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Equipment Hub: Evaluating farm equipment for sale

Andy Overbay for Progressive Dairyman Published on 18 January 2018

Everyone loves a bargain. No surprise there, but there can be many unpleasant surprises when purchasing equipment at auction. Being “surprised” by your recent barn find is never the object of the buyer’s affection, so let’s take a few minutes to talk about some common ways to reduce the stress or increase the success rate of bidding on that “new to you” piece of equipment.

While we are talking mostly about used equipment here, perhaps the best place to begin (before you grab your checkbook and head off to the equipment auction) is the local dealership that carries new versions of the machinery you are seeking.

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Knowing the true retail price of the equipment in question helps you go into that auction with at least an idea of what a “crazy high” bid would be. It may be hard to believe, but I have watched folks with no inkling what a new plow sells for overbid by a factor of 300 percent simply because they failed to do any research.

When we sold some tractors and forage equipment 15 years ago, we had an extraordinarily good result. What drove the sale more than anything was: Bidders knew and respected my dad and knew he did not tolerate “junk.”

Even the fact he performed all of his own service and had no paper trail of regular maintenance failed to keep the bidders at bay. It was a good day for us and a good day for those who purchased, which leads us to the first step in buying a used tractor, combine, truck or implement: Go with what you know.

Go with what you know

Purchasing with some knowledge of the background and treatment of a piece of machinery is always a good idea. It really helps when the machinery in question is in tremendously good shape … or maybe too good of shape? Is it in great condition because it was well cared for or used sparingly?

Is it in great condition because the past owner or dealer is a whiz at reconditioning – or is it in great condition because flaws and failures are being disguised to the point of misrepresentation? The answer to all of these questions can be determined by you the buyer simply by being an informed buyer: Go with what you know.

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Damaged machinery

Speaking of knowing the background, while it is tragic about the natural disasters that have struck several regions across the southern and western U.S. this past summer and fall, stay away from fire-, water-, flood- or accident-damaged machinery unless it is being bought for parts. It is difficult to determine the extent of damage of such equipment, as the damage may be hidden.

For example, seals (as in sealed bearings) that keep oil in won’t necessarily keep water out. Internal components (bearings, gears, etc.) can be overheated and distorted from a fire and will be difficult, if not impossible, to see.

Machinery that has experienced serious accidents (such as rollovers) also can have serious damage or distortion to internal components that cannot be seen. Think about a pickup that has been in a head-on collision. Even if the damage is superficial, the “guts” of that motor took a sudden jolt horizontally. No matter how tough a piston or crankshaft is, they aren’t made to take sideways force.

Soils affect iron

Knowing a bit about the soil conditions the machinery has served in can be helpful as well. Sandy soils and dusty conditions can cause many of the same premature failures that mirror those seen in a flood. Dirt finds its way into cracks and creases and does not reveal itself until it is too late to stop the transaction.

Future support

Backtracking a bit (again going with what you know), how is the dealer support for the machinery you are considering? Failures are bad enough, but if availability of parts is nonexistent, or the parts needed are obsolete, you may find you not only have a non-running piece of equipment, its future may include a one-way trip to the local scrap yard.

Several lines of equipment simply do not exist anymore. Some are easier to find parts for than others, but you need to know exactly what is or isn’t available prior to raising your hand or writing the check.

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Tachometers and hours

Need a good new tachometer for a tractor? I have one sitting in a cubbyhole back in the right-hand corner of my shop. Dad didn’t buy it to misrepresent a tractor to anyone; he bought it because the one on an old tractor failed. We still have the old tractor. I never have gotten around to installing the new tach; I may never do so.

I bring that up just so you know there are no laws or rules regarding tachometers or hour meters on farm equipment, as there are on cars and trucks. Again, you need to do some research, but use some common sense when it comes to evaluating a tractor simply by the hour meter.

Let’s suppose you find a 20-year-old tractor with 1,200 hours on the meter. I usually put between 300 and 500 hours per year on a tractor that I am using to farm “full time,” but some of that data is skewed because of the number of tractors I am using in total. There may be cases where tractors are used less or much more – but again, you need to investigate and ask yourself “why” it is represented as such.

In such a case, look at the hitch and the tires for clues as to the tractor’s real “life experiences.” Drawbars and hitch linkages that show evidence of extensive use and low hour meters may be a signal of a tachometer that has been changed out.

Aftermarket updates

Finally, watch out for “beasts.” It has become increasingly popular to “horse up” trucks and tractors with aftermarket updates. While I admit to blowing a little black smoke from time to time, the reality is: Increasing the output of a motor only means the likelihood of finding the powertrain’s weak link has also been increased. Frankly, if it has been turned up, I turn away.

While it may not be the bargain basement-priced piece of machinery you were hoping for, one thing is for sure: The more you know before you raise your hand, the better. With that in mind, the best investment you can make is in your own personal knowledge and comfort level. Good luck to each of you.end mark

Andy Overbay holds a Ph.D. in ag education and has more than 40 years of hands-on dairy and farming experience.

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