Would You Buy Off the Back of a Truck?

By Darwins Money on 16 November 2010 18 comments
Photo: Baijg

Have you ever bought something off the back of a truck? I have. In retrospect, it wasn't always the brightest move. While you can get some great deals, you may also be getting involved in a shady transaction — or worse. Here are some examples of "back of the truck" sales I've entertained or decided to pass on.  

(Please note I'm simply sharing my experience and I'm not recommending this as a viable shopping strategy. When you buy off a truck you might be evading legitimate taxes or getting stolen or subpar merchandise.) 


Apparently, it's not uncommon for trucks to drive up from the furniture outlets in North Carolina and unload large quantities of furniture in other states. We happened to be driving by a gas station that had a large semi parked out front with a full showcase of furniture displayed nicely in the parking lot. My wife had been asking for a dining room hutch for years, and I'd always had some sort of excuse as to why we couldn't afford it. But seeing as how we'd eventually have to spring for this (seemingly useless) item eventually, I figured I might as well entertain buying one at a significant discount rather than paying thousands more at some point in the future. So we stopped in and found a piece we she liked. They were able to drive it up to our home at the end of the day and sell it to us for a significant discount.

I felt comfortable with this transaction because I was able to inspect the furniture myself, and frankly (guys, you'll appreciate this), it's a completely useless item. It just sits there without ever being touched. While a dining room hutch looks nice, it's not exactly something that undergoes a lot of wear and tear. Additionally, I was able to look up the furniture company online before they got to our house to confirm the authenticity of the company, and compare our quoted cost to what I would have paid at local retail outlets. It seemed like a huge win. A few years later, so far, so good. We've eaten in the dining room all of two times in the subsequent years, the hutch still looks nice, and the wife is happy. Remember, happy wife = happy life.

Computer Monitors

I had a family member approach me with an opportunity to buy a new LCD monitor a few years back. It was retailing for over $200, and he said I could have it for $100. He said it "came off a truck," and he'd already tested it out. He had snagged one for himself and said he bought an extra one figuring I'd want it. I didn't really consider what the implications were in buying electronics that came from a truck, but seeing as how I was still using a massive old-school monitor and it seemed like a great deal, I sprung for it. I'm still using the monitor today. It's only now that I'm writing this article that I'm actually wondering where it came from — more on that below.


Seriously — meat. This sounds nasty, and this is the one truck opportunity I didn't partake in. Our neighbor called my wife raving about a truck in the neighborhood selling meat. Typical of my wife, who finds a "deal" nearly irresistible no matter how absurd the situation, she entertained the notion of purchasing meat in bulk based on the neighbor's endorsement. So the truck rolled down to our house and the driver started in with a typical hard sell technique. My wife called me at work to explain what kind of deal was being offered, and it was something along the lines of filet mignon at more than half off a typical store price. Apparently, the driver was becoming so impatient that she felt the need to call me (scammers with an exploding offer HATE when their victims have access to additional information and opinions).

Aside from the fact that I abhor ultimatums and hard sell tactics, it just didn't seem legitimate at all. I questioned why someone would need to drive meat around in a truck instead of just advertising a great deal and selling it from a legitimate store or selling it to restaurants and other larger outlets. I had no insight into the storage conditions, the source, how old the meat was or whether this even complied with local health laws. I was thinking it was probably rejected meat from some other source and they were trying to unload it in bulk at bargain prices since they couldn't sell it through legitimate channels. The driver had explained it all away to to my wife initially, but it just didn't smell right to me (over the phone). So, I told her to pass. Unsurprisingly, he had some choice words for her for wasting his time. I was so annoyed and disturbed by the encounter that I considered calling the local health authorities to see if this was even legal or legitimate, but he was long gone by the time she called me back to relay the rest of the encounter.

I was somewhat annoyed and shocked that my wife would even entertain the notion of subjecting our family to meat from who knows where. I take my chances every time I eat out, but there's a tort system and health code laws providing at least a strong deterrent and legal remedy for shady practices. The guy on the truck was bound by no such constraints. Upon talking to other neighbors about the situation, I learned that they'd done these purchases before and just couldn't get enough of these deals from the meat trucks. While this seemed completely foreign and bizarre to me, it was commonplace for them. I'm really curious if this meat truck thing is a broader phenomena because it seems very strange.

How'd It Actually GET in the Truck?

If you've ever watched an episode of The Sopranos, you've probably witnessed merchandise being stolen, laundered, or otherwise involved in some sort of criminal activity. Depending on what you're buying and who you're buying it from, you should certainly consider both the legal consequences you're subjecting yourself to, as well as your moral obligation. Looking back, I can see that the monitor was a bad purchase. While I had no direct knowledge of a crime being committed, upon reflection, I'd probably have to wonder if I was about to be the recipient of stolen property. That's drama I just don't need. And the meat? Well, that's one discount I don't need.

Have you ever bought anything off the back of a truck?

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Guest's picture

I actually did buy meat off the back of a truck... Okay there's really a bit more to it than that. My wife and I purchased 1/2 a cow at a farmers' market. We were only trading the money for the meat at in a parking lot (later, after the cow was butchered and nicely packaged). It was a great purchase. We got a freezer-full of high quality meat from a nearby farmer at a comparatively low price (it was still 200 pounds of meat). Yum!

Darwins Money's picture

That does sounds like a great deal. My wife proposed something similar a while back and we never got around to lining up. In that case, it's planned in advance and legit. This seemed to be a no-name outfit driving around with meat in who-knows-what condition!?

Guest's picture

I don't know about your area, but here there is a meat truck from a legitimate local distributor. You can go on their website and pre-order or just buy off the truck whatever is not assigned to an order. They do it this way since they only sell in bulk packaging and they sell to the consumer at more than they sell to retailers, but less than what the retailers sell to consumers. They also get paid immediately or in advance which improves their cash flows.

Guest's picture

I bought a few double-glazed window units that had supposedly "fallen off the back of a truck". Need I say more? In pieces, they were...............!

Darwins Money's picture

That's one I haven't heard of! I broke someone's mirror once moving them with a moving van. So, I could see how there are a lot of windows being sold "off the truck"...broken ones.

Guest's picture

I've seen the meat trucks driving around, and I've been approached by drivers a few times, but I have never and will never buy meat from some dude in a refrigerated pickup.

Guest's picture

Where I live everybody buys stuff "off the back of a truck" all the time. But when you see a pickup filled with corn or squash and the name of the farm on the side it's not really difficult to figure out where it came from;)

Guest's picture

You can add me to this list of people who have bought (or at least eaten) meat off a truck. I grew up in a small town and there was a farmer in the area who would take a refrigerated truck around to some small towns in the area (we were about 3.5 hours from a big town). He would take orders ahead of time and also have extras for sale out of the truck. In each town he would park in the same place on a certain day of the week and you could pick up your order or buy some of the extra meat. He was even nice enough to deliver if you had a large order or couldn't make it to where he was parked.

It was about the same price as grocery store meat, but way cheaper than organic, free range (whatever fancy expensive meat terms go here) meat. And it was some of the tastiest meat ever.

Guest's picture

My mother drives a Refrigerated Semi-truck for a living and I can tell you that often times if you happen upon a driver selling things from the back of a truck it usually went down like this. The driver pulls up to the Distribution Center (DC) and the dock workers (Lumpers) give the freight a once over and say all your freight is good or hey you have 2 pallets of product here with damaged packaging (all it takes is 1 damaged package for a whole unit to be rejected, keep in mind that it could be as little as 1 tv dinner with a torn box while there are 300+ tv dinners still on that pallet....) So it falls upon the company or driver to get rid of these items. They can throw them in a dumpster and take the loss (Trucking companies get paid by the unit/weight) or they can turn around and sell them to try and offset the cost. Companies like Walmart can and will deny the loads if the trailer is so much as 1-3 degrees warmer than they wish, even tho the food is still very safe to eat. The company once again gets charged with the task of paying for the load and getting rid of it. I have heard of one particular driver getting a full load of Campbell's soup rejected due to damage and he took the whole load and parked at a truck stop and proceeded to sell over half the trailer load at 3 dollars per case before local authorities stepped in and stopped him, but in that time he had completely paid for that load and made more than if he had just delivered that load and turned around and went home. Most people don't realize that the products that they buy are incredibly overpriced. So buying stuff off the back of the truck usually isn't an issue and is a win/win situation for everyone involved. There are some bad apples in there tho so please keep that in mind if the guy selling the product seems a little bit to shady

Guest's picture

Vegetable vendors are fairly common around here during the summer as we're close to farmland. (Think fresh picked sweet corn.) They just park their wheeled stands in a well trafficed places and wait for customers. A non profit near us sells home grown mums from a little cart in their parking lot to passerbys. You just put your money in a jar. I assume both are legit.

Guest's picture

Reminds me of my first experience dining at my in laws [pre-marriage]

Thanksgiving dinner - knock at the front door . . .

Acquaintance of my FIL . . . Hey! Happy Thanksgiving! I got an edger that fell of the back of a truck - you wanna buy it?

I begin to whisper to hubby to be that I think equipment that fell of a truck would be a bad thing to buy - it's probably broken . . .

He laughed and explained reality to me - and no, FIL didn't buy the edger LOL

Guest's picture
Laura P.

The local paper did a piece on an onslaught of food poisoning cases being reported to the health department last year. Ends up it was truck cheese. Not a good idea.

Laura P.

Darwins Money's picture

That was my main concern about the meat. I work in a regulated industry requiring strict adherance to rules, regulation, procedures and monitoring of things like temperature and stability. I'm thinking about this meat truck thing and aside from the fact that we didn't know where the meat came from even BEFORE it got on the truck, what about once it was on the truck? Has the truck been sitting in a lot with the refrigerator off for two days? Does the temp control on the freezer work? When's the last time that thing was calibrated? If someone gets sick weeks later when they thaw, cook and eat that meat, what are the odds it gets traced back? There were just too many red flags to justify saving a few bucks when I can buy it through a larger chain with more oversight (and legal deterrant).

Guest's picture

My neighbor sells meat out of a truck. He has a nice truck, with a refrigerated container in the bed of his truck. It looks legit, with lettering advertising frozen meat on the side. He even has his own website: "Meatman" he calls himself. This is all well and good, but what bothers me is that he has numerous consumer-grade chest freezers in his garage. He stores his meat in the freezers. I don't know about you, but I don't want to buy meat from someone's garage freezer! Over the years, we have had several long power outages, but I've never seen him throw anything away. Go figure. He's a weird guy anyway--steals other neighbors' landscape rocks, and has the maturity of a 10 year old. He's not my "Meatman." Don't let him be yours.

Guest's picture

I have been approached by the meat truck before. I decided not to purchase anything because of the uncertainty. I don't like a hard sell at all. However, I might try something else.

Guest's picture

I sell meat off a truck and can shed some light on this. Selling meat off a truck is an industry that has been around for over 50 years. There are several large companies that have offices nationwide, there are also independent sellers, and some shady companies. The thing to ask for when a person is selling meat is their Department of Agriculture license. If they can't show you that, then pass up on it. I had to laugh a little when I read the comment about "why not advertise it or have a store". The REASON we are able to sell it so cheap is because we don't incur the costs associated with advertising and a retail space. Most mobile meat companies will be selling a variety pack with over $400 worth of meat in retail pricing, but able to get it to you for $150-$199. Meat salesmen build a client base, so they are concerned with high quality meat and a good relationship. It is important to ask the rep how long they have been doing it. If they have been selling for over 6 months, then they know what they are doing. If people are rude to customers, they probably won't last 6 weeks.

We don't put up with ANY rude comments at our office. Engaging in such an unprofessional manner is grounds for immediate dismissal.

As far as worries about old meat, there is little worry there. Companies that have trucks move meat constantly, and empty the freezer and replace with a new shipment every week. Keeping meat coming fast enough is our biggest problem. Companies that would be sitting on meat, don't have salesmen out selling. Besides, the packing date is listed on the side of the box of all USDA meats. To find the packing date, look on the side of the box and you will see something like "PD011512". That meas "packing date January 15th 2012.

If you are buying off a truck, the packing date will most likely be in less than two weeks from the day they show up. Also, consumers have a 3 day right of rescission. If you purchase meat...try it right away. If you don't like it, call to return it for a refund. If they don't comply, contact their city and complain. They will comply rather than lose their licencing.

Regardless...if you passed up on meat off of a truck, you probably missed out on a good deal.

Guest's picture

Well people dont know what meat man you dealt with but The meat I sell is vacum sealed and never thawed refrozen to resell i sell it all and it puts Ohmaha Steaks to shame if you pay their prices you truely are beinging ripped off Ive ordered there filets steaka hamburges they cany come close in size or taste. So The next time you see the Meatman or Woman you might want to reconcinder it our job trying to feed our familys just like you were all not scamers,just trying to make a living some cant drive so this is the only work they can do.Did you evey think of that people trying to make a living....

Guest's picture

If I want to purchase meat, I know where to find the store to buy it, or better yet, a
farmer with a corn fed beef, hauled in, butchured, USDA inspected, vacumn packed,
and I know how to haul it refrigerated and kept cold. Thus, I know what I am feeding
myself and my family. I do not like it when someone comes here trying to sell something to me that I know nothing about. I mean it could be horse meat, I don't have
any way of knowing, it could be stolen, it could have been mismanaged, contaminated,
all sorts of things. No, I am not buying from a truck coming to my home. No thank you
and I would like to direct others to do the same for their safety.
When it comes to meat, this is a very serious thing. It could mean you life.
Please, be safe, that is all I ask. And these poor elderly that are being taken advantage
of is a shame. One man recently wrote a 900.00 check for a freezer and meat and he
didn't even have that in the bank. His daughter had a terrible time getting this straightened out. Why don't these people leave other people alone. If we want to buy
something, we certainly know where to go. I don't like people on the telephone trying
to sell things to me I don't want either. I also, don't think we should have to pay postage for the sells papers in our orders we don't request.