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How Much Does It Cost to Build a Food Truck? [DIY]

Build and Paint a Food Truck

Are you about starting a food truck business and you want to build a food truck? If YES, here is a cost breakdown for building a food truck from scratch.

If you have mechanical experience, an engineering background, and are really good at solving problems, you can really build your own food truck from scratch. Plus, if you build the truck yourself, you will have in-depth knowledge on how to fix any issues that may arise.

Note that when you build your truck yourself, you will have very concise knowledge on how to fix any issue that arise. However, the most important thing to take note of when looking to build a food truck is the truck itself. Most food trucks are modified delivery trucks, like those used by UPS and other mail companies.

The vehicle will be retrofitted to house all the necessary cooking equipment. While the front of the vehicle- where the driver and any passengers’ sit- remains unchanged, the rest is emptied and prepared for equipment. You can also decide to use a bus, trailer, van, or even a mobile home. All these will depend on how complex the kitchen needs to be.

If you are not experienced in mechanics, then know that building your own truck might not be the option for you. If you have no experience with doing electrical work, this isn’t for you either. Also, if you don’t have access to the necessary tools, then you can’t go far.

The other negative is that it will take you a lot more time to do it yourself than hire it out. Also note that building your own food truck can take more time depending on your personal schedule. On the flip-side, it can take a professional one to three months to design and complete all of the work.

Lastly, the average cost of starting a food truck can range from $130,000 for a used truck to $180,000 for a new one, depending on the size and quality. But designing your food truck layout can sometimes reduce the cost by up to $60,000.

However, note that no two food truck business ventures are the same, which means no food truck design should be the same.

Estimated Cost Breakdown of Building a Food Truck

If you don’t have enough cash at hand to pay for a food truck, then building one is the best way to make your dream come true. Even if you have the choice, there are many reasons why building a truck makes more sense than buying used ones.

Note that the price of building a new food truck will be between $70,000 and $145,000, depending on your concept, the size of the kitchen, and the builder you’re working with. But at the end it will surely be worth it, especially since it is like building a brand new home.

You design it and build it, knowing you won’t inherit any problems. In an industry where reliability is crucial to success, building your own truck from the scratch can be a unique option.

  1. Acquiring a Truck or the Platform for Your Food Truck – $50,000 – $93,000

This will perhaps be the biggest single expenses in this DIY adventure. However, the types of food truck you want, along with the equipment needed to serve the food will determine the shape and price of the truck you get.

A coffee truck will have very different space and equipment requirements than a burger bus. So, budget about $50,000 – $93,000 for the vehicle needed to construct your food truck.

  1. The Body (Exterior and Interior) – $30,000 to $40,000

This cost will depend on the exact type of vehicle you acquired. However, expect to spend around $20,000 on the body, assuming just good, solid work with high quality materials and nothing especially fancy and not a lot of one-off fabrications, but using ‘off the shelf’ hardware available through businesses that supply restorers, ‘car crafters’, and hot roaders.

If you’re doing much building from scratch rather than welding together reproduction steel body panels, look more at $30,000 to $40,000 on the body.

The last $10,000 would cover the interior and anything else needed to pull the project together (wiring, brakes, exhaust, climate control, radio, etc.), and if you get very wild here, again, figure at least double.

  1. The Engine – $10,000

If you’re looking to improve or change engine to suit your food truck needs, note that engine and transmission will be no less than about $10,000 for ‘good stuff’, new in the crate. You can economize if you lower your standards a bit, but at the same time, if you start to go exotic at all, double or triple this, and maybe then some.

  1. Necessary Kitchen Equipment

Note that the type of equipment you need depends on the type of food you serve, but common appliances are ovens, fryers, grills, and refrigerators.

Other equipment may include pots and pans, storage containers and knives, serving implements, and other utensils. Appliances can cost well into the thousands, and supplies like pots, pans, and other tools can cost a few thousand dollars.

  1. Inventory needed to get off the ground – $1,000 to $2,000

The basic materials you need to launch your food truck include ingredients for your menu items and serve ware like plates, cups, lids, utensils, and napkins. The start-up costs for ingredients depends on your menu, but expect to spend around $1,000 to $2,000 when you take into account items like cooking oil, spices, and more. Server ware start-up costs for food trucks are around $300.

Steps to Build a Food Truck Yourself from Scratch

  1. Determine your truck and equipment Layout

The very first thing you will have to do is to determine the type of food truck you want, along with the equipment needed to serve the food. Have it in mind that a hot dog truck will have different layout and equipment from a coffee truck.

Take your time to analyze and write down each piece of equipment you need to include on your future truck. This could include a refrigerator, deep fryer, freezer, heat lamp, and storage space to list a few of the basics.

Once you get the list of equipment, the next thing will be to determine how much space you need. Just ensure to get the specifics of each piece of equipment you want to put into the truck and design a layout of where you want each piece of equipment to be placed.

  1. Find the Vehicle

After analyzing and creating your layout and equipment needs, you will have to find the ideal vehicle that will serve as your mobile food unit. Note that one good thing about retrofitting your vehicle is that you don’t need to buy a truck at all.

There are plenty of entrepreneurs that have converted school buses, vans, and even mobile homes to suit their needs. These out of the ordinary vehicles can even serve as a differentiator for your brand.

However, before investing in any type of vehicle, ensure to seek the expertise of a mechanic who can inspect the vehicle prior to purchase. It is also imperative to find out as much information as possible about history of the vehicle prior to writing a check.

Find out if the truck was part of a fleet: bread trucks, FedEx and UPS trucks can fall into this category. Also, if you are buying directly from a business, you can be more certain of how the truck has been cared for in the past, along with whether or not it received regular oil changes.

  1. Clean out the Vehicle and Mark out the Layout

Once you must have found the vehicle you want, then it’s time to gut the thing and clean out everything you don’t need. Mostly, you will have to clear out the interior of the truck-minus the driver’s seat and steering wheel until you get a big empty box.

You then have to mark out where each piece of equipment and location of the serving window is going to be within the truck. You will also what to identify and mark the location of any outlets and fixtures, determine the location of the wall that separates the kitchen from the driver, and determine where you will position the propane tank and generator.

  1. Setup the Electrical Wiring

Note that getting the electrical wiring assembled the right way is very crucial because the operation of your future business depends on it. If the power goes out in your vehicle you won’t be able to serve customers. In addition, determining what’s wrong with electrical wiring can be very difficult after the food service vehicle is fully assembled.

You should get an experienced electrician to help you with this step if you don’t know what you are doing. The electrician will need to run wire to all circuits and to the back panel. In some cases, electrical boxes may also need to be installed.

  1. Reinforcing the Interior

After the wiring, you will have to start reinforcing the interior of the truck. You will achieve this largely through a process called framing that is common in the construction industry. Notably, when you build a house, you create a frame using wood to build the foundation to support wall of a home.

You are doing something similar only with the foundation of a food truck instead of a single family home. Aluminium square tubes are commonly used to frame the outside of walls, around the serving window, the generator, the hood, areas of the A/C and the frame divider. Aluminium is highly advisable due to it being light-weight and extremely durable.

  1. Create Openings for Serving Window and A/C

At this point, you will need to cut open your truck to make room for the serving window. A typical serving window size is 4×3 feet. You will also want to cut an opening for the A/C at the top of the truck.

  1. Finish the Inside Walls on Your Truck

This will be the ideal time to focus on finishing the inside walls of the truck. The first thing that you should know is that the wall behind your cooking line should be made from “non-flammable” construction per most fire code requirements. That means any sort of wood should not be used in any area.

After that, you will have to install installation panels on the ceiling and walls of the vehicle and insulate the outside walls using Styrofoam. The material most commonly used by food truckers for the outside of the walls is 100% stainless steel sheets. You will also want to install the floor at this time.

  1. Gas/Propane Tank

To achieve this step, you will have to check your local safety/fire regulation to ensure you are setting up everything correctly as per the requirements of your city.

Even though it’s very common to install propane tanks on the rear of a food truck, there are many cities that don’t allow this. Take your time to research and ask representatives at your city and local fire department on how to position the gas tanks on your vehicle.

After the governing bodies give you their instructions for setup, install a gas manifold for equipment, connect the manifold to the propane tank and install the regulation. Finally, you will need to fabricate and install the tank rack to hold the equipment.

  1. Set the Interior Hood

At this point, you will install the interior hood within the truck. This is an area where you will want to check with your local laws again to confirm everything is up to code based on the city you plan to operate in. Interior hoods aid in the ventilation of the vehicle.

  1. Pre-equipment load

Carefully load in and install things like the concession window and door, A/C unit, any general equipment tables, and cabinets and counter tops. After you complete this step, the vehicle will really start looking like a food truck.

  1. Finish the Electric Work

At this point, you will have to start finalising the electrical work by installing light fixtures, outlets, switches, breakers, panels, and connect the land wires to the breakers. If you don’t know how to do this call a professional electrician or someone that has experience working with food trucks or mobile homes.

  1. Install Cooking Equipment

You will have to start loading up and installing the rest of the cooking equipment. This simply entails everything from the refrigerator to the kitchen sink, cash register, and other tools required to deliver memorable food moments to your future customers. If it goes onto the truck, make sure to install it now.

  1. Plumbing

First and foremost, it I always advisable to seek an experienced plumber to setup this step and ensure everything is flowing sufficiently for the long term. Note that while most veteran plumbers can probably figure out how to setup the plumbing in your vehicle, anticipate the charges to be 2 – 3 times the original estimate.

It will take the plumber additional time to figure everything out if he’s never worked on a truck before. The plumber will have to connect the sinks to the fresh water tank, install a dump valve, and conduct other works that are required by your local ordinances.

  1. Install the Generator

Note that without an operational generator, you won’t be able to power your cooking equipment and refrigerators. Take your time to confirm your generator is securely and firmly positioned.

You will also have to connect the generator to the panel and transfer switch. In addition, make sure the generator is installed in a well ventilated area of the vehicle. These things get hot.

  1. Finish the Process

Even though the truck is technically completed at this point, there are still few more steps that must be completed before you are road ready. You will need to inspect the plumbing, gas connections, and electrical work that have been completed.

You will also want to conduct a test of the generator and this time. You will also need someone to complete the truck wrap on your behalf for the outside of the vehicle. This is not something you want to do yourself since the first thing potential customers will see is the outside of your vehicle.


Indeed there are a few key differences between buying a food truck and transforming one yourself, but the overall process remains the same. It is deceptively simple; what looks like a simple conversion is a daunting and expensive task.

However, the perks of having a food truck often outweigh any downsides to those passionate enough to pursue a career in the food industry.