unless there happens to be an over-the-road trucker on the department. High mileage does not scare those folks.”

Reyburn: “If a used rig has less than 100,000 miles, that’s more attractive to buyers.”

Wessel: “100,000 miles.”

1 A 2010 Sutphen midmount platform and a 2006 Rosenbauer rear-mount platform recently delivered. James Wessel, owner, Brindlee Mountan Fire Apparatus, says, “We keep about 20 to 30 aerials available in our yard and usually have a couple hundred available on our Web site.” (Photos courtesy of Brindlee Mountan Fire Apparatus
1 A 2010 Sutphen midmount platform and a 2006 Rosenbauer rear-mount platform recently delivered. James Wessel, owner, Brindlee Mountan Fire Apparatus, says, “We keep about 20 to 30 aerials available in our yard and usually have a couple hundred available on our Web site.” (Photos courtesy of Brindlee Mountan Fire Apparatus.)

Is there a certain number of pump hours that decreases a rig’s value?

Usdin: “Pump hours are always so low that it’s not a factor. The key factor is passing a pump test at the time of sale.”

Keltner: “No.”

Still: “1,000 hours.”

Wessel: “Our customers generally are not interested in the pump hours, and they are a nonfactor in the sale.”

What are some advantages for a fire department to dispose of a rig through a used apparatus dealer?

Usdin: “Fire departments are not selling organizations. When selling to a dealer, [the dealer does] all the work. There’s a layer of liability between the fire department and the eventual owner of the unit. You may get less money, but you have a guaranteed sale, and the unit is gone. When selling or trading in to a dealer, there is far less work for the selling department.”

Keltner: “Going through a dealer is a sure thing. The dealer should pay immediately for the rig. The fire department is removed completely from the sale to the next user. The dealer ‘should’ retitle in its own name and take all responsibility and liability for the unit from the time it leaves the seller’s station. No one ever should come back to them for anything. A broker estimates what a rig ‘could’ be worth, but he doesn’t have his checkbook out. A dealer providing money immediately eliminates guesswork and most importantly [takes] the risk out of selling the apparatus.”

Still: “I don’t take trade-ins, so this is not an area of expertise for my company.”

Reyburn: “Quick sale. Most sales to dealers are ‘as-is’ so you do not have to make any repairs before delivering the vehicle. Administrative requirements for transferring the title are simplified when using a dealer. Logistics of moving the rig are handled by the dealer. If you are doing a replacement, free space for the new rig is made available. You will not pay a brokerage commission on a rig sold to a dealer.”

Wessel: “The trade-in value is often kept within the fire department budget instead of going into the general fund. That is the primary advantage that we hear. The value of the unit is guaranteed and can be budgeted as opposed to waiting until the end of the process to determine the value. The timing of the transaction is guaranteed, so the department is not left looking for a place to store the truck. Sometimes the trade-in value is higher than what they could sell it on their own for.”

2 A 2010 Sutphen midmount platform and a 2006 Rosenbauer rear-mount platform recently delivered. James Wessel, owner, Brindlee Mountan Fire Apparatus, says, “We keep about 20 to 30 aerials available in our yard and usually have a couple hundred available on our Web site.” (Photos courtesy of Brindlee Mountan Fire Apparatus
2 A 2010 Sutphen midmount platform and a 2006 Rosenbauer rear-mount platform recently delivered. James Wessel, owner, Brindlee Mountan Fire Apparatus, says, “We keep about 20 to 30 aerials available in our yard and usually have a couple hundred available on our Web site.” (Photos courtesy of Brindlee Mountan Fire Apparatus.)

What are some advantages for a fire department to dispose of a rig through a broker?

Usdin: “When a low-priced unit is in excellent condition, a broker is a good way to sell the unit. The brokers list your unit and have a number of potential customers in their database. You still have to show the unit in your station and meet customers, but the broker will assist you with negotiation.”

Still: “I don’t take trade-ins, so this is not an area of expertise for my company.”

Baumann: “The apparatus goes for fair market value when being sold department-to-department with FIRETEC (we are strictly a broker). It’s a transparent deal, and the buyers have more faith in the purchase, as they are connected directly with the original owners of the rig. We make it easy for the seller, and the deal ends up fair for both departments.”

Reyburn: “Higher sales price, in most cases. Dealing with an intermediary for negotiating the sales price with the buyer department.”

Wessel: “The single reason is that they may receive a higher price than if they sold it wholesale.”

Will a fire department “make out better” selling through a dealer/broker rather than trading in when purchasing a new rig?

Usdin: “No major difference. Most trade-in units still go to a dealer. There is a common misconception that you get less from a trade-in. It really shouldn’t make that much difference. Generally, a trade-in to the new dealer is a very easy way to dispose of the unit because the entire transaction is completed as one deal. The new unit arrives; the old one goes away. For municipal departments, there is far less bookkeeping involved by doing a trade-in.”

Keltner: “In my opinion, the only time to use a broker is if you know you’re not going to get much out of the rig and don’t mind it sitting a long time. In that case, an auction is most likely a better option than brokering the truck.”

Baumann: “They will get 30 to 60 percent of the actual value of the apparatus if they trade it in.”

Reyburn: “Used truck dealers have a good grasp on what the values of used apparatus are. Many new fire apparatus dealers do not have a used apparatus division and are ultimately looking to sell the rig to another used fire apparatus dealer. Selling direct to a used apparatus dealer is more advantageous to the department than trading in to a new apparatus dealer.”

Wessel: “Each situation is different. Brindlee Mountain takes the time to learn each department’s needs and equipment and helps them tailor a solution that best fits. There is not a generalized ‘make out better’ one way or the other that applies en masse.”

3 Command Fire Apparatus owner Glen Usdin says, “Commercial pumpers with two-person cabs are popular among many rural departments. The commercial chassis can be fixed anywhere, and the departments generally just send one or two people with the unit on a call. Newer custom pumper and pumper-tankers are very popular in the used market. As the price of most new custom pumpers exceeds $400,000, many departments opt for 10- to 20-year-old custom units in good condition.” (Photos courtesy of Command Fire Apparatus
3 Command Fire Apparatus owner Glen Usdin says, “Commercial pumpers with two-person cabs are popular among many rural departments. The commercial chassis can be fixed anywhere, and the departments generally just send one or two people with the unit on a call. Newer custom pumper and pumper-tankers are very popular in the used market. As the price of most new custom pumpers exceeds $400,000, many departments opt for 10- to 20-year-old custom units in good condition.” (Photos courtesy of Command Fire Apparatus.)

Should fire departments cosmetically “spiff up” a rig before trying to sell it?

Usdin: “If you are selling through a broker or fire department to fire department, yes, make it as nice as possible before an end user sees it. Dirty units will immediately turn off buyers. If going to a dealer or trading in, keep it in good condition, but you don’t need to take any extra steps to spiff it up.”

Keltner: “Usually not. They are not in that business, and their return on the wholesale market is minimal.”

Still: “A good polishing and cleaning pays large dividends when selling a vehicle.”

Baumann: “If it looks well taken care of, it’s going to be more appealing to potential buyers.”

Reyburn: “Pictures are always very important when selling used fire apparatus. The interior and exterior should be clean. Give a complete picture of the condition of the rig. Looks matter!”

Wessel: “They would be better served to commit from day one to caring for their apparatus mechanically and cosmetically than trying to recover at the end.”

What are some physical features you look for that increase a rig’s value?

Usdin: “Overall appearance, upholstery is in good shape, paint is shiny and bright and free of nicks and scratches, and undercarriage is clean and free of rust/corrosion.”

Keltner: “Tires, paint condition, corrosion underneath, physical damage, and interior wear/damage on cab.”

Still: “Red color, low miles, low hours, good overall condition.”

Baumann: “A red pumper with current pump test, little to no rust, and including affixed as well as some loose equipment. You may not be asking about tank size, but it’s a big deal; the bigger the better.”

Reyburn: “Current pump test, emergency lighting works and lenses are in good condition, interior upholstery is in good shape, tire condition, engine condition, type and mileage, and selling department’s maintenance capabilities/program, which are signs the department took care of the rig.”

Wessel: “Color is important; most customers prefer red. Good upholstery and maintenance records.”

4 Command Fire Apparatus owner Glen Usdin says, “Commercial pumpers with two-person cabs are popular among many rural departments. The commercial chassis can be fixed anywhere, and the departments generally just send one or two people with the unit on a call. Newer custom pumper and pumper-tankers are very popular in the used market. As the price of most new custom pumpers exceeds $400,000, many departments opt for 10- to 20-year-old custom units in good condition.” (Photos courtesy of Command Fire Apparatus
4 Command Fire Apparatus owner Glen Usdin says, “Commercial pumpers with two-person cabs are popular among many rural departments. The commercial chassis can be fixed anywhere, and the departments generally just send one or two people with the unit on a call. Newer custom pumper and pumper-tankers are very popular in the used market. As the price of most new custom pumpers exceeds $400,000, many departments opt for 10- to 20-year-old custom units in good condition.” (Photos courtesy of Command Fire Apparatus.)

What physical features would discourage you from purchasing or listing a rig?

Usdin: “Rust or corrosion, high miles/hours, obvious engine/transmission fluid leaks, or poor maintenance and upkeep.”

Keltner: “Corrosion underneath is the number one. Specs, mileage, and brand.”

Still: “High miles and high hours without being refurbished.”

Baumann: “If it’s not owned by a fire department or reputable dealer or if the pump is known to be bad, we won’t list it. For used aerials, it must be certified or certifiable.”

Reyburn: “I would separate the two (purchasing vs. listing). We won’t list a truck that cannot pass a pump test or is dangerous. Areas of concern for trucks that are brought into inventory: excessive corrosion, pump damage, major body work, blown motors, age, unpopular colors, location of the rig.”

Wessel: “Rust, canopy cab trucks, and small booster tanks.”

Must dealers comply with state Department of Motor Vehicles regulations when selling “used vehicles”?

Usdin: “There are very few regulations that pertain to used units. ‘Let the buyer beware’ is the best motto for potential customers.”

Keltner: “No.”

Still: “Yes.”

Wessel: “Generally speaking, yes.”

5 Missouri Fire Apparatus owner Greg Still says his company specializes in pumper-tankers on both commercial and custom chassis with single or dual rear axles like those shown here. (Photos courtesy of Missouri Fire Apparatus
5 Missouri Fire Apparatus owner Greg Still says his company specializes in pumper-tankers on both commercial and custom chassis with single or dual rear axles like those shown here. (Photos courtesy of Missouri Fire Apparatus.)

Do you offer National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1912, Standard for Fire Apparatus Refurbishing, Level 2 refurbishing for customers purchasing used rigs?

Usdin: “No, we don’t do major repairs or overhauls.”

Keltner: “Yes.”

Still: “Yes.”

Reyburn: “Yes. Our core business is performing complete level 2 refurbishments for customers. This has become very popular. We have performed over 200 refurbishments in the past five years for all types and brands of fire apparatus.”

Wessel: “Yes.”

Is NFPA 1912 Level 2 refurbishing a “big deal” in the used rig market?

Usdin: “Not a factor in our business. Can’t recall a customer ever mentioning it.”

Keltner: “Not as big as it should be.”

Still: “Yes.”

Reyburn: “Yes. Customers want to know their rigs are going to last a long time. When they get a complete refurb, they are getting the peace of mind that the rig will function mechanically and look like new, the safety features will be current, and the technology will be upgraded to the levels of their new rigs. Refurbished rigs have the same warranties that new rigs do. Typical refurbishments are 60 percent less than buying an equivalent new apparatus.”

Wessel: “No.”

6 Missouri Fire Apparatus owner Greg Still says his company specializes in pumper-tankers on both commercial and custom chassis with single or dual rear axles like those shown here. (Photos courtesy of Missouri Fire Apparatus
6 Missouri Fire Apparatus owner Greg Still says his company specializes in pumper-tankers on both commercial and custom chassis with single or dual rear axles like those shown here. (Photos courtesy of Missouri Fire Apparatus.)

Are used rig buyers concerned about upgrades to meet some of NFPA 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, requirements like replacing tires that are seven years old and upgrading reflective striping?

Usdin: “Yes, those questions are asked on almost every purchase.”

Keltner: “Are you talking about requirements or suggestions? That is the difference. I don’t think most used purchasers (more than 90 percent) care about the NFPA suggestions as long as the rig is current for the year it was built.”

Still: “Yes.”

Baumann: “Purchasers of used rigs are more concerned about enclosed cabs than anything like reflective striping, etc. The thousands of poor volunteer fire departments with whom we work cannot afford to be concerned with keeping up with current NFPA standards. They are simply desperate for a good used fire truck. How much water it carries and how well it pumps are the things that are most important to them.”

Wessel: “Generally, no.”What’s the approximate age of used pumpers being sold?

Usdin: “Five to 20 years old for our business.”

Keltner: “Ten to 18 [years old].”

Still: “Five to 10 [years old].”

Reyburn: Ten to 15 [years old].”

Wessel: “Fifteen years.”

7 Missouri Fire Apparatus owner Greg Still says his company specializes in pumper-tankers on both commercial and custom chassis with single or dual rear axles like those shown here. (Photos courtesy of Missouri Fire Apparatus
7 Missouri Fire Apparatus owner Greg Still says his company specializes in pumper-tankers on both commercial and custom chassis with single or dual rear axles like those shown here. (Photos courtesy of Missouri Fire Apparatus.)

What’s the approximate age of used aerial devices being sold?

Usdin: “Five to 20 years old.”

Keltner: “Ten to 20 [years old].”

Still: “Ten years.”

Reyburn: “Fifteen to 20 [years old].”

Wessel: “Fifteen years.”What’s the approximate age of used tankers being sold?

Usdin: “Five to 20 years old.”

Keltner: “Fifteen to 25 [years old].”

Still: “10 years.”

Reyburn: “Fifteen to 25 years.”

Wessel: “Fifteen years.”

8 A used KME custom pumper, typical of the many quality preowned rigs available in the used fire truck market. (Photo courtesy of Jon’s Mid America Fire Apparatus
8 A used KME custom pumper, typical of the many quality preowned rigs available in the used fire truck market. (Photo courtesy of Jon’s Mid America Fire Apparatus.)

Are there any wild guestimates for the life spans of used rigs?

Usdin: “No reliable estimates. It’s totally based on usage and maintenance. All used rigs come out of the factory as brand new rigs. Five to 20 years down the line, the above factors determine how much longer they will last.”

Keltner: “Completely dependent on the condition and the application it is going to.”

Still: “Post 1995 could have a 30-year life span if maintained properly.”

Baumann: “Depends on the usage, but once it’s 30 years old, it’s antique.”

Wessel: “Well maintained, we see many trucks lasting 30 to 35 years.”

Do dealers provide warranties for used rigs?

Usdin: “Depends on the individual dealer. Some provide realistic warranties covering items for a specific period of time. Other dealers use smoke-and-mirror warranties with extended periods of time that don’t really cover expected breakdowns but make the buyers feel good until they actually have a problem. Once again, buyer beware. Get warranties in writing with the limits and exclusions, what is actually covered, and what the reimbursement policy will be. It is vital that the warranty be in place in your community area. When the selling dealer is hundreds of miles away, it is unrealistic to expect to bring the unit back for warranty repairs. Our company offers an optional third-party extended warranty policy from a nationwide service company that covers late-model units from one to five years.”

Keltner: “Depends on the rig for duration. Ninety days to two years. It covers the drivetrain in most cases. There are some sham (in my opinion) deductible extended warranties sold that are not really a decent deal for the customer.”

Still: “We give a one-year complete vehicle warranty.”

Reyburn: “Used trucks can carry a 90-day to one-year major components warranty (engine, transmission, pump, etc.) and usually have some kind of limit.”

Wessel: “Brindlee Mountain offers warranties lasting anywhere from one year to lifetime, covering everything on the apparatus. We have sold used trucks with a lifetime major component limited warranty.”

9 A 1998 International walk-around rescue now serving in Wister, Oklahoma. It most recently served with the Sheakleyville (PA) Community Volunteer Fire Department. FIRETEC also sold this unit to Sheakleyville in 2006. It had previously served with David Corner Volunteer Fire & Rescue in Virginia Beach, Virginia. (Photo courtesy of FIRETEC
9 A 1998 International walk-around rescue now serving in Wister, Oklahoma. It most recently served with the Sheakleyville (PA) Community Volunteer Fire Department. FIRETEC also sold this unit to Sheakleyville in 2006. It had previously served with David Corner Volunteer Fire & Rescue in Virginia Beach, Virginia. (Photo courtesy of FIRETEC.)

Any words of wisdom for used apparatus buyers and sellers?

Usdin: “Do research on the dealer or broker you plan to buy from. Find out if they have delivered units nearby. Research the warranty they offer, and see if it covers issues that you might have and if it can be fixed in your immediate area. Inspect the apparatus. Your first impression is generally your best impression. Don’t buy a unit where key components are no longer available, particularly when buying an aerial unit. Ask your dealer for recommendations from other buyers.”

Keltner: “Make sure you are dealing with someone you trust who has been in business long enough to prove their commitment and stability in the industry. Empty promises of what your truck should be worth in selling a fire truck aren’t as good as a certified check to buy your truck. Buy the truck from the company that owns the truck and will make sure it’s right before it leaves their place so you don’t have to worry about what it is like a year from now.”

Still: “Ask for references of past customers of the prospective company you are purchasing from. Look for long warranty periods. Ninety days is just not enough time to evaluate the apparatus being purchased. Find a company that works hard to reach your department’s goals and needs.”

Baumann: “When planning for an apparatus upgrade, it’s wise for a fire department to find out what its surplus apparatus is really worth to another fire department before it trades it in or sells it at auction. We offer that free service to fire departments. Also, if resale price of the piece ultimately is going to be important to a fire department, and the specs are somewhat flexible when ordering that new piece, we recommend going with a 750- or 1,000-gallon tank instead of 500.”

Reyburn: “Buy from a reputable used fire apparatus dealer/broker that can provide references. If you are working with a good organization, it will find the truck that will work best for you. If you see something that will work, make sure you can take action quickly. Get approvals in advance if you can.”

Wessel: “Always inspect an apparatus before purchasing it. If buying from a dealer, make sure you understand the warranty and the dealer’s reputation.”

Usdin adds, “A major factor that departments can incorporate into vehicle purchasing is to plan for the sale at the completion of its useful life. Items such as nonstandard colors and extremely specialized configurations can greatly lower the value of a rig at resale time. I’ve been working with many customers for close to 30 years and advise them when they order new units to take items into consideration that affect the value. Increasing the booster tank from 500 to 750 gallons drastically increases the value of the unit 10 to 20 years later. The extra water costs about $ 2,000 today but will raise the value up to $10,000 to $20,000 when the rig is sold.”

BILL ADAMS is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board, a former fire apparatus salesman, and a past chief of the East Rochester (NY) Fire Department. He has 50 years of experience in the volunteer fire service.