[excerpted from chapter 4 of Bens' “hot dogs saved my life” course/book]
With the colder months coming on you will soon find more and more used carts available online. It's my favorite time to find good deals and those that jumped in this business without doing their due diligence or found it to be actual work will be listing their carts and often at a huge discount to you. The following is from my course/book “hot dogs saved my life” and will give you some great advice on finding a good used cart, how to test it, how to know if what you are getting will be ok and more. I hope you enjoy…
At first, I am going to assume that you have a little money stashed away. I will then cover some great ideas for you if you are as broke as a convict.
EDIT: We have a free Facebook group to help you connect with other hot dog cart buyers and sellers. Check it out! Hot Dog Carts For Sale
You have an idea now, on what features you need on a cart. One sink? Two sinks? Right? You did your homework, contacted the state HD and you are armed to make a good decision? Good. You’re probably thinking, “I’ve got it from here; I already found several cart manufacturers online and I’m ready to find the best deal.” Well, hang on there, Speedy. Have you even considered the possibility that you may get out there with your brand new cart and not like this business? It happens. Now you have invested your hard-earned dollars into something that simply isn’t your cup of tea.
The best way to start out is as cheaply as possible. There are some great used carts out on the market: some people have purchased a cart that won’t pass inspection in their state, others have found that the business is much too hard, and that they actually had to get off the couch and work for it to be profitable. Others may have gotten an old job back or simply found something they like better. It’s what makes the world go round—this isn’t for everyone and I am grateful for this as I enjoy going to a steak house or a Chinese restaurant from time to time.
But, if you must. If you demand the most cart for the money and you want it new then, by all means, check out https://hotdogcartstore.com/ and check out our wonderful lineup.
Used carts are more abundant in the winter months. I assume again, for obvious reasons, it’s cold, there are less people walking around and the once thriving warm spots are now cold and desolate. I see carts from time to time that were never used. I once bought a really nice cart that had sat in a garage for over a year. Never used. It was covered in dust for $800.
Start with Ebay, but do a local search—you will want to see before you buy, and ignore those listings that are too far away. Buying a used cart sight unseen can be dangerous. My favorite place to find a great deal is http://www.craiglist.org, because you can search numerous ways. Always try different spellings: hot dog cart, hotdog cart, concession stand, etc. Remember: if you can’t go and look at it, don’t buy it. Don’t fall for the all too common listing:
Hot Dog Cart Brand New Ready to Ship: My buyer fell through, it’s already crated and sitting at the shipping terminal, simply pay me and I will forward it to you.
These are scams, EVERY TIME!
Also, search under the business listings section on Craigslist. Some ‘listers’ don’t know where to list their cart, and it ends up in some arbitrary section that could only be found by a thorough search.
Also, search nearby cities on Craigslist.
Before heading out to see those carts you have found online, you will want to make sure the seller has the title or title paperwork; otherwise, you will have a cart for which you can’t get a tag. Also take along a propane tank, just in case they don’t have one or it’s empty. You will always want to fire the cart up before making a purchase, making sure you can adjust the flame well, making sure all the burners are working properly.
Determine how many burners are on the cart. If a cart has one burner, this will limit you when cooking. Let’s say you want to serve chili and hot dogs. With one burner, you can’t boil one thing and try to warm the other. One burner is almost useless in this case. It’s not a deal breaker, but it may mean you have to change your menu somewhat.
With the burners on, put in some pans if they have them, and add water so you don’t scorch the pans. After about 20 minutes of running the burners, you will be able to check under the cart and carefully feel around to see how hot the water lines are, and how hot the cooler is. If the cooler is super hot, you can bet you will need a full time job to afford the ice it will consume. Check to see if running the burners causes too much heat build-up in other areas.
While you are under the cart, check for insulation between the burner box and the rest of the cart. Look for insulation around the cooler also. I once bought a cart with two coolers, brand new. It was my first cart ever. It was a great deal, but one of the coolers was simply a plastic washtub with some wall insulation glued up on it. There were blank spaces and areas where it wasn’t insulated at all. The second cooler, the meat cooler as it was called, was a metal box. It had zero insulation. It wouldn’t hold an ice cube for three minutes.
Still under the cart? Well, get back under there. Check to see if the water lines are in good shape, with no obvious damages. Look at the gas line also, to make sure it is secure and protected. Now turn on the water and see if the water trickles or flows. If it trickles, don’t be alarmed, this is typical for a gravity fed system and it is no problem. Make sure the hot water works and is hot. It should be very hot within twenty minutes of starting the burners.
Check the interior of the cart to determine the materials used; is it steel, cardboard or plywood? Look for problem areas. If the cart has been used and driven up and down the roads, you should be able to tell. My first cart was on a steel frame, but the compartment that housed the gas tanks, including the floor of this compartment, was made of pressed wood panels. Like the thin flimsy wood floor companies use to make a base for a tile job. Once wet, this stuff comes apart. I figured this out one night in the mountains of East Tennessee coming from North Carolina in the pouring rain. My spare tank fell through the bottom of the cart, and sparked and clanked as it rolled behind me. I was scared to death that it was going to explode. Luckily, it didn’t.
When I arrived at home, the breadbox doors where bowed in, because they were made from the same material, and had warped from the rain. They were painted to look like some kind of heavy-duty composite material, but they really were just soggy wet cardboard pieces.
If you can, take a spray bottle with you. Fill it with soapy water and before you light the burners, turn the propane tank on and the burners off. Spray the lines, the burners, the valves and the regulator and check for leaks. If there is a leak, it will bubble up with the soapy water.
Check out the suspension. Make sure the trailer has leaf springs and is not just a frame welded to an axle. Otherwise, you will end up beating the cart to death when you pull it. Carts are relatively light and are prone to bouncing around anyway, but if the underlying frame is not on a leaf spring system, it will hop and bang all over the place.
Check out the grey water tank (the waste tank), to make sure it is accessible and easily drained. You will want to verify the sizes of each tank; the fresh water and wastewater. From your due diligence work at the HD or online, you will know what your state requires in sizes. Most states don’t care about the size of the fresh water tank, but they want the waste tank to be at least 20% larger. So if you have a 5 gallon fresh water tank, you will want to verify that your waste tank is at least 6 gallons or larger.
From here, it’s up to you. If you have found fixable problems, you can make the seller aware of them and use them as bargaining chips to get the best price. I am often asked if this or that is a good price. You will often find used carts for sale for nearly what a new one costs. I know a man in Arizona that lost his son in an accident, and was selling the hot dog cart he had purchased from me. He sold it for more than our new carts. How? Well, most people want immediate gratification, and they want it now. Yes, they could order a new one from me and have it within a few days, but his cart was there and they didn’t have shipping expenses. I was impressed.
There are still great deals, but putting a value on a used cart can be difficult. It will always be worth what people are willing to pay. I see carts listed in Florida on Craigslist that are ten years old, and they sell for more than a new one. However, I have also seen carts on Craigslist for $350.
If you are patient, there are some incredible deals. Even if you have to give up some features that you want, and you saved your money, you can let that cart earn enough to pay for your next cart with all the bells and whistles. (continued in “hot dogs saved my life“)
Now you have some very good information to help you make the best decision when purchasing a used cart. I wish you well. Please feel free to post your experiences, good or bad below. I've purchased many carts used and simply had to learn this information the hard way.