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Five tips for buying used equipment

The demand for used equipment is often reflected in the number of customer inquiries of equipment listings to our customers. However, we also understand that buying a used machine requires special precautions to ensure customers receive the maximum value for the purchased equipment. In this edition of Experts Corner, Omer Gaudet, SMS Equipment’s Manager of Used Equipment Sales, shares his secrets for ensuring that a machine will perform to expectations.

Here are five tips from Omer:

Tip #1: Check out the numbers.

Tip #1: Check out the numbers.

I always start with the fundamentals when buying a used machine for our inventory. The value of the equipment is generally determined by the year of the machine and the number of hours on it. If I see a 2021 machine with 1,500 hours on it, I would consider this high value and that it’s almost a new machine. But if it has 7,000 or 8,000 hours on it, that will require a complete mechanical inspection to assess it’s condition accurately.

The next item up for consideration is documentation. I specifically look at inspection reports for any major work completed on the machine. Was the engine rebuilt? Were there any major components replaced? What shape is the body of the unit in? That will tell you a lot about what you’re getting.
Service records can also tell a lot about a machine, so I constantly review these as well. Oil sample reports, for example, tell us the actual condition of the components on the machine. Some companies are better than others at keeping these types of records. I see all kinds of formats, including manual recordings, on an Excel spreadsheet, but that’s all you need. Sometimes they’re even on a sheet of paper, but if the information is there, that’s fine with me.
Tip #2: Do a visual inspection.

Tip #2: Do a visual inspection.

Nine times out of ten, I will send a mechanic to look at a piece of equipment before I purchase it. The most common problems reported back to me are undercarriage and linkage problems that are related to wear. For example, rollers may be leaking, track links appear to be stretched, pins and bushings have lots of play. Or, if you’re looking at tires and there are cracks and cuts on the sidewalls, this is generally not a good sign.

Another big area is the engine. First and foremost, look for oil leaks. If you look closely enough, you can usually identify an oil leak and where it came from. When an engine is dirty and dusty, you’ll often see the oil in the dust. And if the machine sits over a pool of oil, you know you’ve got some issues. We also need to look and see if the engine has been deleted of emission components and software. As a dealer, we need to sell a used piece in whole condition.
Tip #3: Sit in the driver’s seat.

Tip #3: Sit in the driver’s seat.

You can learn a lot about a piece of equipment from the condition of the cab. Sometimes, the console is cracked or broken, which to me is a red flag – it shows a lack of general care for the equipment. Another is the operator’s seat – there can be damage there that’s expensive to repair. Similarly, with the joystick control levers – if the controls are missing the dust boots, dust and debris can get into the pilot valve system and can effect the electronic control. We also look at all the safety items including the safety decals in the cab, damaged glass, monitor condition, and lock-out function. The point is that if the cab shows visible signs of abuse or neglect, it’s likely that the entire unit will require a close inspection to determine it’s true value.  

Tip #4: Approach auctions with caution.

Many machines are sold in auctions, and I’ll buy from an auction if it’s a piece of equipment I’m looking for. The tricky part is that many people send equipment to auctions because the machine is at its end, and want to get rid of it quickly. So, it’s essential to assess any necessary repairs upfront.

We often see equipment in auctions that we have seen and serviced. If this is the case, I can ask my sales and service teams about their experience with the machine. If my internal groups feel confident about the state of the equipment, I won’t be scared to buy that piece.

Tip #5: Start up the equipment.

We always run the machines before we buy them. If it’s an excavator or wheel loader, we’ll swing it around, move it forwards and backwards, and do everything we have to do to ensure it functions properly.

That applies to equipment in auctions as well. When you’re walking the yard, they all have the keys in them, and as a buyer, you’re allowed to fire them up. There are people around, of course, so there are reasonable limitations, but you can at least operate them slightly.

The Bottom Line:

Used equipment can be a great way to supplement your fleet, but purchasing it requires some extra steps. The big numbers are easy – year and hours. The rest is less obvious. How was the machine treated? How well was it maintained? Are there any hidden signs of undue wear and tear? SMS Equipment has years of experience buying and selling used machines, and we want our customers to feel comfortable knowing that the used equipment they are buying has been tested, run through our shop(s) and operates safely. Also, our customers will be getting the fair market value they deserve with their trade units, assessed by our sales and Used Equipment team.

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