12 tips for buying a used tractor

What to think about when looking over a tractor for purchase

When you decide to buy a used tractor, it’s best to approach it like a business deal with a well thought out strategy before you start your search. If you’re like most tractor enthusiasts, emotionalism is an inevitable part of finding the perfect tractor. It’s a great feeling when you find the make and model of tractor you’ve always wanted. While a certain amount of emotional reaction is expected, you shouldn’t let it override rational thinking in terms of deciding if a particular tractor is right for you.

Two things will help guide you in making a good decision about a tractor purchase. First, an answer to the question: How extensive of a restoration project do I want to undertake? Options for buying a used tractor range from already restored in mint condition to needing a complete overall – and everything in between. There’s no right or wrong answer to what you purchase. It all depends on your interest and experience in doing restoration work. Second, in negotiating a good price, it’s best to take time to do a full inspection of the tractor. An impulse purchase may reveal hidden secrets. It’s not necessarily bad to purchase a tractor needing work, but you’ll want the condition of the tractor to reflect its purchase price.

#1 Plan to Start and Drive the Tractor
Unless you are knowingly buying an inoperable tractor, your goal should be to start the tractor and let it run for a while, at least three-quarters of an hour. You should also drive it if at all possible. A running tractor will reveal many secrets about its condition that an idle tractor will never show. Be sure to request that you can start the tractor from cold, which will help you better evaluate starting ease. A recent warmup will reduce your insight about starting the tractor.

#2 Look for Leaks
Look for evidence of leaks on the ground when first arriving and then again once you have the tractor running. It’s helpful to bring cardboard or a drop cloth to place under the tractor to help you see where the drips are coming from and identify the fluid. Finding out what’s leaking can help you locate parts that need closer inspection.

#3 Inspect Hoses and Belts
While hoses and belts are parts that you can expect to periodically replace, it’s still helpful to locate frays, worn spots and cracks from the start. They can lead you to other more serious problems. As an example, if a tractor has run low on transmission fluid because of a leaky hose, you might want to take a closer look at the transmission itself.

#4 Diagnose Electrical Issues
Starting the tractor can often reveal electrical issues. Difficult starts can indicate a problem with the starter, battery or alternator. Clicking or groaning sounds can indicate a bad starter or weak battery. A failing alternator can cause lights or other accessories to work intermittently. Be sure to bring a voltmeter to test the strength of the battery and alternator.

#5 Check Gauges
As you run the tractor, look at the amp meter, fuel gauge, temperature gauge and oil pressure gauge to see if they indicate any problems. Of course, there is always the chance that these gauges are the ones not working. If so, put them on your list of things to replace.

#6 Inspect Cooling System
Here’s another reason it’s important to run the tractor for a while. Running the tractor will give you insight if it has any overheating problems, which could be tied to a leaky radiator, faulty water pump or worn out thermostat. Or maybe it simply needs to be flushed and filled with fresh coolant.

#7 Test the Clutch
If there is an opportunity, drive the tractor up a slope in medium gear. This test will help you detect clutch slippage. Common signs include sluggish performance when the engine is revving or periodic loss of acceleration when the tractor is in motion. Unusual noises when the clutch should be engaging is another telltale sign of slippage.

#8 Try the Power Steering
As you drive the tractor, you’ll quickly determine how the power steering is working. If the steering lacks responsiveness or the steering wheel is hard to turn, you’ll need to consider repairs to the power steering system. The most significant component for the system is the power steering pump.

#9 Look over the Exhaust System
It’s easy to do a quick visual check of the exhaust pipe for rust and corrosion, but you might also want to gently shake it to test its stability. Of course, for the muffler, you’ll just need your ears. Quiet is good, while noisy may mean near-term replacement.

#10 Inspect Tires and Wheels
The tires carry the heavy load of your tractor, so you want to make sure they are in good condition. Three common problems with tractor tires include air leakage, cracking and dry rot. Tires sometimes lose their ability to maintain sufficient air pressure. Exposure to sun, ultraviolet rays, and hot and cold temperature extremes can take their toll on tires over time, leading to cracks and dry rot. Corrosion is a typical problem that affects wheels.

#11 Check all the Dipsticks
When buying a used tractor, you’re not always sure about its maintenance history. Looking at levels and cleanliness of oil and fluids on dipsticks will provide a glimpse into its maintenance history. Some tractors that have sat idle for awhile might be low on oil and fluid due to leaks. Make sure all fluids are at acceptable levels before you take possession of the tractor.

#12 Question Improvised Fixes
We’ve all made temporary fixes. But when you see nails, bolts, wire or straps holding pieces together, it’s best to question and evaluate the situation. Depending on what’s up, it will provide insight on future repairs.

Shopping for a Used Tractor

Before you go look at a used tractor, it’s best to write a checklist of items to inspect and evaluate. A list can often save your from overlooking something important. Unless it’s already been restored to mint condition, a few fixes and repairs are expected. The question is how many repairs you want to undertake and what will be the cost. You can also expect to pay a premium for a tractor in better shape, while looking for discounts on ones needing more restoration work and repairs.

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