Whether buying a new or used truck, owner-operators need to pay special attention to the warranty coverage that either comes with the vehicle or that can purchased for it. The reason is simple-- warranties form a “safety net” of sorts for independent truckers.

“For owner-operators and small fleets, it's always wise to buy a warranty package,” says Steve Nadolson, former chairman of the Used Truck Assn. and a veteran used truck salesman. “Some fleets may have their own shop network or a deal with a truck OEM's network to cover repairs. But a warranty package helps you get the most value out of a piece of equipment, especially when it comes to used trucks.”

Nadolson explains that the purpose of a warranty is to protect the owner in case of a catastrophic failure. For example, an engine piston repair can cost up to $6,000 and a total diesel engine replacement as much as $14,000, he points out.

Mike McColgen, truck remarketing development manager for Volvo Trucks North America, notes however that, “as you move up in terms of fleet size, warranties become less of an issue. There's more focus on the price of the truck.”

It’s the guys operating one to five trucks, however, who have less stomach for risk and need those warranties, he adds.

Volvo sells used trucks through its Generation 2 program, which has a variety of warranty options. McColgen says the crucial time period for the small-fleet used truck buyer is the first six months. They must be able to operate a used truck for six months without a catastrophic failure for the vehicle to earn money for them.

Volvo's Generation 2 used trucks come with a standard 6-mo./60,000-mi. basic warranty on the engine, with optional 12-mo./100,000-mi. and 24-mo./200,000-mi. warranty packages. The warranties apply to engines because transmissions and rear axles on Class 8 trucks carry original 750,000-mile warranties.

Owner-operators also need to take a close look at the warranty coverage they get with new trucks, says Rich Walck, Mack Truck’s manager of warranty administration, as what they think a warranty covers might not be correct.

“Comprehensive warranties cover most things on a new or used truck, but do not offer the type of ‘bumper-to-bumper’ coverage commonly seen in the passenger vehicle market,” he says.

For new trucks, warranties cover most things that can go wrong due to hidden defects for 12 months or 100,000 miles. A warranty on powertrain components, such as the transmission and engine, can be much longer, in some cases up to 60 months or 750,000. Also, most new truck warranties offer provisions for towing and/or roadside assistance, Walck says.

The critical thing to remember is that warranties do not cover accident damage, neglect, or abuse, Walck says. Also, truck chassis bought at auctions, and the like are usually sold “as is” or “where is” so defects may not be covered by warranty in spite of the representations of the seller, he notes.

Regular maintenance is a key underpinning to almost all warranties, according to Eaton Corp., which in partnership with Dana Corp. markets transmissions and axles for Class 8 vehicles under the Roadranger banner.

“The failures must be the result of verified and actual defects in material and/or workmanship and have occurred within the time and mileage limitations of the warranty,” the company says. “Proof of lube changes at the prescribed intervals is required if the failure is determined to be lube related. Also, normal wear is not covered.”

Mack’s Walck adds that most new truck purchasers have the ability to buy additional extended warranty plans.

“It’s helpful to think of extended warranty plans as a sort of insurance,” he says. “Some owner-operators feel that any hidden defects would be exposed during base warranty period, so they feel comfortable taking their chances after that. Others, however, like the security of knowing that they are protected.”

Yet, again, there may be certain maintenance requirements attached to an extended warranty to keep it valid. For example, Roadranger requires the use of approved synthetic lubricant for all of its extended warranties. “The customer is responsible for providing proof of synthetic lube usage and for documenting that lube changes were performed at the prescribed intervals and/or at the time of warranty transfer, if applicable,” the company notes.

While owner-operators can purchase extended warranty protection plans from either the truck OEM or a variety of third parties, Walck cautions to make sure the company dealt with will outlive the coverage bought. “There are not many regulations on who can sell extended warranty plans,” he points out. “Recently, some third parties defaulted on their extended warranty offerings or declared bankruptcy. That’s why it pays to be careful.”