A few weeks ago, we ran a piece on the new tractors that are likely to sell well in Ireland during 2020. Afterwards, I had an email from a farmer lamenting the prices of new tractors and asking about advice for someone looking for a good quality used tractor that might not be as expensive.
A drystock farmer, his budget was around €25,000 and he intends to use it for the usual farming jobs - fertiliser spreading, loader work, mowing and slurry.
I explained to him that the first step to think about is what size tractor you are looking for. Think about the largest implement you have, or plan to have, within in the next 10 years. Can the tractor you are planning on purchasing support it?
Undersized tractors are dangerous to operators and will be damaged when worked too hard. An oversized tractor will use more fuel, may be less manoeuvrable, can cause more compaction issues and have more expensive parts.
Most drystock and dairy farmers can manage perfectly well with a 100hp-120hp tractor and these days, that equates to a four-cylinder engine for the most part. Some of the older, but well kept, six-cylinder tractors will throw out the same power with a bit more torque to boot and may be useful for heavier jobs like slurry spreading, mowing silage or ploughing.
My advice to the farmer was that, when purchasing a used tractor, look for something with under 5,000 hours on the clock. Don't be tempted by a cheap model with too many hours because it's false economy. A rule of thumb is the older the machine, the more repair work it is likely to need. Even a fresh second-hand tractor will likely need more parts in its first two years of ownership, so choose a brand or model that will be easy for you to find parts for or that a local dealer can help with.
Consider fixed costs such as depreciation, insurance and housing. Variable costs include repairs (for which you will need a bigger budget than if you were buying new), fuel, lubrication and labour. Also think about any implements you will need to purchase for your tractor to take on different farm jobs.
The next question he had is where to buy?
There are loads of options, but the advice I always give is that it is safest to buy from a reputable source such as a dealership that specialises in sourcing used tractors.
Most of us have been stung at some point in buying from a private seller and the truth is you really haven't got a leg to stand on if things start to go wrong after money has changed hands. At least if you buy from a reputable source, there is someone to go back to if things go wrong.
If you do buy privately, bring someone 'in the know' with you to spot some of the technical glitches that are often visible to a trained eye (see list right).
It might sound obvious, but ask the seller why they are selling. Has there been a problem? Get the serial number to look up the year and model. Ask how many hours it's worked - the more hours it's clocked up per annum, the greater chance of trouble.
The starting point for farmers looking for an affordable used machine is to look for one with less than 5,000 miles on the clock
1) Stand back and assess the general condition of the tractor
Patches of oils or fluids underneath are immediate problems. The condition of the cab is often a good indicator as to the respect the previous owners showed the tractor.
2) Check the hour meter
General wear and tear should correspond with hours. A tractor showing 2,000 hours, but with the grips completely worn off the pedals from use would indicate a faulty or tampered with hour meter.
3) Try to start the engine from cold if possible
Continuous turning over without firing might indicate fuel flow or heater plug issues. A cold engine may smoke a little, but should clear quickly. Continuous blue or white smoke indicates bigger issues.
4) Check the steering for wear
Turn the steering wheel and watch the front wheels. There should be an immediate response. A lag indicates wear somewhere in the linkage.
5) Check that all levers and switches operate correctly
Check that each one performs its individual task completely. Check that all lights work correctly. Additional work lights can be a huge bonus when working on those dark winter evenings.
6) Pull both the engine dipstick and rear end dipstick
Ensure oil levels are correct, the oil is of good quality and is not excessively blackened or burnt. Any cloudiness or signs of water in the oil is very bad news.
7) Take the tractor for a drive
Ensure every gear engages correctly and there is no tendency to pop out of gear. Use your senses, listen for strange sounds, feel for odd vibrations and keep an eye on the temperature gauge. If something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't, and will warrant further investigation.
8) Check the condition of the tyres
If tyres are close to being replaced, this should be reflected in the price. Take a look at the hubs and steering linkage for signs of wear or leaks.
9) Inspect the pick-up hitch and lower linkage
Look for signs of excessive wear and tear. If the tractor is equipped with a telescopic hitch, ensure it travels freely and locks closed correctly.
10) Bring someone 'in the know'
Have them join you if you feel you are out of your depth and might need some support in making the right decision.