Buying any used piece of equipment will always carry a level of risk. Without a detailed history of maintenance records (sometimes available) you must be able to competently assess the condition of your possible new addition to the best of your ability before pulling the trigger.

Although different equipment will have different systems to consider, all engine-based machines share standard maintenance requirements and therefore can be assessed using these common diagnostic tips:

1. Appearance

While this category seldom relates directly to the operational condition in our industry, coming across a machine that is in great physical shape is always a good start to a possible purchase. Large Multiquip or Kohler generators for instance, typically sit in one location for months at a time as emergency backup and therefore stay in great shape as compared to a Bobcat Skid Steer that is abused day in and day out.

What to look for:

  • If it is a skid steer, trailer, or towable piece of equipment, take a look at the frame.
  • Has it been welded anywhere? If so, inspect the welds for penetration on bolt pieces joined.
  • Is the frame dented? or straight? Frame damage can be a big sign of a major accident and potential problems.
  • Assess rust (if any) on the frame and cabinets. Is it just surface rust? You can tap the spots with a hammer or stick them with a screw driver to see how deep the rust had penetrated. Surface rust can be sanded and painted or sprayed with Stop Rust then painted to stop the chemical process from continuing on.

2. Suspension, Tires, Axles

Any towable or drive-able equipment will have most of these components. Used tires are the easiest to asses as they have wear indicators between the tread. You can also look for dry rotting (small cracks in in the tread and sidewalls) Worn out tires are a nominal expense when you consider the long term profits the machine will net.

As for suspension and axles, it is always a good Idea to take a look at these components for excessive rust and damage. Damaged suspension or axles can be an indicator of abuse or a possible accident that can potentially lead to costly repairs down the road.

3. The Engine

The heartbeat of your potential piece of equipment is going to be the most important focus of your visit/inspection. Upon initial overlook of the exterior of the machine, open up the engine compartment and give the engine a good look over. This is a great time to check around head gaskets, valve cover gaskets, and any other visible gasket for leaks. A leaking head gasket (oil or coolant) is typically a precursor to burning fluids and lowered compression in one or more cylinders of the engine. Also check the cabinet to see if any fluids are collecting at the bottom – an indication of a leak possibly not visible.

Many equipment yards will write service dates right on filters or on the cabinet so look the unit over for the possible most recent service. You can also take this time to look at the engine components to see if they have been replaced; waterpumps, alternators, radiators,and exhaust mufflers. These components do wear or are subject to occasional abuse and if they have been replaced on a machine you are considering, that can equal money saved down the road.

Once you have given the engine a thorough look over, its time to fire it up. If you saw any leaks on the engine, this is a good time to see if there is smoke in the exhaust; blueish/white smoke is typically an indication of burning oil and Milky white smoke with a sweet scent can indicate burning coolant/antifreeze. If the machine was running when you got there, you should ask the seller to see it another day cold. A warm engine will tend to seal minor leaks and possibly camouflage issues. So ask the seller to see a cold start, a taxing test to put any machine through. If/when it fires up listen for the idle to be smooth. Listen for any ticking or knocking, as these can be signs of internal engine issues and costly repairs down the road. If it runs smooth and you do not hear any unusual noises the machine has most likely been maintained well with frequent oil changes and preventative maintenance.

UED’s diesel engines of choice include Kubota and John Deere.

4. Machine Functions

Once the machine is operational, you will want to test all functions as well as check for any non-working gauges or displays. Some machines have system warning lights like a car that you will want to ensure are not lit up during operation. If any lights are on, check the manual to see what it indicates if it does not clearly state it. Non-working gauges do not always indicate problematic machines, but can equate to money spent to replace if the gauge is vital for operation.

If the machine functions as it should and did not raise any flags outlined in this write up, you most likely have a sound piece of equipment ready to make you money!