Start a diesel engine cold and see if it is hard to start. Unlike gas engines that use spark plugs, diesel engines work off the heat of compression to ignite. If the engine isn’t tight or doesn’t have good compression, it will be hard to start. Easy starts are a good indication that internal parts are in working order to produce compression.
Also check filters to see the last time they were changed or when the next change is due, often written in pencil. If filter changes are on schedule, chances are the vehicle has been well maintained. Ask for oil samples, too, which can show problems with the engine or transmission.
Make sure the transmission goes into every gear. Hendrix says he has seen some transmissions where the second gear or third gear is inoperable, which indicates a major problem.
Look for external problems, such as a damaged hose. Also engage the hydraulics and check for functioning. Listen to see if the hydraulic pump is making a loud noise, indicative of system wear and tear. Pumps will begin to whine before they fail.
Check if the frame is cracked or welded, which are signs of weakness. Also look at the overall structure of the vehicle. If it looks off, chances are the vehicle has been abused or pushed beyond its design specs.
If the farm tractor has a loader attachment, look at the loader arms to make sure they are not cracked, welded, reinforced or otherwise modified, which might weaken the loader.
Look at the condition of the paint, sheet metal, and fiberglass. Hendrix says condition of the equipment has a profound effect on value and, if good, can command up to a 20% premium.
Check the interior of the cab, including the seat and the controllers, for use. “If the seat is torn or has cigarette burns, if the floor mat is worn out, or if there are chicken bones in floorboards, those are all indications that machine hasn’t been well taken of,” Hendrix says.
Study the condition of the tires, tracks and undercarriage. These wear-and-tear items have a high replacement cost.
A high-horsepower tractor with duals could have as many as eight bad tires, which would be expensive to repair or replace.
Look for items that go beyond normal wear and tear. Check for worn treads, cracks, or cuts in tires or tracks, which likely indicate the item needs to be repaired or replaced.
Paul Hendrix, farm machinery appraiser for IronPlanet, has sized up more than a thousand used vehicles in his 24 years of being in the business. Here’s a crash course on the four things to look for before buying any used machine.
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