Risk & Reality:
For someone looking to purchase a FMTV, opportunities range from well established companies who offer “like new” restorations and customizations to “good luck” flippers and auction sites – and many between those two extremes. At FMTV Sales, we have chosen the middle position, focusing on quality, removing the reliability risk, and leaving most cosmetics and customization to others.
One question we get frequently is: “If these vehicles are so reliable, why shouldn’t I just buy one cheap from an auction or a flipper?” The quick answer is, with credit to Dirty Harry, “Do You Feel Lucky?” In fact, some people do buy surplus military vehicles, “as-is, where-is,” with no meaningful warranty, and have a great experience. Unfortunately, some who choose that path end up with an expensive, unpleasant introduction to Risk and Reality.
Reality: When originally manufactured, these vehicles were designed to operate reliably under harsh, military operating conditions. However, years passed awaiting a call to duty, sitting idle in the motor pool, accumulating very low mileage, but also with very low maintenance. Please consider the reality of how a real world maintenance pool operates, or operated during the years of tight military budgets. With the priority on keeping some vehicles operational, a vehicle “down” for a missing part quickly became a Cannibal Queen, moved to the back row as a source for parts not easily available to keep the Front Line vehicles operating. Well, where did the faulty parts go? All too often, back on to the Cannibal Queen, to disguise the empty spaces at Inspection time. Gaskets? Seals? Why bother?
When the call comes in: “We are getting 5 new trucks; Select 5 to be sold as surplus,” which 5 do you think are selected from the motor pool? Next, the surplused trucks are subjected to not so tender ministrations of the DLA (“Defense Logistics Agency”). In our experience, DLA employees and contractors regard surplus vehicles as “scrap,” and handle them accordingly. That is, picking them up with forklifts, dragging them with chains, etc., with little concern for damage done as forks bend drive shafts and suspension components and poke holes in engine pans, transmissions, crush air and brake systems, etc. Why not – they are just scrap!
When the vehicles are finally released to the auction company, many have been sitting for months or even years. Some have had fluids drained, some have had fuel, oil, and air intake systems open and exposed to rain and other contamination, batteries are frequently drained and many have bad cells. However, the auction company knows that a truck they can advertise as “running” is more valuable than one that won’t start. So, in our experience, they try to start most trucks. If No Start, they hook up a slave cable and try again. In their haste, they sometimes try to start engines from which oil has been drained, cycle water through fuel injection and lubrication systems, overheat starters, and stress expensive alternators, all set-ups for future failures.
Frankly, much of this we have learned the hard way. Even with careful purchasing, we still end up cutting up for parts 20-25% of the trucks we get, since they would be too expensive to fix properly.
Therefore, if you want a fun project to tinker with, are set up to work on heavy trucks, and are willing to gamble that you end up with a vehicle which is safe and cost effective to fix, auctions and flippers can be a great way to go. However, unless your well-deserved name is “Lucky,” we encourage you to give serious consideration to Risk and Reality as you evaluate the source from which you purchase any surplus military vehicle. These are great trucks, when treated properly.
What is the risk and reality with FMTV Sales? In addition to our many years of relevant experience and commitment to restoring the trucks we sell to a high level of reliability, we are a licensed dealer, bonded, and properly insured.
Example Case: HMMWV’s
We recently purchased 3 HMMWV’s out of long-term storage. It took more than 6 months from when we paid for the vehicles until we were able to finally pick them up. These were all pretty clean looking vehicles and, since all were prepped for long-term storage, they should have been ready to go with minimal work. No Joy. Of the three: one has the engine so full of water it was coming out the air cleaner when we opened it. The second has a bad rear differential and a cylinder bad enough that it is difficult to get the engine to turn over.
Starting with the “nicest” of the 3 HMMWV’s, our master mechanic has now spent more than 150 hours finding and fixing mechanical problems, not cosmetic issues. With his extensive experience, he is not learning on the job, but knows where to look. For example:
- exhaust system assembled without the seals
- oil pan seal was the wrong size and leaking
- oil line routed next to exhaust and burned most of the way through
- air conditioning line routed too close to exhaust
- rear half shaft u-joint dangerously bad
- water in engine valley damaged injector pump
- water in fuel system
- bad fuel tank sending unit
- alternator regulator overcharging system
- fan clutch glued together preventing disengagement
- bad fan solenoid
- bad main seal
- bad differential seal
- all idler pulleys bad
- tie rod ends bad
- ball joint installed incorrectly
- multiple leaking hoses
- bad timing module
- many gauges reading incorrectly
- all four tires looked fine at first glance, but were dangerously cracked
- front bumper and bumper brackets bent beyond safe repair
- hood damaged beyond safe repair
- multiple broken latches on engine cover
- multiple rubber bumpers for hood missing or broken
- slant back hatch supports dangerously out of alignment
- More than $10,000 in bad or missing parts
Yet, this was a good looking HMMWV. It would have been pretty easy to get this HMMWV running with a few hours work. Install a belt and batteries, flush the fuel system, change the oil, and fire it up. Slap some cheap doors on it, a coat of spray paint, and it would have looked pretty good and we could have sold a “running” truck for a decent margin. This is standard practice in the industry with people flipping military trucks, but that’s not how we do business. If we are going to sell it, it’s going to be right. The truck will be safe, mechanically sound, and will work the way it is supposed to. If we can’t do that, we will cut the truck up and use it for parts to fix other trucks.