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Given the choice of a new or used tractor, most would choose new, but sometimes it makes sense to purchase used. Purchasing a used tractor may not be a bad way to go, especially for beginning homesteaders who are still learning their properties and the repetitive work tasks involved.
This post does not claim to be all inclusive, but is intended to assist those considering a used tractor to make more informed purchasing decisions. It goes without saying of any used tractor purchase, "let the buyer beware."
You should inspect any tractor that you intend to purchase, even if you feel that you know its history. So before forking over the cash and extending that final handshake, it is worth assessing a used tractor before making a final decision.
- Safety first. Never start a tractor without first being securely seated in the seat. There is the possibility of the tractor starting and moving forward, with serious injury or even fatal results occurring.
- Also, never start a tractor without first determining if oil is present. Severe engine damage may result. Before starting the tractor, ensure that there is sufficient oil in the reservoir by checking the dipstick.
- While you are there, check the oil. The oil should appear clean and relatively clear; without debris. The oil filter should also be relatively clean; not excessively dirty.
- Next, check if an oil filter date has been recorded on the oil filter. It may coincide with the last oil change date. However, there are no guarantees.
- Check for leaks under the tractor. Dead or discolored grass underneath the tractor may indicate leaks.
Check for general cleanliness and overall good condition of the tractor. Generally speaking, a well cared for tractor generally indicates a tractor that has been well cared for mechanically and otherwise. Again, there are no absolute guarantees.
- Check that the tractor's body parts are all the same color. If not, it could indicate that some parts have been replaced. The tractor could have been in an accident. If you see any body part replacements, ask the owner about it.
- Check the tractor's bumper making sure that it's the original. Again, bumper replacement may indicate an attempt to hide damage from a previous accident.
- Check the condition and security of the muffler and exhaust pipe to the tractor. A hot or warm exhaust pipe could indicate a seller attempting to warm the engine beforehand for a smooth starting performance.
- Make every attempt to inspect the tractor from a cold start.
- Check that the fuel tank and fuel neck is rust free and in good condition.
Tires and Wheels
- Check the tires and wheels. Check that the quality of the tire's rubber and treads are not excessively worn, cracked and in good condition. Check that the rims and valve stems are not rusty or in poor condition. Some older tractors may have counter weight added to the rear tires with the use of caustic chemicals that can leak and rust the rims.
- Check all hoses and belts. Make sure there are no cracks or deterioration.
- Check that the tractor's floor pedals are tight; not loose and wobbly.
Checking the Electrical Components
- If possible, check the alternator's output by bringing along a $10.00 volt meter. Read the alternator's output while the tractor is running.
- Check the good working condition of the heater and air conditioner, if present.
- Check all lights. Any outage may indicate electrical issues.
- Check that the battery and battery terminals are in good condition and that they are rust and corrosion free.
- Check that gauges are functioning.
Checking Tractor Start-Up
- Put gear in neutral. Release the kill switch, if present.
- Turn the ignition key switch to on. The tractor should fire right up without hesitation.
- Note: The tractor should not start while in gear.
- Gradually rev the engine up to PTO range (2400 RPM), then gradually decrease the engine back down to idle. Engine combustion should sound strong and smooth throughout. There should be no misfires, knocks or sputtering.
- Check the PTO. Turn it to "off" and observe that the PTO shuts off. If the PTO continues to run, it may indicate pending clutch and or brake failure.
Checking Tractor Shut-Down
- Turn ignition key switch to off.
- Pull the kill switch out to engage.
- The tractor should shut down immediately.
- Check the radiator front tab cover is in good condition. Observe that the radiator fins are in good condition; not bent or dented. Check that the radiator fluid is clean, green and that the radiator is not leaking.
- Check the optimal level of transmission fluid is clean and not leaking. Check hydraulic fluid. Weep hole should have the Cotter key hanging in place.
Tractor Test Drive
- On test drive, increase speed, taking the tractor through at least the working gears - one through three.
- Attempt to check performance in both high and low gears.
- All gears should shift smoothly without grinding.
- Check if the clutch is slipping.
- Drive uphill, downhill and across grades, if possible.
- Observe the tractor's handling performance on each.
- Check that the loader raises and lowers easily.
- Disengage the brakes. Place gear in neutral.
- On level ground, the tractor should raise the front wheels. If it does, this is a pretty good indication that the hydraulic pump is working properly.
- Check the tractor's steering. Does it pull left or right?
- Check the front tie-rods by turning the steering wheel left and right. Steering should not feel loose or with any play.
- It should feel solid and fully intact.
- Check the brakes both in tandem and separately, if possible. On many tractors, there is a lever which allows the operator to test the left or right brake separately. Disengage the left brake to check the right and vice-versa.
Sources of Resale Value of Used Tractors
Sources of Used Tractors
Check used tractors from local tractor dealerships that have a good service department. Some dealerships may fix the tractor on your property or pick up the tractor to take in for service. Also, be prepared with your own means of transporting a tractor to and from your property.
Whether you are dealing with a manufacturer, dealership or private owner, don't be shy about negotiating your best deal on price, any warranties and financing terms. Aside from the inspection itself, the final negotiated price and any agreed upon terms are crucial to getting your best value.
So invest all efforts upfront. If you are uncomfortable with any aspect of the inspection or any negotiated terms of the deal, don't be afraid to walk away. More value is likely obtained by investing more time and waiting later for the right deal, than by accepting any aspects of a poor deal right now.
Remember to remain in the driver's seat at all times. With a little knowledge and preparation beforehand, you should be able to secure a better deal and reap the full value from purchasing a used tractor.
Monica White is a freelance writer, member of the Georgia Air National Guard, and an avid runner and cyclist who loves the great outdoors and all things DIY. She divides her time between Tampa and her central Florida property, where she's growing a self-sufficient homestead. Connect with Monica on her outdoor lifestyle blog, on Facebook, Twitter and
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