lease to own semi trucks

Lease-To-Own (Lease-Purchase) Semi Trucks: Benefits & Drawbacks

Every trucker dreams of owning a truck of their own. While buying commercial vehicles outright is typically capital-intensive, there are various schemes available for truckers to own other types of commercial vehicles such as straight trucks, semi-trucks, vans, etc.

Trucking businesses are often confronted with the choice of either leasing or owning trucks. However, not many are aware that there is a middle ground option called lease-to-own, that benefits from both concepts of owning and leasing a truck.

Here’s an overview of the content we’ll cover:

  1. Lease-To-Own Definition
  2. How Lease-To-Own Works
  3. Contact & Agreement Details
  4. Benefits & Advantages
  5. Drawbacks & Disadvantages
  6. Lease-To-Own vs Buying
  7. Lease-To-Own vs Leasing

In this article, we will go into more detail on what a lease-to-own is, how it works in the trucking industry, and highlight some of the most important benefits and drawbacks so that you can make an informed decision on what type of scheme is most suitable for your business.

What Does Lease-To-Own Mean In Trucking?

Traditional leasing is one of the most popular ways of owning a commercial vehicle. With this type of truck financing, a fixed monthly rate is paid for a specified period, with interest added to each installment.

In recent years, it has become one of the easiest and most affordable leasing terms for commercial vehicles, especially among businesses and people who prefer convenience, an asset-light setup, don’t have enough upfront capital, or have bad credit ratings. 

On the other hand, lease-to-own (also called lease-purchase) is a type of lease agreement that adopts the concept of traditional leasing (the lessor does not own the truck) and outright purchasing (the lessor owns the truck).

Whether a veteran in the industry or a new trucker aspiring to become an owner-operator, you need to know that even heavily used trucks with hundreds of thousands of miles under their belt typically require a lot of capital.

Hence, lease-to-own agreements are an excellent alternative to purchasing a truck via financing or cash as it grants ownership to drivers (lease operators) once they’ve paid the total amount in smaller weekly or monthly installments. 

Benefits

  • Minimal Upfront Capital
  • Secured Truck Loads
  • Operational & Technical Support
  • Truck Replacements
  • Repair & Maintenance Discounts

Drawbacks

  • Contract Bound
  • Fixed Clients
  • Rigid Work Conditions
  • Higher Than Market Value Trucks
  • Non-Negotiable Load Rates

We have a dedicated section further below that provides more details on the benefits and drawbacks of lease-to-own agreements.

How Lease-To-Own Works In The Trucking Industry?

As an owner-operator or independent contract-based driver, you’re able to finance your truck using a lease-to-own agreement and exercise the option to purchase it at the end of the contract term.

There are various truck manufacturers and leasing companies that offer lease-to-own options. You can also opt for trucking companies that offer lease-to-own programs – the key difference here is that you’ll be required to transport cargo for them.  

lease to own semi truck
A Semi-Truck With a Lease-To-Own Term

In other words, you’ll deliver their freight and take on their routes along with your routine shipments. Some companies may also retain ownership of your truck even after you’ve paid the full lease amount as long as you’re on contract with them as a driver. 

The key benefit of opting for this option is that some trucking companies will help cover fixed and recurring truck expenses, such as fuel, insurance, repairs, and maintenance (it’s important to check the terms & conditions of the lease-to-own agreement).

Moreover, you would not have to worry about maintaining compliance paperwork, managing accounting, or other tasks since they will be taken care of by the trucking company.

However, if you opt for a third-party dealer, you would be responsible for all the expenses on top of lease payments and managing every aspect of truck ownership independently, including compliance, and logistics, among others.

While that is the case, going down this route will grant you more flexibility since you’ll have more control over your work (choosing your own loads and scheduling your own routes) or how much you charge. 

Moreover, you won’t be obligated to move loads for just one trucking company. In fact, you could offer your trucking services to several carriers, shippers, and freight brokers (through a subhauler agreement).

What Information is Found In A Lease-To-Own Agreement?

A trucking lease-to-own contract is a legally binding document that outlines every aspect of the leasing agreement, such as scheduled payments, control, insurance, termination procedures, and more. It details the obligations of each party and the financial and legal repercussions of failing to do so. 

Here’s what you can expect to find in a typical lease-purchase agreement:

  • Lessor Details – This outlines the leasing trucking company or third-party dealership providing lease-to-own programs. The details include the company name, contact information, and address.
  • Lessee Details – Similar to lessor details, this refers to the entity opting for the lease-to-own program (trucking company, independent contractor, driver, or buyer). 
  • Total Sum (Vehicle Fee) – Every lease-to-own agreement clearly mentions the total amount truck buyers need to pay the sellers. 
  • Contract Duration – This section outlines the agreement tenure (i.e. how long the lease-to-own contract will run until the buyer gets full ownership). The duration is typically between 2 and 5 years.
  • Down Payment Amount (if applicable) – Some trucking companies or third-party sellers ask for a down payment to reduce their risk. This section (if included) simply mentions the amount. 
  • Leasing Installment Amount – This section outlines the payment schedule that the lessee is required to pay over the stipulated period.
  • Payment Terms – The preferred payment method (cash, check, etc.) agreed upon by both parties, along with the payment schedule (weeks or months). Some companies may offer flexible payment terms as a benefit to further assist lessees.
  • Responsibilities of Buyer and Leasing Company – This section outlines all the responsibilities of the lessee and lessor, including repairs, maintenance, insurance, licensing, etc.
  • Ownership Transfer Terms – This section shares details related to the vehicle’s transfer timeline and the final transfer terms, such as additional payments. Some lessees may want to exercise the option to own the vehicle after the leasing period is completed.
  • Re-Appraisal Terms (if applicable) – The re-appraisal terms for buyers looking to forgo truck ownership by the contract’s end. 
  • Termination Terms – Finally, the termination terms and conditions outline each party’s responsibilities in the event of contract termination.

Benefits of Lease-To-Own Agreements

As an owner-operator, a truck is considered an important asset as owning one allows you to haul freight in the most cost-effective manner. The only challenge is that trucks require a hefty upfront investment.

company offering lease-to-own trucks
A Trucking Company Offering Lease-To-Own Agreements

Moreover, buying a truck through financing isn’t always an easy option, especially for applicants with little or poor credit history. A bank loan requires them to put in a huge down payment and pay a much higher interest rate compared to buyers with a good credit score. 

Therefore, opting for a lease-to-own agreement with a third-party provider or a trucking company is a viable option that offers the following benefits:

Minimal Upfront Capital

The biggest benefit of selecting lease-to-own programs is their minimal upfront capital requirements. Most lessors either don’t require a down payment or ask buyers to pay a minimal amount (usually 1-5% of the truck’s value). 

This is an excellent option for new truck drivers to overcome financial hurdles and kick-start their trucking ventures with ease. 

Secured Truck Loads

Another great benefit of opting for a leasing company is regular loads to transport. It may be difficult to land clients when starting out as most shippers usually prefer established trucking companies. 

By signing a lease-to-own agreement directly with a leasing company, you would be contractually obligated to haul cargo for them until you pay off the lease. This means you can earn a stable income as soon as you commence operations. 

Operational & Technical Support

Most new or aspiring truck drivers exploring this career path usually lack the skills, knowledge, and experience needed to navigate the freight industry. Many truck leasing companies train lessees how to operate their trucks and provide technical support during breakdowns or other issues.

Since moving cargo is part of the lease-purchase agreement, companies have to ensure their clients’ shipments are secure and delivered on time. Therefore, ensuring drivers have the required skills, tools, and resources isn’t just an additional perk for buyers but an essential aspect of their day-to-day operations. 

Truck Replacements

The last thing you want as an owner-operator is for your truck to break down with shipments piling up. Repairs and maintenance activities are essential. However, they can easily interrupt your supply chain if you don’t have a backup in place. 

Many truck leasing companies and third-party providers offer temporary truck replacements when your truck is undergoing maintenance or repairs – allowing you to minimize downtime and ensure business continuity. 

For new drivers, maintaining uptime is crucial as it may well be the key to establishing a solid reputation in the highly-competitive industry. 

Repair & Maintenance Discounts

Truck repairs and maintenance activities are expensive. Therefore, another advantage of leasing-to-own a truck from an established provider is access to discounts.

Most truck leasing companies partner with workshops, spare part retailers, and truck manufacturers. These partnership agreements often entail repair and maintenance discounts and other favorable benefits. 

Drawbacks of Lease-To-Own Agreements

While a lease-to-own agreement offers great flexibility and convenience, you need to consider the flip side of the equation and understand the drawbacks of this proposition.

Undoubtedly, leasing is an excellent alternative to buying trucks outright or through other financing plans. However, it’s still a significant expense. Therefore, it’s also important to acknowledge some of its drawbacks.

Contractual Obligations

The biggest drawback of a lease-to-own contract is that it may bind you to a single truck leasing company for a specified period (usually between 2-5 years). During this period, you would have to move goods and cargo for the leasing company, meaning you won’t have control over any shipments or the rates. Moreover, you have to comply with these terms even if you decide to opt for another career path down the line. 

The good news, however, is that you can choose to terminate the leasing contract. 

Fixed Clients

Since you would be hauling cargo for the leasing company, you won’t have the freedom to pick your clients or routes. This could prove to be detrimental to owner-operators as it bounds them to a single income stream. 

In many cases, it could also result in schedule conflicts requiring you to adhere to your contract and forego your own clients. This will affect your reputation and client satisfaction. 

Rigid Work Conditions

Another important drawback you need to consider when deciding to opt for leasing-to-own programs is autonomy. While most leasing companies offer flexible working conditions, some require buyers to adhere to their schedules and routes. 

Working under such rigid conditions may not be appealing to owner-operators. 

Higher Than Market Value Trucks

While leasing enables easier access to trucks for those who can’t afford to buy or finance freight vehicles, the downside of this approach is that they have to pay a higher amount than the vehicle’s market value. 

Lessors break down the value of trucks into smaller regular payments. These payments may appear small and manageable, but they usually include other costs, such as interest, hidden fees, repairs, maintenance, etc. Therefore, you need to understand what you’re paying for before signing anything. 

Non-Negotiable Load Rates

Finally, lease-to-own trucks could impact the amount of money you make when moving cargo from A to B since you would have to agree with non-negotiable load rates. Therefore, you may have to stick with low rates until you pay off the truck.

While this is usually unavoidable, you can look for companies that allow rate negotiation in the event of inflation or other factors in their agreements. 

Lease-To-Own vs Buying

While both leasing-to-own and buying in cash result in vehicle ownership, they’re two distinctive purchasing methods that offer different benefits to buyers. 

For instance, buying on cash grants immediate vehicle ownership following the agreement and sales. In contrast, a lease-to-own truck belongs to the leasing company until the lessee pays the amount in full at the end of their contract. 

Secondly, most lease-to-own programs don’t require buyers to put down a down payment. Those that do require don’t usually demand a huge amount. Conversely, financing via bank loans or third-party providers requires a much larger down payment, usually between 15-20% of the truck’s total value. 

Both methods generally require owners to take care of repairs and maintenance. However, many lease-to-own trucking companies take care of upkeep or share the responsibilities with lessees. 

Since trucks usually cover huge distances, they’re more susceptible to wear out and damage. Here, leasing gives truckers another edge by allowing them to terminate their contracts and opt for newer or more powerful trucks. 

With buying, upgrading is not an option unless you sell your truck and add more cash to fund your next purchase. 

The table below simplifies the similarities and differences between lease-to-own and buying:

MethodLease-To-OwnBuying
Vehicle OwnershipLeasing company until the end of the contract unless the truck driver decides not to own the truckTruck driver
Payment MethodZero down payment + regular installments to the leasing company
OR
Minimal   + regular installments to the leasing company
Full in cash
OR
Down payment + bank loan
OR
Down payment + 3rd party financing
Vehicle Repair & MaintenanceResponsibility of the truck driver
OR
Shared responsibility between the leasing company and the truck driver
Responsibility of the truck driver
Option to Upgrade VehiclePossibleNot possible
Freedom to Choose LoadsNo. Usually, the leasing company would require the truck driver to haul their loads unless the leasing company is a 3rd party truck dealer and does not have loadsYes, full autonomy is given to the truck driver upon purchase of the vehicle

Lease-To-Own vs Leasing

As mentioned earlier in the article, lease-to-own and leasing are two different terms. While both methods require minimal upfront capital to gain access to trucks, only lease-to-own programs result in vehicle ownership once the contract period is over and all the payment terms have been met. 

However, as you’ll note in the table below, there are other similarities and differences you may not be aware of. For instance, both options allow trucking companies or drivers to upgrade their vehicles. Moreover, both methods require hauling loads for the leasing company unless they opt for a third-party dealer. 

MethodLease-To-OwnLeasing
Vehicle OwnershipLeasing company until the end of the contract unless the truck driver decides not to own the truckLeasing company
Payment MethodZero down payment + regular installments to the leasing company
OR
Minimal down payment + regular installments to the leasing company
Zero deposit + regular installments to the leasing company
OR
Deposit + regular installments to the leasing company
Vehicle Repair & MaintenanceResponsibility of the truck driver
OR
Shared responsibility between the leasing company and the truck driver
Responsibility of the truck driver
OR
Shared responsibility between the leasing company and the truck driver
Option to Upgrade VehiclePossiblePossible
Freedom to Choose LoadsNo. Usually, the leasing company would require the truck driver to haul their loads unless the leasing company is a 3rd party truck dealer and does not have loadsNo. Usually, the leasing company would require the truck driver to haul their loads unless the leasing company is a 3rd party truck dealer and does not have loads