Ice cream trucks are an iconic American childhood memory. They’re typically seen on the side of roads, in parks, and in other public areas during summer months as they offer a sweet reprieve from hot days. Perhaps what sets them apart most is their signature ice cream truck melody that everyone knows too well.
The most important part — if you want to start a business in this particular niche— first would be to buy the truck itself.
How much does it cost to buy an ice cream truck?
On average, ice cream trucks cost anywhere from $10,000 (this will usually only get you a used ice cream truck with high mileage and some using signs) up to as much as $100,000. However, these prices depend on whether they are brand-new trucks or used, and their brand. Most purchases for a used high-mileage vehicle will be in the range of $10k – $25k. Whereas if one is looking for something newer with lower mileage it can go up to $100K+.
The cost of buying a truck for your small business is similar to that of purchasing a food truck and will depend on its type and condition. Buying a used one that already has a freezer installed on it is always recommendable as it saves money but if you just have some extra cash lying around then go ahead and purchase a new one.
The table below includes prices for varying makes/types of trucks that could be used for operating an ice cream truck:
|Type of ice cream truck||ITS COST|
|Ford Eco Van 1986||$4,300|
|2004 Dodge Sprinter base standard cargo van w/ 300,000 miles||$4,800|
|1996 Chevy novelty truck||$5,300|
|1997 GMC Conversion Sierra w/ 155,000 miles||$6,300|
|1993 Ford Econoline Van||$7,500|
|2003 Dodge Ram 3500 high top||$7,900|
|Chevrolet G20 cargo van w/ 165,000 miles||$8,500|
|1988 GMC Vandura 3500 mini school bus,||$8,900|
|1993 Ford Econo Van Conversion E350||$9,500|
|1979 Chevy Step Van ice cream truck w/ 57,000 miles||$13,000|
|2008 Ford E-350 Shuttle bus converted w/ 50,000 miles||$13,900|
|1988 GMC P3500 Step Van||$14,000|
|1992 Chevy P30 Step Van Truck||$16,500|
|1986 Chevy Grumman Curb Master soft ice cream truck||$20,000|
|2010 Sprinter Diesel Ice cream truck w/ 282,000 miles||$23,000|
|1999 Work Horse w/ 99,000 miles||$27,500|
As an example, if you go on eBay.com, you will notice that it has hundreds of auctions ranging anywhere from $8,000 to more than $70,000 that can help you start your own ice cream. SmartMotorGuide.com has somewhere around 350 listings at the time of this writing with prices as little as $3200 for a 1990 Ford used truck and up to about $80k for a brand new Utilimaster Step Van.
A recent survey, from 2023, of 35 ice cream truck vendors found that the average cost to start an ice cream truck business is $10,000-$20,000. But this doesn’t include items like vehicle wrapping and customizing or freezers for keeping your inventory cool.
Costs to start an ice cream truck business
It’s not uncommon for an ice cream truck to require a new paint job or mechanic service. An old, worn-out design or color scheme can be replaced with something more modern and eye-catching in order to attract customers. Depending on the size of the wrap, the design you go for, and the vehicle, the costs can go anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000.
The price of a freezer that is made to be placed in a truck can range from $200 to more than $1,500. The size and where you purchase it from will play a huge role in the final cost.
Purchasing an ice cream truck is just the beginning of your business expenses. Once you’ve purchased the type of truck you wanted, there are several other factors to consider. Running your ice cream truck will include gas and insurance, around $1,000/year. You need a permit from the local health department that will cost around $50 – $200 depending on where you will choose to sell your ice cream, as well as some inventory, which will cost about $500~. Labor can be costly too, around $12 per hour, so keep that in mind when thinking about how much this could potentially end up costing.
The cost of an ice cream
Hard ice cream
Most ice cream truck businesses sell hard ice cream, but the cost of the final product depends on the brand of the ice cream and the stock that you purchase. Usually, a scoop of ice cream costs around $5, meaning that it will cost you from $1.3 to $1.7 for the raw ingredients. In this case, you look to make a 200% to 300% profit.
Soft-serve ice cream
Ice cream trucks sell soft-serve ice cream for $1.3 to $2 per piece, but they usually have additional costs for toppings and syrups. Depending on the brand you choose to sell, you can make 900 ice creams from 12 liters of raw ingredients for just $19 to $23.
Organic or vegan ice cream
These types of ice creams are more expensive and their cost can go from $4.5 to $7.5 per scoop.
Is there any way to spend less?
Converting an old van into an ice cream truck can be cheaper than buying one that is already customized to sell sweet treats. If you want to do the work yourself, it may save you money in the long run.
When buying a car, it is very important to be thorough and do your due diligence, to ensure that you get the best truck for the money.
Getting an ice cream truck in good shape
Purchase a truck
The truck you’ll buy can be a new or used car. In the second case, make sure that the machine meets all the technical operating rules. Aluminum bodies are more efficient, being lighter. Also, fuel consumption is lower in their case, and does not rust.
Equipment required for a profitable ice cream truck business
Even if you are just an ice cream vendor, planning your business also means thinking about the technical features. The generator supplies the refrigerator while selling ice cream to children. Inverters turn the battery’s 12-volt power into 220 volts.
The necessary ice can be purchased from ice cream deposits or from companies that produce something like this.
Flat coolers are an optimal solution for long cooling. They are fixed on the refrigerator doors and keep a certain temperature for the products. Their component includes the Eutectic Solution, which freezes and maintains the temperature.
The pipes connected to the compressor cross the coolers, freezing the solution evenly. Under these conditions, you can unplug the refrigerator and leave without any problems! An effective crater plate keeps the temperature for at least 12 hours to maintain all the kids’ favorite treats.
Reasons why it is worth starting an ice cream business
Low costs of a mobile ice cream gig
The logical thread of each business is the following: when you want to maximize the profit, you have to optimize the costs. In the case of street ice cream carts or trucks, investments are minimal from the beginning.
The first argument is that you do not need too much staff to maintain such a business. You can be your own employee! In the end, the profit obtained when you make sales will not be divided, but will be fully yours! Another argument is the cost of rent. If you had opened an ice cream parlor, you would have had to find a space and pay monthly rent. But in this case, all you have to do is get all the permits and licenses you need, to buy a quality ice cream truck and machine, the necessary ingredients, and start selling!
The street ice cream business allows you to cover a larger number of customers
Besides the fact that the street business with ice cream offers products accessible to all from the price point of view, it gives you the opportunity to cover a larger number of customers from another point of view. Why? Because there is no furniture for serving ice cream, and customers do not have to wait for a table, you will be able to maximize profits.
You can choose the most advantageous location without worrying that you will not find a space to rent
One of the main advantages of this type of business is the possibility to choose the location of the ice cream truck from a multitude of locations. Thus, we recommend choosing an area that is frequented by the target audience. An example of this is the parks, children’s playgrounds or the city center.
So, these are some of the many benefits you can get when you choose to open a street ice cream business
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