The Essential Guide To Buying A Food Truck
Starting your own food business usually begins with a dream you can’t seem to shake – and a call to join the 30,000-strong food trucks across the United States may be part of your journey.
As the pandemic changed how foodpreneurs viewed their culinary ambitions, food trucks became a wildly popular solution to decreasing overhead, maintaining flexibility, and streamlining operations. Food Truck startups have been so popular that new operations grew by 8% in 2022, adding to a $1 billion mobile food business industry.
So you’ve decided food truck life is for you. You have the perfect idea for a mobile dream to feed the masses! But first, you need wheels.
For all the dreamers and, more importantly, for the doers, we’ve created the essential guide to purchasing a food truck.
Everything You Need To Know Before Buying a Food Truck
There are many ways to go about a food business startup. Starting a catering business or home-based commercial kitchen are also significant jump-off points to growing your dream. There are also some very encouraging statistics that make a food truck a smart entry into the commercial food industry.
- According to Off The Grid, 34% of food truck owners report that a small mobile operation has given them a place to test out menu ideas and new concepts on a variety of audiences.
- Catering private events is on average, 30% of a food truck’s revenue.
- Yearly average food truck revenues range from $250,000 to $500,000 annually.
- While brick-and-mortar restaurants, on average, experience 2% growth, food trucks have experienced 7.3% growth annually since 2007
One of the biggest advantages to starting a food truck over a traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant is a low barrier of entry – start-up costs are typically much lower. However, start-up costs for a food truck vary greatly depending on several variables, and you can expect to invest $28,000 to $114,000 on average.
The vast majority of expenses will likely go to the purchase and outfitting of the food truck itself, and we are here to break down the finer points of your central investment.
According to Food Truck Empire, you can expect to pay anywhere from $25,000 to $100,000 dollars for your mobile food business wheels. Other experts estimate $50,000 to $200,000 for a new truck, while other new business owners report finding used trucks for $15,000 or less.
The bottom line is the price can vary drastically depending on whether the truck is new or used, news to be gutted and built from scratch, or just updated. Either way, you’ll also need to invest in “wrapping” the truck with your branding, insurance, and maintenance.
A breakdown of the different types of mobile food vehicles:
New Food Truck $50,000 – $200,000
Food Cart $20,000 – $25,000
Food Trailer $10,000 – $50,000
New Vs. Used
When exploring your options to get your food truck business off the ground, you are bound to compare the advantages and drawbacks of getting one new from the manufacturer vs. used.
New Food Truck Pros
- A manufacturer in your state will know and comply with all construction regulations to ensure your food truck is legal and guaranteed to pass code inspections.
- Highly customizable.
- Brand new everything means less initial maintenance.
- New food trucks usually come with a great warranty.
New Food Truck Cons
- Bigger upfront investment.
- It can take time for customization and build-out.
Used Food Truck Pros
- Lower buy-in.
- Barring any major maintenance, they are ready to be used immediately.
- Many come already outfitted, reducing your commercial kitchen installation costs.
- Less decision-making because the equipment is already there.
- If purchasing from a dealer, there is usually some kind of warranty.
Used Food Truck Cons
- Unknown wear and tear and possible fixes.
- Equipment already has a lot of use.
- Less ability to customize.
- Less life expectancy.
What To Look For Before Purchasing a Food Truck
Whether you are purchasing a food truck from a private seller, the manufacturer, or a dealer, go in prepared. Knowledge is power and may help you negotiate a better deal or warranty.
1. Thoroughly inspect the engine and equipment.
Bring a qualified mechanic with you to do an internal inspection of the engine. Ask for maintenance and service logs. When logs are in order and come with receipts, you know the owner has taken care of his investment.
2. Do manufacturer research.
Don’t take the owner or dealer’s word for it. Due diligence will save you time, money, and headaches. Check reviews and ratings online as well as food truck forums. Nothing is more valuable than first-hand experience from other owners.
3. Check the odometer.
If buying used, take a look at the odometer. In all reality, a food truck shouldn’t be clocking in too many miles. If the mileage is relatively high, use it as a bargaining point. If you opt to purchase a used road warrior, ensure the extra miles are insured with a warranty.
4. Check your city’s size restrictions.
You’ll need to check your city’s food truck size restrictions before you purchase. Some cities, like Washington D.C., have limitations of length and height that you should consider before purchasing. In addition, if you know where you will be selling from, measure the parking spaces to ensure you will fit.
5. Will it fit your staff?
If your operation requires several people in the kitchen at once, take stock in your operational space. A too-small space may hinder your efficiency and future scalable growth plans.
6. Know what to ask a food truck builder.
If you are opting for a new and shiny straight from the manufacturer’s food truck, come prepared with questions. How long will the build take? Do they deliver? Have they built a concept like yours before? Can you talk to some of their other customers?
A reputable builder will be able to answer all these questions and provide references for past builds.
7. Check fuel and power specifications.
Checking fuel and power specifications may seem trivial, but can add to your bottom line. Deciding between diesel and gasoline is important when considering your monthly fuel bill. While gasoline is more cost-effective, diesel can mean greater fuel economy. In addition, gasoline-fueled vehicles are often easier and cheaper to maintain and repair.
Typically, food trucks operate their power of diesel-fueled generators. Purchasing a new or used generator should involve a deep dive into the manufacturing specs of the generator and, if it is used, the wear and tear and remaining lifespan of the equipment.
Where To Buy a Food Truck
Whether new or used, there are a wealth of resources online to research your new food truck purchase. Once you have narrowed down your needs and non-negotiables, consulted food truck forums, and created your concept, it’s time to start shopping.
New Food Truck Manufacturers
Mobile Cuisine Food Truck Builder Directory By State
Used Food Trucks
Should You Lease A Food Truck
We have already established that no matter if you are buying new or used, the mobile kitchen will likely be one of the highest upfront costs to your food truck ambitions.
There is one way to circumnavigate this initial high-cost investment: leasing. Opting for lower monthly payments can allow you to build your business more rapidly, as you’re startup funds can be diverted to marketing, equipment, and other costs. This is an excellent option if you want to test a concept first or need additional time to bank funds to reinvest.
On the downside, when the leasing period ends, you will have to weather transition-related hassles such as uninstalling equipment, a lag time in the switch to a new vehicle, and loss of momentum. To avoid this, be sure to check the lease agreement for renewal and lease-to-own clauses that may help you avoid this scenario.
Your Food Truck Dream On Wheels
Food trucks can be the best entry into your foodpreneur journey if you’ve done your research. What starts with a well-researched vehicle can grow into a fleet of favorite mobile establishments, serving as a helm of community gatherings and events for your local area.
Take the first steps to see this journey through by checking out SAPi’s course to Jumpstart Your Food Kitchen.