When buying a new-to-you tractor, it’s important to take time to really look the machine over, be it a tractor at a dealership or one that an individual is selling.
Williams Tractor salesman James Mason, who is located in Fayetteville, Ark., recommended that potential buyers ask questions about the tractor, including how many owners the tractor has had, as well as the service and maintenance history.
“Most salemen are going to be pretty knowledgeable about that tractor and the person who owned it before and how was taken care of,” he explained. “In our case here, we may have sold that tractor new and we may have done all of the service work on it here. That is very valuable information when you are buying a tractor.
“I would ask what it was used for. To me, if it was used in a poultry house, that would be a buyer-beware situation. Poultry litter is so abrasive and it tends to eat up everything it comes in contact with that is made of metal. It really isn’t that hard on plastics and things like that, but when it comes to metal, that can lead into things like break lines, hydraulic lines, things like that… The more question you can ask, the better final conclusion you can come to.”
Kenny Bergmann, sales manager at S&H Farm Supply in Lockwood, Mo., said hearing and “feeling” the tractor operate should be the first considerations.
“Does it sound like it is running smoothly? Does it smoke? Does it vibrate?” he said. “When you engage the drive, be it a gear drive with a flywheel clutch or a hydrostat, when you put it in gear and you start to move, does it engage smoothly and evenly? Does it lurch, jerk and clatter? Those are some things you need to look at.”
Bergnann added that potential buyers should also test all of the tractor’s functions.
“Engage the PTO, see if the three-point hitch goes up and down smoothly,” Bergmann said. “Does the PTO come on in a smooth fashion or does it tend to slam? If you are looking at a used tractor, turn the steering wheel from stop to stop; see if there is any play in the linkage. If there is, that will make that tractor difficult to control.”
Mason said the clutch and PTO are perhaps the most important mechanical functions to inspect before buying any tractor.
“Those are two of the main functions of that tractor, and they have to work for you to be able to use it,” he said. “There are different kinds of transmissions today, so that clutch thing is something you have to understand before you say, ‘Well, it’s got a clutch.’ They’ve all got a clutch.”
Bergmann said if a salesman or owner resists allowing you to start and drive the tractor a short distance, their hesitation should be a big red flag.
“Just walk away,” he said. “Also, if it is hooked up to a battery charger, that’s not a good sign.”
Fluid levels and the conditions of those fluids should also be examined.
“Is the fluid clean, or are they discolored? When you look at the oils in the rear end, engine and transmission, you are going to look for signs of moisture and stains. If the oils are contaminated with moisture, especially in older tractors, the fluid might not have been changed in years, so look for condensation and a milky appearance, then you are going to know that there might be a risk issue there,” Bergmann said.
While a tractor might appear clean, bright and shinny, new paint can’t cover every flaw.
“When Wayne Schnelle (S&H owner) started training me many years ago, he said you always bid on what you see with your own eyes, hear with your own ears and go with your own hands,” Bergmann said. “For a used equipment buyer, they don’t always have the right knowledge to make that decision and they fool themselves. If you are really wanting to make a good decision, get a technician or someone who runs equipment on a daily basis and get an objective option; an opinion from someone who doesn’t have an emotional attachment to that tractor.”
Mason said customers will often ask him what model year a tractor is, which is less important than the number of operation hours.
“Model year is very important in the automotive industry, and it is to an extent in the tractor world, but not as much,” he said. “If you have two tractors that are equipped the exact same way and one has 5,000 hours and the other one has 1,500, obviously the one with 5,000 hours was used everyday, and used most of the day. The other guy is probably a weekend farmer and used his tractor 20, 30 times a year on a weekend and never for a full day.”
The number of work hours on an older tractor, a tractor over 20 years old, might not be a deal breaker.
“The older tractors are so rebuildable that I don’t know if hours are even relevant,” Bergmann explained. “I personally own a tractor that I know has been rebuilt three times and it might have had 20,000 hours. It rolled over a time or two, then the tac was replaced and quit working, but the tractor is still running. It gets down to condition and wear points.”
Mason cautioned producers against those “too good to be true” deals.
“There’s really a lot of truth to that about any facet in life that you go at,” he said.


Paint: Watch for overspray and painted-over decals that indicate haste in painting or intent to cover up a problem.
New parts: Ask to see maintenance records. You want to know what caused a part to fail and require its replacement.
Product Identification Number (PIN): Tampering with the PIN is illegal. Ask for evidence of ownership.
Cleaned or washed machine: This may be the mark of past good maintenance, or an intent to “wash away” potential problems. Look out for fresh oil seeps and “new-looking” paint that was, until recently, protected by years of built-up grease.
Ill-fitted parts: Hammer marks, kinked hoses and parts misalignment indicate wrong parts were used or care during assembly was ignored.
Oil tricks: On engines, thicker oils are sometimes used to reduce leakage. Check the owners manual for the proper oil grade. If possible, get an oil analysis, especially if the oil has a “tackiness” to it.
“Just overhauled”: Look for new gasket edges and shiny metal where parts join to be sure.
Dealers and Salespersons: Are dealer repairs carefully done during slack winter months or in haste during times of fieldwork? Are salespersons genuinely helpful, or do you seem pressured to buy?
Contractors’ equipment: Contractors sometimes buy less-expensive agricultural equipment for their more-demanding industrial uses. Watch out for points of excess wear and oversize or heavy-duty tires not typical of the equipment.
Run and drive it: Go with the seller to the lot to get the machine. Observe any start-up problems, smoke puffs or unusual sounds.


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