Handle with care - thorough checks are needed before closing a deal for a telehandler

Telehandlers are becoming an essential piece of equipment for many farmers, but thorough checks are needed before closing a deal on second-hand models

; The overall appearance of a machine is a tell tale sign of the way it has been maintained.
; The overall appearance of a machine is a tell tale sign of the way it has been maintained.

A materials handler of some kind is the core of many machinery fleets and for most, the telescopic handler or telehandler has become the tool of choice.

Everything from handling grain, silage, muck and straw shifting to loading seed and fertiliser can be tackled by these most versatile of machines. Recent figures from the FTMTA indicate that sales of new telehandlers are up on last year. The same can be said of second-hand sales as buyers seek good value, well-looked-after three and four-year-old machines.

Most telehandlers now have selectable steering modes - rear-wheel, front-wheel, four-wheel and crab steer modes (pictured). Check that they all work as they should, and that when switching between modes that the wheels align correctly, and that the in-cab guide/lights for this work as they should. A four-wheel drive machine on which the four-wheel drive doesn't work isn't a lot of good, so check that engagement and disengagement works as it should. Inspect the four tyres for sidewall damage, inside and out. Check the tread wear as well to determine how soon the tyres will need to be replaced.
Most telehandlers now have selectable steering modes - rear-wheel, front-wheel, four-wheel and crab steer modes (pictured). Check that they all work as they should, and that when switching between modes that the wheels align correctly, and that the in-cab guide/lights for this work as they should. A four-wheel drive machine on which the four-wheel drive doesn't work isn't a lot of good, so check that engagement and disengagement works as it should. Inspect the four tyres for sidewall damage, inside and out. Check the tread wear as well to determine how soon the tyres will need to be replaced.

It pays to be particularly careful if buying a telehandler second hand as the wrong machine leave you with a hefty repair bill, so it's essential to ensure you select a unit that has been treated well, operated carefully and looked after properly.

Most dealers are likely to be offering machines that have undergone at least basic checks and servicing, but be extra careful if buying privately as this can be a minefield and you basically have no rights if the proverbial hits the fan once the sale is closed.

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Serial plates

Telehandlers are a commonly stolen item of farm/construction equipment, so it's essential to be confident that what you are buying is genuine and completely above board. Look for the machine's serial plates and ensure they look legitimate.

Look carefully at the hydraulic pipework routed under the boom. Most of the pipes in this telehandler are harder to see as they are routed within the boom. Pipes that have been pushed out of place and pinched are likely to result in a hefty replacement bill. Check that the boom nose guard is fitted and is in good condition. If it's not, then debris ingress will have incurred, and grease plus grit is not a good combination where metal is concerned.
Look carefully at the hydraulic pipework routed under the boom. Most of the pipes in this telehandler are harder to see as they are routed within the boom. Pipes that have been pushed out of place and pinched are likely to result in a hefty replacement bill. Check that the boom nose guard is fitted and is in good condition. If it's not, then debris ingress will have incurred, and grease plus grit is not a good combination where metal is concerned.

To give an idea of the things to watch out for, I've used a well-looked-after three-year-old Merlo P38.13 telehandler here, but most of the points would generally apply to any make of telehandler.

As with any second-hand machine purchase, first appearances are rarely deceptive. The rear-engined format has, in recent years, fallen out of favour with telehandler designers, with general consensus being that side-mounted engines offer more advantages in terms of manoeuvrability, efficiency and visibility.

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; Inspecting the cab will give an indication of how the machine was cared for. Positive signs are a clean interior, unbroken glass and a seat that is in good condition. Check that the controls aren't taped with duct tape and there are no wires hanging under the dash.
; Inspecting the cab will give an indication of how the machine was cared for. Positive signs are a clean interior, unbroken glass and a seat that is in good condition. Check that the controls aren't taped with duct tape and there are no wires hanging under the dash.

If a machine looks rough from the outside, the chances are there will be further issues within. Any seller worth his salt will have given his machine a good hosing, so one that's covered in muck should raise alarm bells from the off. A machine that's clean underneath is a good sign. Look also for general cab cleanliness, damage to mudguards, dents and scrapes, broken mirrors, torn seats etc. Machines from the construction sector tend to have been made to work hard, with consequences for brakes, transmission and tyres.

Tyre condition is up at the top of the checklist. Not only will worn tyres provide little grip - particularly if the machine will be expected to work in yards or silage clamps - but serious splits and cracks can be dangerous on a loaded machine.

The Merlo is powered by a 4-cylinder Deutz engine. Allow the engine a few minutes to warm up. Listen for any unusual noises, and then do the same with both engine and transmission when putting the machine through a test drive, also assessing power, general performance and any signs of overheating.
The Merlo is powered by a 4-cylinder Deutz engine. Allow the engine a few minutes to warm up. Listen for any unusual noises, and then do the same with both engine and transmission when putting the machine through a test drive, also assessing power, general performance and any signs of overheating.

Ensure you budget for replacements or negotiate a better deal if tyres are severely worn or damaged, unless the buyer has made their condition clear from the outset.

When visiting a potential purchase, it's a good idea to go armed with an examination tool kit - torch, screwdrivers, adjustable spanner - for unfastening panels and examining concealed areas. Undo the air cleaner and see that the filter is as clean as can be expected.

Look over the headstock, and check that the hydraulic locking pins, if fitted, work properly. Ensure that all boom functions and services work as they should, ideally by coupling an attachment. Even if it isn't one that requires a third service, listen out for unlikely noises from the external oil supply by engaging its lever/joystick function. Check the headstock for play by putting the attachment through all its cycles.
Look over the headstock, and check that the hydraulic locking pins, if fitted, work properly. Ensure that all boom functions and services work as they should, ideally by coupling an attachment. Even if it isn't one that requires a third service, listen out for unlikely noises from the external oil supply by engaging its lever/joystick function. Check the headstock for play by putting the attachment through all its cycles.

Hydraulics

Check the condition of the radiator and its water/antifreeze level. After making initial checks and once the machine has been running for a while to get the oils warm, check the engine, transmission and hydraulic oil levels. A well-cared for machine can often be identified by the filter change dates/engine hours written on to them or a cab window label.

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On a handler, regardless of transmission type, the transmission oil check is particularly important. The scent of burnt oil can indicate a serious transmission issue or, at the very least, be a sign of machine abuse, which could lead to a problem.

Working deep in muck and silage can take its toll on telehandler propshafts, so look for any evidence of damage or oil leaks. Check all universal joints and ensure all is as tight as it should be right along the shaft. When test-driving the machine, listen out for knocking noises from the shaft or whining from the transmission.

This picture shows the hydraulic oil gauge. On first glance it is showing low, but this is only because the boom is in extension; retract the boom and levels are normal. Raise and lower the boom, listening for unusual sounds and looking for leaks in the hydraulic system.
This picture shows the hydraulic oil gauge. On first glance it is showing low, but this is only because the boom is in extension; retract the boom and levels are normal. Raise and lower the boom, listening for unusual sounds and looking for leaks in the hydraulic system.

Modern telehandlers are now mostly equal-wheeled machines.

As can be seen in this Merlo model, some also have four-wheel steering and selectable front/rear/four-wheel/crab steering modes, and the nature of their work means they spend a lot of time manoeuvring.

With that in mind, pay close attention to the knuckle joints on each corner of the machine. Ensure they are free from damage as repair/replacement can be costly.

Any self-propelled machine seller worth his salt should have at least ensured that vehicle basics such as lights are all working correctly. A bulb or fuse change doesn't take a minute or two, and if something so simple hasn't been sorted, it doesn't bode well for the general care that's been taken of the machine.
Any self-propelled machine seller worth his salt should have at least ensured that vehicle basics such as lights are all working correctly. A bulb or fuse change doesn't take a minute or two, and if something so simple hasn't been sorted, it doesn't bode well for the general care that's been taken of the machine.
A well cared for machine can be spotted fairly quickly by taking a look at the radiator (pictured) for relative cleanliness, hydraulic pump, and oil and air filters. Ask the seller when filters were last changed and when they are next due for changing. The easiest sign of lack of maintenance on a telehandler is oil leaks.
A well cared for machine can be spotted fairly quickly by taking a look at the radiator (pictured) for relative cleanliness, hydraulic pump, and oil and air filters. Ask the seller when filters were last changed and when they are next due for changing. The easiest sign of lack of maintenance on a telehandler is oil leaks.

Ensure the shuttle operates solidly and run through all of the transmission's speeds.

Listen for noises when changing gear and direction. A clunk when shuttling might mean a universal joint problem.

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