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How to Buy a Food Truck

How to Buy a Food Truck

Last updated on 4/09/2021

Purchasing a kitchen-equipped truck is the most expensive and time-consuming part of starting a food truck business. You’ll need to find a food truck manufacturer you trust, establish clear communication, and customize your food truck to meet both your personal needs and regional requirements. To make buying a food truck less intimidating, we’ve created a comprehensive guide to the food truck purchasing and personalizing process. We’ll explain the average food truck costs and help you determine whether a new, used, or leased food truck is right for you.

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If you have a specific question about buying a food truck, use the links below to jump to the correlating section.

How Much Does a Food Truck Cost?

smiling female asian chef holding carton plates in food truck

On average, most food truck entrepreneurs spend between $70,000 and $80,000 on their food truck. The total price of buying a food truck can amount anywhere from $50,000 to $250,000 depending on how you acquire the truck, customize it for your needs, and your local permit and licensing requirements. To help you narrow down how much you should expect to spend on your food truck, we break down the average cost of new, used, and leased food trucks below.

  • How Much Does a New Food Truck Cost?: New food trucks typically cost between $100,000-$175,000.
  • How Much Does a Used Food Truck Cost?: Used food trucks typically cost between $50,000-$100,000.
  • How Much Does Leasing a Food Truck Cost?: Leasing a food truck typically costs between $2,000-$3,000 each month.

How to Own a Food Truck

The first step in owning a food truck is assessing the financial obligation by writing a food truck business plan. Begin by researching your target market, local ordinances, licensing and permit demands, parking permit regulations, and what type of equipment your menu requires.

Most food truck entrepreneurs need to apply for financing or a loan to offset food truck startup costs. Before heading to your bank, know your credit score and, based on your food truck business plan, know how much owning a food truck business will cost you.

Once you’re approved for a loan, you'll know your budget and can start shopping for a food truck. There are three paths to owning a food truck business: buying a new food truck, buying a used food truck, or leasing a food truck.

What Is Better, to Buy a New or Used Food Truck?

vintage citroen food truck in london

One of the biggest decisions of buying a food truck is deciding whether to purchase it new or used. While there are advantages and disadvantages of each choice, it ultimately comes down to what your budget is and how much you can afford upfront. We'll go over the pros and cons of buying new and used food trucks, so you can make the best decision for your financial status.

Buying a New Food Truck

If you have the money, buying a new food truck is a worthwhile investment that will help you avoid costly repairs down the line. Discover the advantages and disadvantages of buying a new food truck below.

New Food Truck Advantages

  • Custom-tailored to your needs
  • No wear and tear or undisclosed damages
  • Reduces the risk of costly breakdowns and major repairs
  • Usually have great warranties
  • Fresh, clean, and polished appearances

New Food Truck Disadvantages

  • Large financial investment
  • Customization requires longer lead times
  • High initial expense makes it hard to make future changes if you quickly outgrow the truck's capacity

Buying a Used Food Truck

If you want to own your food truck but are hesitant to invest in a brand new vehicle, buying a used food truck is a great alternative. Learn about the advantages and disadvantages of buying a used food truck below.

Used Food Truck Advantages

  • Initially cheaper than new trucks
  • Pre-done retrofitting allows you to see if the kitchen layout works for you
  • Equipment is already installed
  • Cuts the decision-making process down

Used Food Truck Disadvantages

  • Higher risk of costly repairs and maintenance
  • Unknown wear and tear
  • Lower life expectancy
  • You may have trouble finding a vendor willing to customize it (because they don’t know what was done previously)

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Lease a Food Truck

male and female coworkers talking with each other in food truck

Purchasing a kitchen-equipped truck is the most expensive part of becoming a food truck operator, so many entrepreneurs circumnavigate this major up-front cost by leasing their food truck. Making smaller payments over time allows you to get a brand new, high-end food truck without a large initial fee. The leasing route might be right for you if you're new to the foodservice industry or want to see if your brick and mortar does well as a food truck.

One disadvantage of leasing a food truck is you may have to return the truck when your lease ends. If your food truck business is doing well, you’ll endure a stressful transition to a new truck, lose operational time, or be forced to close your thriving business. We strongly recommend choosing a food truck lease agreement with lease renewal or lease-to-own options.

Where To Buy a Food Truck

Once you know your budget and decide whether you want a new, used, or leased food truck, you'll need to find a reputable food truck dealer. While you can purchase food trucks from private parties and sites like Craigslist or eBay, it’s important to recognize the high risk of this choice. When investing an immense sum of money into the foundation of your business, you want to know every detail about your future food truck.

The website Food Truck Empire provides a list of reputable dealers and helps you find a dealer in your state. Also, many entrepreneurs ask the owner of their favorite food truck where they purchased their vehicle. Asking food truck owners for recommendations provides the opportunity to inquire about how well their truck runs and if they had a positive experience with its vendor.

Additionally, we've created a list of reputable food truck manufactures below. These dealers offer a selective inventory of food trucks, and most offer leasing options. You can fully customize your food truck when purchasing from any of these sites.

Design Your Own Food Truck

food truck with fair food and custom neon popcornopolis sign

Customizing your food truck is both the most stressful and most intriguing part of buying a food truck. If you go with a reputable manufacturer, they’ll take most of the stress off your shoulders and bring your vision to life. Founder of Prestige Food Trucks, Jeremy Adams, provided some great insight on how a typical purchasing process goes. While a lot more communication goes into the purchase than what is listed below, these five steps provide a general outline of the process.

  1. A customer will call or email the company they want to purchase from with an inquiry.
  2. The customer receives a response that typically asks them what their equipment needs and budget are, what city they’ll be operating in, and what type of food they’ll be serving.
  3. Once this information is provided, a company will usually send out custom blueprint options to which customers can make any adjustments.
  4. After this is completed, a company typically works on a 2-3 month lead time before shipping the food truck. Many manufacturers can ship nationally or internationally.
  5. Once a customer receives their purchase, they must obtain any permits needed before they can hit the streets selling their specialty cuisine.

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How to Customize a Food Truck

chef grilling cheeseteak meat on an avantco countertop griddle

The main determining factor in how you should layout of your food truck is the cuisine you’re offering. While the most common food truck items are flat grills, countertop fryers, food warmers, refrigerators, and freezers, each truck will differ. For example, a food truck specializing in pizza needs a pizza oven and possibly an extra generator or propane tank, whereas a coffee truck benefits from an extra supply of hot water. Also, as you customize your food truck to your menu, make sure your layout provides enough space for other pieces of essential food truck equipment.

Food Truck Size

The average food truck is 16 feet long and seven feet wide, but they can range from 10 to 26 feet long depending on their operational needs. Make sure you choose a vehicle that’s large enough to accommodate your kitchen layout, ingredient storage requirements, and staff members. After assessing your needs, decide whether your mobile food business requires a food truck, food trailer, or a food cart. Some companies can transform anything, from step van chassis and sprinter vans to passenger vans and RVs, into fully functioning food trucks.

Food Truck Fuel

Decide whether you want to go with a gas or diesel engine for your food truck. There are many pros and cons to each type, so it comes down to preference. Most food truck owners choose diesel engines for their power, but you have to be prepared for that slightly larger initial investment.

While gasoline is cheaper than diesel fuel, diesel has a greater fuel economy. Gas engines will run more quietly and have a less noticeable odor, whereas diesel engines provide you with unmatched power. If properly maintained, a diesel engine can easily go for 300,000 miles. When engines require maintenance, gas operating engines are typically cheaper to repair than diesel. However, since diesel engines last longer, you’ll get a better resale price if you ever decide to sell your food truck.

Food Truck Power Supply

Portable diesel generators are the typical power source for food trucks and trailers. Diesel-powered generators withstand constant heavy use and have long lifespans. If you live in a sunny location, you can sustainably power your food truck by installing solar panels to the roof. Another food truck power supply option is to use Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) cylinders.

Food Truck Special Features

Finally, when customizing your food truck, you get to pick the special features that will make it your own unique restaurant on wheels. Whether you’re adding special equipment to the interior of the truck to make food prep more efficient, or you’re adding aesthetic details to the exterior to make your truck more visually appealing to customers, a reputable dealer will work with your vision. Check out some beneficial accessories you can add to your truck below.

Security Awning - This locking security awning will protect the contents of your food truck when it's not in use. Security awnings are usually a sliding piece that covers windows, doors, and any external TVs, speakers, or other devices to protect them from vandalism. Use the awning as an extra branding space by customizing it to match your truck’s design.

Flat Panel TV - Add a flat panel television to the exterior of your food truck so you can market your menu, specials, locations, and other important information. You can also use it to play music.

Speakers - By adding speakers, you can announce when orders are ready and entertain your long line of customers with music.

vintage food truck at old spitalfields market in london with retractable awning

Retractable Awning - Manual or electric awnings shelter customers while they wait at your serving window and create a slight sound barrier that allows workers to hear customers' orders more clearly. Longer awnings protect patrons from the rain, snow, or glaring sun while they're waiting to order, which prevents lost business due to long, uncomfortable wait times.

Misting System - This feature is perfect for the summer months or for food trucks in areas where the climate is hot year-round. Food truck operators usually install misting systems above their exterior serving window to keep customers cool while they wait.

Vinyl Wrap - Many businesses have designers who work with clients to create a personal logo or image. They then transfer the logo onto a vinyl wrapping that goes around the entire truck for branding. These wrappings can include graphics, menus, business names, and any other advertising materials, and they will include the proper cutouts for windows and serving windows.

Perforated Window Film - Window perforation allows your logo or decal to continue onto the exterior of your windows. This allows customers to see the image, but also enables employees to still see clearly out the window.

Dual-Service - Many truck owners want to have service stations on both sides of the truck so they can maximize volume and service.

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Owning a food truck frees you from the physical and financial tethers of a storefront. However, buying a food truck involves a lot of research, time, money, and communication. Use this guide to make an informed purchase. With careful planning, you can buy the ideal food truck for your business and take your delicious menu on the road.

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