The odds are in favor of the house

By OOIDA staff

Profiting on hopes and dreams has built more than one casino in this country. The Vegas strip isn’t lit up bright enough to see from space on big winners hauling suitcases of cash out of the desert. No, it thrives on a systematic approach to having enough winners to keep the dream of striking it rich alive.

Con artists use the same tactic. Only there is little chance of seeing winners walk away from a Three Card Monte game in the back of the truck stop lot.

Perhaps one of the biggest gambles in the trucking industry as a whole is motor carrier lease-purchase programs. You need to know if you’re dealing with a reputable house or a parking lot con.

There continues to be an alarming increase in people signing on to lease-purchase programs with large motor carriers. Our experience in reviewing these contracts and receiving numerous complaints over the years tells us these programs almost never benefit anyone except the motor carriers and should be avoided.

Admittedly, at first glance a lease-purchase agreement can seem attractive with no credit check, no down payment, and the truck payment generated from load pay.

Sounds like a good deal, right?

Well, what may not be clear if you fail to read the fine print is that if you sign one of these, you will have no ownership rights until the truck is paid off. One real big catch is that the truck must remain leased with the company that “owns” it – meaning the motor carrier. You are basically tied to that company and unable to drive the truck wherever you want. Also, truck payments are usually deducted weekly instead of monthly. The truck payment is taken out before you receive your paycheck even if it means you receive a negative check.

That’s just a start. Typical complaints we receive include:

  • Truck needs constant repairs;
  • Never receive a paycheck;
  • Miles have been cut;
  • No paycheck and getting further behind with the company;
  • Can’t generate enough money while the company refuses to let you move the truck;
  • Returned the truck to go back to working as a company driver, but the carrier is still charging payments on the truck; and
  • Company requires a separate maintenance (escrow) account, but you never get to use it when the truck needs repairs. There may be other escrow accounts, too.

Over the years, we have dealt with carriers that leased out trucks on which they did not hold titles. Some carriers that filed bankruptcy or simply closed their doors would often leave the equipment unsecured or paid for, which meant the lessee lost the truck and all the money already paid toward it.

In one case, we dealt with a company that charged unbelievable repairs on equipment they took back after a default, but never made the repairs, plus the repair bills were generated from their company shop. This same company would continue to charge lease payments to the original lessee on equipment they had already leased to another driver from whom they were collecting new payments as well.

When the original drivers refused to pay and demanded the maintenance and escrow money back, they were provided with bills showing outstanding balances owed to the company. This company even went a step further by turning in these outstanding debts over to a collection agency. Still to this day the drivers that entered this particular lease purchase program through this company are fighting the effects of a bad credit score.

Probably the best way to avoid being ripped off in a lease-purchase situation is to not enter into one, but if you still think you can be one of the rare success stories, here are some things you should check before you sign the dotted line.

Run the numbers. In most cases, if you are lucky enough to complete the lease you may have paid more for the equipment than it is worth.

Ask about the title. Does the company have clear title or is the equipment financed?

Is the finance company aware the equipment is being leased?

What assurances can they give you that when you make your payments, they will make theirs?

How many lessees has the equipment had? (This is a big one.If other drivers were in a lease on this equipment, what happened to them?)

Check the mileage. Does it make sense for the year of the truck?

Ask for maintenance records.

Ask about freight availability. You can also check into the availability by talking to drivers before you have your meeting with the company.

Beware of companies that have a company driver fleet as well as lease purchase fleet. The company pays the expenses on company trucks so those trucks will be dispatched first and for the best loads.

What items are going to be charged back to you besides the truck payment? You need the cost breakdown, not just the list of items. Then run the numbers again. Determine how much revenue you will need to generate each week to keep your head above water, then balance that out with the number of miles you will realistically be dispatched.

Review the contract completely, understanding each and every condition specified in it. Watch for additional charges that will be assessed for excessive mileage or clauses that allow the company to take the equipment back should you default. Be sure to understand the conditions that warrant a default.

Many agreements state you are in default if you fall behind on even just one payment. This is important because the company controls the amount of revenue you generate.

When considering a lease-purchase program, remember that until the final payment is made, you are paying the bills, expenses, insurance, maintenance, repairs and taxes on equipment owned and controlled by someone else. At any time during your agreement you could lose the equipment and your investment.

Are you really ready to sign up for that? Keep in mind, if there was so much money to be made by owning a truck, why would the company be trying so hard to sell you theirs? LL