In part 7 we learn more about buying a used hot dog cart, how to test it out, what to make sure it definitely has with it and some tips and tricks from many hard lessons learned. Be sure to watch the first part on Part 6 first, but this is crucial info if you are looking for a good deal on a used hot dog cart.
Part 7: Steps for buying a used hot dog cart
- Title paperwork
- Check gas lines and burners
- Firebox insulation
- Water lines
- Manufacturer reviews
WE’VE covered scams on craigslist, different listing categories.
Buying a Used Food Cart: Title Paperwork
Now here is another BIGGIE: title paperwork. A lot of people buy carts they never use, and they don’t know what they did with the paperwork. You can’t apply for a lost title when they never titled it, and that creates a problem. So make sure that you have a title and it matches the VIN on the cart.
Now some states don’t care if it is titled, like Tennessee doesn’t care if it is titled or not. You can drive it on the road, work it on the street and Tennessee doesn’t care it if has a tag or not. Most states want it tagged. If you're in one of those states and you are buying a used cart, you are going to want to make sure that it comes with the title paperwork that matches the cart and that it is open, meaning they have signed it like you would a car, because it is a vehicle according to federal law.
Buy, sell or trade used hot dog carts and equipment for free at Buy and Sell Used Food Carts
Buying a Used Hot Dog Cart: Check Burners and Flame Adjustment
I didn’t mention this earlier but when you are testing your propane with the soapy bottled water and all that good stuff, make sure that the cart has a good flame. Fire it up and see if you can adjust it from a low flame to a high flame cause some carts you can spin that dial all you want and its always going to be the same flame, and that’s ok as long as your prepared in the head for that. You don’t want to get home and be like “well I need this burner on low and this burner on high cause I’m going to boil over here and I’m going to steam over here.”
Used Food Cart Tip: Firebox Insulation
You might not have thought of this: Firebox insulation – many manufacturers make carts and do not insulate the firebox. That is the part that contains the burner, and so the carts get real hot and the coolers get real hot and your ice will melt. My very first cart I bought I could turn on my burners and start cooking and within two hours my ice in my cooler was melting. Within an hour to two hours it was gone, because there was no insulation. It was basically made so that my whole cart would turn into an oven! So how you check for that is climb under the cart. If its closed off where you can’t see it maybe take a panel or two off and see if it is insulated.
If it's not don’t panic. It's not the end of the world. I know vendors who have been vending out there for years without an insulated cart and they just plan ahead for it. But it does make it nice to not have to worry about that additional cost of ice packs and your stuff getting heated up in your cooler. So those are things to be aware of.
How to Check Out a Used Food Cart: Fire it Up
Now if they have pans with the cart, no matter what shape they are in when you fire it up put water in the pan and make sure everything works. I know this is work but this is an investment and you don’t have to follow my advice but it will save you money and help you get it done quicker. Some of these things are variable like it has one burner and if you can live with that then go ahead. I’m just listing all the things that can possibly come up. Once you fire everything up go ahead and check for insulation. If you can’t get to it, just fire it up and feel around on the top of the cart. You usually can’t touch the top of the cart but if 8-10 inches back its still hotter and it's going to melt your ketchup bottle and condiment tray, those are things to think about. Maybe you’ll have to build a little ramp off to the side or you’ll have to get a little condiment table. I’m just telling you other options you may have.
Maybe let it run for 15 minutes and see how hot the cooler is. It could be scorching hot. It could have started out at 85 and now its up 110 inside the cooler and that happens. Make sure the cooler is insulated. There is a manufacturer out there — believe it or not — and he does not put any insulation on any of his coolers! His coolers are basically just sinks that you would put in a garage, you know the big plastic ones he puts something like in his carts and its not insulated. That is fine as long as you plan ahead of time for that, knowing you will probably need to buy 16 cans of spray foam and spray foam around it and get it insulated good.
Check the Water Lines, Pump, and Suspension
Now check the water lines. If it’s a gravity flow system you’ll get a very fine trickle. If it’s a pressurized system you will hear a pump kick on. Most pumps have a switch. Check the cart to see if it has a suspension, many people have built their own carts and they look like a professional cart, but they have used a trailer without any suspension and it is bolted to a frame. It will beat your teeth out going down the road. I would not personally buy a cart that doesn’t have a suspension. Even if it just has leaf springs then you’ll be fine.
See if you can determine the size of your water tanks. Check your fresh water tank and your wastewater tank and make sure the water goes through them. If you have to, hook a hose to them. Just make sure water goes through them.
If something doesn’t work or is you are unable to check, don’t worry about it. Don’t panic and go “you know it doesn’t have any pressured water and it leaks here…” It's not the end of the world because you can get it fixed, and you got a little bargaining chip and you know what you're getting.
Does it matter?
What you pay doesn’t matter if you get ripped off. As long as that cart is able to get approved and make you money, lets say you overpaid $2,000 and you get who-doo-ed and it really didn’t come with a supply of Hershey’s candy bars and you get home and you feel bad because you think you paid $2000 more than you should have and now you feel like crap. Let me make you feel better — 6 weeks, 12 weeks, 20 weeks down the road it ain’t going to matter that cart will have paid for itself several times over and even though you did pay more for it than you wanted to it was a means to an end.
There are people out there right now, vendors like me, who lease carts for $100 a day or $300 a week or $800 a month and that means someone using the cart is going to pay for it, if they are making $5K a month off it then $800 a month in rent isn’t bad. So don’t factor it that way if you do make a bad decision on a cart because once you out there making money it will pay for it, as long as you do the preliminary stuff.
Buying a Used Cart: Schematics
Like when you find a used cart and you go which manufacturer is it and you can pull up the schematics, if they are smart or a decent manufacturer they will have their schematics available for you. Get those schematics and take them down to your health department and get your pre-approval, they may not got a preapproved they may call it plan review all you want to do is get two minutes with them and have see if that cart will work for their standards, make sure its got the right amount of sinks.
Thinking About a Brand New Cart
New carts? Well I would be an idiot if I didn’t tell you, check out www.hotdogcartstore.com if you plan on buying a new cart. I’d love it if you at least consider us. We used to say we were the Chevy compared to the Cadillac; I don’t refer to us anymore like that because as we have gotten bigger and better we’ve got better equipment. WE now make what I would consider the Cadillac of carts and they are very little difference there are a few things that we don’ t have the equipment to put our names on the cart yet and that’s a very expensive piece of equipment to do that and so we just don’t do that yet.
Our designs are industry leading and because I work our carts and my partner works our carts we stay on the front lines with other mobile food vendors and we talk to our customers and we make design changes as needed. Now there are other companies out there that manufacture carts but I think we are the best. If you have questions just call me. I don’t mind answering questions, if there is something I know about them.
Buying a Used Cart: Research the Manufacturer
Read the reviews of manufacturers. There are many websites where customer can leave feedback. I got another friend that also manufacturers carts, well its not like we are fishing buddies or anything like that but he has two bad reviews out hundreds and hundreds of reviews. He is an upstanding guy and backs what he says but he asked me how do I get these two reviews off of here and I told him “you can’t” so please read the review and do your research. There are always two sides to every story, even if you look up Cadillac or Chevrolet there will always be some negative with the positive reviews just mindful of that too.
If you don’t have a money to buy a cart right now, new or used, you can place an ad seeking the use or part time use or go around and see if you can find a vendor and see if you can use their cart on the days they are not for a rental fee. I know some vendors who have worked for free to get their feet wet and help build a rapport with a vendor. Sometimes the vendor may be willing to let you use a cart for free on their off days. Some vendors won’t because they don’t want the hassle of training you and they might feel like they are training their own competition.