Off-Road Trucks Buyer's Guide



This Buyers Guide focuses on the off-road truck, a heavy construction machine for hauling loose materials in difficult ground conditions. The trucks are engineered in two configurations — with a rigid front-to-rear frame or with a frame that is hinged or coupled in the middle to enhance turning and maneuverability. The latter design is termed an articulated dump truck (ADT). Truck models scale up in carrying capacity from a few tons to 400-ton monster trucks used in mining operations.

These heavy-duty trucks are the modern equivalent of horse-drawn wagons and, eventually in the early 20th century, motorized wagons. In 1916, Mack introduced an off-road, chain-driven truck that set the standard for such vehicles. An Ohio company, Euclid, beefed up the off-road concept in 1934 with an 11-ton model. Articulated trucks arrived in the 1950s and ’60s—and eventually featured the all-important 4WD or 6WD propulsion. In the intervening years since then, manufacturers of the off-road vehicles have proliferated — including LeTourneau, Caterpillar, Volvo and Komatsu, to name a few.

If You Are Buying an Off-Road Truck

Buyers of these off-road machines are pros and essentially know their needs. Still, deciding between a rigid or articulated dump truck and the offerings within each category requires forethought. Some things to ponder:

What ground conditions will the truck typically encounter?

Job sites for off-road trucks vary from expansive open-air construction projects to underground mining caverns. Rigid-framed trucks and articulated models are equally useful across the range of job sites. As a rule, the worse the ground conditions, the more likely an ADT will prove the better choice. Its axles are designed to keep all six tires on the ground propelling it forward almost regardless of the irregularity and condition of the ground. Its hinged middle also means an ADT has a tighter turning radius, allowing it to find a path more easily through unstable soils. Need traction? An ADT can provide it.

What will be the typical haul distance?

Rigid dump trucks have the edge when a job site is long-term — such as a quarry — and stable roadways can be constructed. We’re not talking paved roads, but hard-packed haul roads that are maintained. On such roadways, a rigid rear-wheel-drive truck can move large quantities of material, dump it and return at speed to repeat the process. The longer the haul, the more valuable the trucks — some of them electric-drive 100-ton-and-larger behemoths. Roads for the rigid trucks need not be level, incidentally, but grades of 20 degrees or more begin to reduce the trucks’ advantage.

Is the payload a critical consideration?

The rule of thumb is that rigid-framed trucks have more carrying capacity than ADTs. Most articulated trucks have payloads of 30-60 tons, which is a considerable payload, and those numbers keep edging up. But a rigid-framed unit sometimes has payloads of 150 tons with numerous electric-drive mining vehicles capable of hauling twice that much. When projects are years-long, the extra capacity adds up dramatically and the choice is obvious. In choosing a truck, it all comes down to the terrain and ground conditions where the truck will work — which will, in turn, dictate possible payloads.

If you have brand bias, concentrate on OEM dealer’s offerings.

If you are a Caterpillar person or a Hitachi fan, the breadth of your shopping for a truck is limited to your favorite brand’s dealers. Still, you have choices when it comes to buying a truck. A preferred rigid or ADT model sitting on a dealer’s used equipment lot carries the right nameplate but is it the right machine for you? Do your due diligence in determining the condition of the piece of equipment (see Inspection below), but also ask for maintenance and repair records for a used truck. Those records are the advantage an OEM dealer often holds over an independent equipment sales house.

If price is the principal concern, consider auctions.

Auctions many years ago used to be a roll of the dice. Great deals were realized—and dreadful transactions chalked up to experience. The heavy equipment auction industry has come a long way and buying a rigid or articulated dump truck at auction today can be wholly satisfying. Inspection reports are available weeks in advance of sale day and the piece of equipment itself can be personally inspected. Some online auction houses will certify the condition of a machine that is at a distant location so that the buyer can bid on it with confidence. And, of course, the auction price often is attractive.

If You’re Renting / Leasing

Why rent or lease? Here’s one good reason: The price point on one of these heavy pieces of equipment can reach a million dollars or more. If conserving working capital takes precedence over long-term cost, foregoing ownership can make sense. Here are rent/lease considerations:

How long will you need the truck?

This seems self-evident, but there is money at stake, so correctly determining the usage period is a dollars-and-cents matter. This is obvious in shorter-term rentals when a week’s rental rate clearly is a better deal than a one-day rental rate. Only need it for four days? Rent it for a week and save money. Similarly, don’t lease for one year and then renew it annually. Contract up front for the probable life of a project and save money.

What is your bottom line?

Leasing a truck can be advantageous for financial reasons besides preserving operational capital. Leasing will let you preserve your line of credit. Furthermore, paperwork for a lease is less headachy than that for a conventional bank loan. Perhaps the biggest advantage comes at tax time when all of the obligations associated with the lease can be written off as operating cost.

Tips On Inspecting a Used Off-Road Truck

As with any equipment investment, research a desired truck line before thoroughly examining a particular second-hand machine. In other words, know what pristine looks, feels and sounds like so you can compare a machine in perfect condition with one worn down by usage. Suggestions:

If you are not an off-road truck expert, invite one along for the inspection.

Off-road dump trucks have a hard life. Smooth pavement is not their usual workday environment. Consequently, the machine has lots of opportunities to be damaged or to have components tested to the limit of their capacity. A machine expert can tell at a glance if a part is worn or worn out, an important distinction for a buyer.

Run the engine and the electronic systems.

After checking fluid levels, start the truck and listen for suspicious rattles that can indicate loose parts. Check the diesel exhaust smoke — too black for too long can mean compression problems. Check it out from the operator’s seat. Test automatic features, such as downhill speed control. “All systems go” is what you want to declare.

Try to spot misalignments and bent frames.

The rough and primitive ground on which off-road trucks labor are perfect for doing a number on the frame and axle systems. Look at the tires for evidence that a wheel is running out of alignment. Is the bogie undercarriage on an ADT moving within the designed range of motion? Does that massive rigid truck frame still have its integrity?

Look at the papers.

What you see on an OEM dealer lot is only partly what you are getting. The rest is contained in the machine’s papers. Do the hours registered on the engine meter square with what you see? Do maintenance records show systematic care? Does an issue with the truck crop up repeatedly? Has it really been reconditioned or was it just repainted?

What You Can Expect to Pay

Because articulated dump trucks and rigid haulers have been proven over decades of operation, a full range of new models are dependably competitive and used machines are widely available.

New

Buyers of articulated dump trucks and huge mining dump trucks often have global financing companies to lean on if purchasing capital isn’t on the books. After all, 4,000-hp, 400-ton rigid haulers don’t come cheap. Hereafter are some general categories of pricing:

  • 25-ton articulated dump trucks can be purchased for $350,000; 45-ton ADTs will cost $600,000 or more
  • Small rigid haulers (100-ton payloads) for mining and quarrying can cost upwards of a million dollars.
  • Used

    Articulated dump trucks operate in sloppy and unstable conditions, which can take a toll. Consequently, used ADTs sometimes have relatively low hours upon trade-in. Rigid haulers are engineered to run long hours on maintained roads — the designed-in life of larger haulers can be 60,000-80,000 hours. Some general pricing guidelines:

  • 30-ton ADTs with 2,000-4,000 running hours can cost from $150,000 to $300,000; 40-ton models with similar hours on them can cost from $250,000 to $500,000.
  • A small 40-ton payload rigid hauler with 13,000 hours on it can cost $250,000; a 200-ton model with 30,000 hours on it still can cost $400,000.
  • Rent/Lease

    An online survey shows that midsize ADTs and smaller rigid dump trucks can be contracted for $900 to $1,200 a day, $2.500 to $3,000 a week, and upwards of $8,000 a month.

    Some Financing Options

    Long-term leasing and purchasing mechanisms have been formulated by the capital industry, including dealerships and standalone finance companies.

    Special Features to Consider

    Horsepower

    As horsepower ramps up, performance generally follows, though the relationship is not a straight-line graphic. Other drivetrain components and engine characteristics — such as torque — help determine performance. Nonetheless an underpowered off-road truck has zero chance of doing a job acceptably. Once you settle on a desired configuration and payload, determine if the horsepower will nimbly deliver it. A 30-ton ADT with a 350-hp engine may be just the thing—or will that 60-ton rig with 520 hp be more proficient?

    Engineering and features

    Is an articulated dump truck with 8 or 10 forward gears a better choice than one in which the starting gear is automatically chosen for the operator? Which is more important to you on a rigid frame truck: 1) a pitch control system that reduces bucking on a rough segment of the haul road or 2) a selectable engine mode feature that improves fuel efficiency? These are the kinds of questions to ask yourself before entering the market for an off-road truck, because a combination of desired features will dictate your best choice.

    Load capacity and configuration

    How much material an off-road truck will haul is an obvious deal-breaker. No use looking at 28-ton trucks when a 40-ton truck is what you need. Just as obvious is the distinction between ADT and rigid undercarriages. However, such distinctions are less obvious sometimes. Example: If a current highway project requires an ADT but a contract next year is for a quarry, perhaps you should shop for a 50-ton ADT with features (top speed, etc.) acceptable for work on maintained roads. Decisions, decisions.

    Warranty and service

    Virtually any of the off-road trucks manufactured today are engineering masterpieces. These are not knock-off widgets rolled out of a fly-by-night assembly line. Even so, the trucks are subject to wear, tear and inexplicable breakdowns. What then? In looking at a new or used truck, see what warranties or guarantees come with it. Look at them in depth to assure they are ironclad. And does a dealer or manufacturer have service facilities close enough to respond quickly to your needs? These are peace-of-mind considerations.

    Selection of Off-Road Truck Manufacturers

    Bell

    This South African manufacturer has been building trucks and other material-handling equipment for 60 years. Today it offers 12 two-axle or three-axle articulate dump trucks from 20 to 60 tons in capacity and two low-profile mining ADTs. Click here to see Off-Road Trucks currently for sale from Bell →

    Caterpillar

    — The heritage of this Illinois equipment manufacturer goes back to the late 19th century. It introduced its first off-highway truck in 1962. Today Cat builds 12 mining models (the largest at 400 tons), three off-highway rigid hauler models and seven ADTs. Click here to see Off-Road Trucks currently for sale from Caterpillar →

    Doosan

    A dozen years ago, this South Korean firm acquired a pioneering Norwegian manufacturer of articulated trucks, Moxy. Building on that legacy, Doosan today offers two models — a 30-ton and a 40-ton truck, each with relatively high top speeds of 34 mph. Click here to see Off-Road Trucks currently for sale from Doosan →

    Volvo

    This Swedish company dates from 1832 and entered the ADT market in 1966, the rigid truck market in 1982. It makes seven ADT models, from 25 tons to 60 tons in capacity, and four rigid haulers, the largest the 100-ton R100E. Click here to see Off-Road Trucks currently for sale from Volvo →

    Hitachi

    This Japanese manufacturer was founded in 1910. Its mining products are limited to excavators and off-road trucks. The company offers three rigid dump truck models, the smallest being a 181-ton unit, the largest a 326-ton, 2,850-hp truck. Click here to see Off-Road Trucks currently for sale from Hitachi →

    Hydrema

    This Danish company founded in 1959 offers two starkly different lines of articulated dump trucks. The 912 Series is a compact two-axle 130-hp truck with a unique swivel-dump feature and a payload of 10 tons; the 922 series can haul 20 tons. Click here to see Off-Road Trucks currently for sale from Hydrema →

    John Deere

    Founded in 1837, Illinois-headquartered Deere built its first tractor in 1918 and introduced its E Series ADTs in 2012. Today, the series includes five articulated truck models ranging in capacity from 26 tons to 46 tons. Click here to see Off-Road Trucks currently for sale from John Deere →

    Komatsu

    The Japanese company began to build ADTs in the 1980s and today offers 30-ton and 44-ton models. It manufactures six off-highway rigid trucks and nine electric-drive mining trucks. In 2008, Komatsu introduced the first autonomous-hauling system. Click here to see Off-Road Trucks currently for sale from Komatsu →

    Liebherr

    Roots of this Germany company extend back to 1949. Among its diverse product lines are rigid off-road dump trucks for mining operations. Its three diesel-electric drive models range from a 100-ton, 1,200-hp unit to a 363-ton, 4,000-hp model. Click here to see Off-Road Trucks currently for sale from Liebherr →

    Terex

    This Connecticut firm traces its products to the very beginning of the off-road dump truck industry. Five years ago, its rigid dump truck line became a Volvo subsidiary. Terex manufactures two articulated dump truck models — 28-ton and 38-ton machines. Click here to see Off-Road Trucks currently for sale from Terex →

    Terramac

    This Illinois manufacturer offers four off-road dump trucks that roll-on tracks and are increasingly popular in the United States and Canada. They range from 6 to 14 tons in capacity. One larger 320-hp model features a dump bed that swivels 360 degrees. Click here to see Off-Road Trucks currently for sale from Terramac →

    Brief Summary

    Hauling excavated materials is a big business — almost as big as the machines it employs. The industry’s bend-in-the-middle articulated model featuring a single-axle under the tractor unit is an innovative and proven engineering feat. The huge rigid-framed trucks with staircases leading up to the operator’s cab are similarly impressive in their durability. Each machine requires a big investment, but prodigious payloads can make it pay off.