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10 good questions to ask when buying a used tractor

Buying a used tractor? To save you time (and costly mistakes), we’ve compiled a handy checklist of things to consider before making a purchase. There are dozens of makes, models and features to choose from – whether it’s John Deere, Massey Ferguson, New Holland or another popular brand – and these insider tips will help you find a tractor for sale that’s up to the job.

1. How well has the tractor been maintained and how many hours has it logged?

Many tractors have a long lifespan and can still be a worthwhile investment after two or three decades. However, the number of hours they’ve been used for is typically more important than their age. 

A tractor that’s logged up to 1,500 hours of use should run like new and require minimal repairs. When it reaches 3,500 hours, it will need a small amount of upkeep and there will be slight wear on the controls. Once a tractor hits 6,000 hours, it will start showing its age and various parts (like fan belts, tires and batteries) will need replacing. Any more hours than this, and the tractor will probably require a serious overhaul for heavy work, though it should run and pull just fine.

2. Can I see the tractor maintenance log?

A well-kept maintenance log is a sign of a healthy tractor. Carefully examine it to see how often the tractor was repaired and what work was done. Always check for replacement part receipts and if you buy the tractor, carefully maintain the log yourself to ensure you get the best price if you decide to sell it in the future.

3. Are the tractor’s tires in good shape?

Tractor tires are expensive to replace, so examine the treads, rims and valve stems. Sometimes, tractor tires are ballasted with a heavy liquid like antifreeze to increase their weight and improve traction. Some liquids used for this purpose can cause rusting and other issues though, so be aware of any damage.

4. Can I examine the 3-point hitch and PTO?

A hitch is one of the most important parts on a tractor, as it connects it to other pieces of equipment, like a plow. Make sure it’s stable and aligned, just like the PTO. Also known as the power take-off, it often takes the form of a splined driveshaft and transfers mechanical power from the tractor to whatever implement you’re using. Ensure its ridges aren’t damaged and that it stops turning when the tractor is turned off.

5. How are the electronics?

Carefully inspect the tractor’s air conditioning, lights and other electronics. Problems with these tractor parts can be difficult to find and expensive to fix, so it’s best to avoid trouble from the start. If you are buying a newer model, be sure to inspect the CAN (controller area network). Ask your seller to plug into the diagnostics and show you that everything is working properly.

6. What about the gears, clutches and brakes?

The gears, clutches and brakes on a tractor should be close to perfect unless you’re willing to spend considerable money on parts and labor. See if the gears run smoothly and keep an eye out for clutch slipping, which prevents power from reaching the wheels. Check both brake pedals and make sure they let you safely come to a stop and allow you to make tight turns.

7. Can I test the RPM?

The RPM on a tractor should increase to the level needed for the PTO without any issues. A standard 540 RPM speed for the PTO requires the engine to run at a maximum of 2400 RPM, so if possible, jump in the seat, drive the tractor around and make sure it can reach this point successfully.

8. How does the radiator look?

Examine the radiators in any tractors you like and make sure there aren’t any leaks, dents or other signs of trouble. A faulty radiator makes the engine run hot, increasing wear and tear. A tractor with a damaged radiator is also likely to have engine problems that are hard to find until a serious issue arises.  

9. Has the oil been changed recently?

Make sure the oil and filters were replaced once the tractor logged 50 hours of use. After this point, they should be checked and replaced regularly. Make sure to look at the dipstick, too. If the oil is dark black or smells burned, it probably wasn’t changed on schedule. Tiny bubbles on the dipstick, or a grayish tinge, indicate the presence of water, which can also be problematic.

10. What type of transmission do I need?

The used tractor’s transmission is also an important consideration. But this is a question for you to answer yourself – which transmission fits your needs? A tried and tested geared transmission, or its bigger brother – the power shuttle transmission? You may even be considering the more recent hydrostatic transmission – whether in a non-synchronized or e-hydro version – or even the most modern CVT transmission. Whatever you choose, make sure it fits your long-term requirements as you’ll be driving it for a long time to come.

At the end of the day

Always remember there’s a lot to look out for when buying a tractor and the process is nothing like shopping for a secondhand car. Since the value of a well-serviced tractor decreases very slowly, something that’s 20 or even 30 years old can be a good deal if it’s been properly cared for. See some of the most in-demand tractor brands on Tradus and read our tips for buying a used machine or vehicle during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Check out used tractors for sale on Tradus

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