Reduce the risk when buying a used machine by following Tadhg Brosnan and Colm Egan’s checklist
Care should always be exercised when buying anything second-hand, and this is particularly true with tractors.
With so many makes, models and size available, you need to consider carefully before investing in a machine that will be used so often over the next 5-10 years on the farm.
The first choice you face is who to buy from: a dealer or go private.
Buying from a reputable dealer is a far safer option and offers a level of quality standard, possible warranty and usually a back-up should anything go wrong.
Buying privately is usually cheaper.
Remember that all machines break down, so check that the spare parts can be sourced and at a reasonable cost before focusing in on makes or models to buy.
Of course, budget is to the fore when buying a tractor, and finance options are available for new models.
When viewing a second-hand tractors, there are a number of items that need to be looked at to minimise the risk and help you get value for your money, before you decide to buy.
The engine is main power source for any farm tractor — be it four- or six-cylinder, or common rail or naturally aspirated — and should be checked before purchasing. Before your check, make sure the engine is cold as a warm engine can often hide various problems.
If it’s hard to start, it could be a sign of poor or weak compression.
Clean engine oil is the life of any tractor, so check the dipstick level, inspect the oil colour and see has it been serviced regularly.
Oil with a milky colour is sign of coolant and oil mixing — often caused by a head gasket or engine liner problem.
Examine and listen to the engine at tick over for knocking or vibrations. An engine knock could be a sign of a damaged crankshaft or valve damage in the engine’s head, while vibrations could indicate injector trouble. Most modern farm tractors have common rail engines, so check the dash for fault codes which should appear after engine start-up.
Check the colour of the exhaust smoke — blue smoke at start up is a sign of oil burning, whereas white/grey smoke can mean diesel injector trouble or incorrect fuel timing.
If the engine oil pressure light is flickering, oil pressure is poor and indicates a worn engine. Check for leaks or wet areas around the engine.
Don’t forget to look at the condition of the exhaust and turbo since holes or wear in the exhaust system are a sign of a high-hours machine that has done a lot of hard work. Listen to the turbo for smooth running and check is there air leaking in pipes connected to it or intercooler.
With ad blue and DPF (Diesel particle filter) technology becoming more prominent in second-hand tractors have a look to see has it been removed or that it is there and working correctly as these can be troublesome and expensive to repair.
Remove the radiator cap immediately after starting and put your hand over the end when the tractor is running.
If you can feel pressure or air blowing out, the head gasket has become damaged and needs repairing.
Look at the temperature gauge and see where it settles after the tractor has been running for a time period.
Transmissions are now more complex than they used to be. They are now mostly hydraulically operated and synchronised gear changes and controlled by buttons and electronics.
These are expensive to repair, and when buying a tractor, it is often difficult to inspect their internal condition.
Test-drive to check that all gears are changing freely, and no lights appear on dash when the gear is selected.
If a gear is difficult to engage, it can be a sign of a damaged clutch pack binding and not disengaging.
Drive the tractor in all ranges and up a hill in high gear, as this can give an indication if slipping is occurring.
If the gear change is very sudden or sharp, this also indicates wear, and calibration may need to be carried to remedy the problem. Look in under the transmission for oil leaks.
The PTO engagement is now electrically and hydraulically operated on most tractors, and if it is spinning constantly or fails to stop, the PTO brake band or some other parts need replacing.
Test to see if the PTO is turning on in all the different speeds — 540, 540e and 1,000 — and look to see if the PTO seal is leaking at the back of the tractor.
With all modern tractors having wet disc brakes with speeds of 40km/h or more, good braking is vital.
Each brake should be checked individually. If the foot pedal drops while braking pressure is applied, it can be a sign of failing brake seals, or brake cylinder leaks or problems.
While driving the tractor, press brakes firmly and note how quickly the tractor is brought to a standstill, to get an indication of the condition of the brakes.
The life of brake discs, depending on the operator, is typically about 5,000-6,000 hours.
If maintenance is neglected, the brake linings can peel off and cause internal damage to the transmission and hydraulic system, leading to costly repairs.
The four-wheel drive should operate correctly when the button is pressed.
You should also ensure that it is turning off when not required.
If four-wheel drive does not turn off, there are internal leaks or electrical problems. These need to be repaired, as driving on roads at high speeds with four-wheel drive on will cause damage to the front-axle differential drive-line.
The lift can give a good indication of the work done by a tractor.
The linkages should be tight and not worn or loose, with all adjusters operating correctly.
Check the assistor rams for leaks and see if the lift is moving up and down as required, with no shuddering or knocking from the hydraulic pump. The pick-up hitch when examined should latch with ease, and the hitch itself should not show any great signs of wear. Remember to slide the hitch in and out, if it is extendable, to ensure correct operation.
Hydraulic spools should also be examined for leaks and operation — make sure any issues are identified and rectified prior to purchase.
Review the service record of the tractor if available to see if the hydraulic oil and filters have been changed regularly.
The front axle should be leak-free and wheel hubs dry — if they are wet with gear oil, it suggests that the hub seals are damaged, and that there is a problem with the front-axle wheel hubs.
The front tyres will give an indicator if wear is present in the axle, as the pattern may be worn on one side.
Look at the front wheels and note if they are at an unusual angle, as this will indicate that the king-pins and trunnion are worn or not maintained correctly. The track rod may show signs of wear when checked; if the rubbers are cracked, it indicates that they may need replacing.
Tractors tyres should always be checked. Examine side walls for cracks, cuts and damage.
Tyre grip is another factor that can influence the buyers’ choice, as a new set of tyres for a tractor could add up to €2,500 or more
Moving into the cab, don’t forget to examine the steps as these will give an indication of the wear and treatment the machine has got.
Inside, make sure that all gauges, lights, wipers and other cab controls are in working order.
Move the steering wheel to see if there is much play and if adjustments can be made.
Inspect the clutch and brake pedals for wear as these will give a good idea of the work the machine has done.
A good seat and a clean interior will often leave a good impression, but be cautious if these do not fit with your overall view of the tractor.
While in the cab look at the hours on the tractor to see if they relate well to other aspects inspected.
If the tractor has low hours but seems to have wear exceeding these, be wary. It is not unheard-of for hours shown on the tractor’s clock to be tampered with, but now hours can be checked on a modern tractor by plugging a laptop into the engine control unit if any suspicion arises.
Tadhg Brosnan and Colm Egan teach at the Salesian Agricultural College, Pallaskenry, Co Limerick