Top Questions To Ask When Buying Used Heavy Equipment

Buying used heavy equipment can offer a massive range of benefits — most notably, exceptional cost savings. But the purchase process is a little more complicated than buying new. Buyers have to take more precautions to protect themselves from misrepresented listings, damaged products, overpriced equipment and other potential problems that could affect the value of this big investment. With the right preparation, buying used is an excellent choice that can bring significant value to your operation.

To help you assess the many factors that go into buying used equipment, we've compiled a guide on what to look for when buying heavy equipment. Consider the following questions to ensure you're adding a quality piece of equipment to your fleet.

Used Machines
How Well Has The Equipment Been Maintained?

How well a piece of equipment has been treated is a big indicator of how well you can expect it to perform in the future. Unsatisfactory used construction equipment maintenance can lead to more breakdowns and significant downtime in the years to come. 

That means you'll be looking at costs for repairs, including parts and labor, that can influence the overall value of the equipment. In essence, the money you save on the purchase price of the equipment is simply redirected into upkeep. The extent of this upkeep is something to factor into your cost analysis to determine how much it may affect your equipment. If there's little to no maintenance history or serious and reoccurring damages, it might be worth finding a different option.

Proper maintenance records can also give you some insight into the type of work the equipment was being used for and how that's affected its condition. For instance, a used dozer running for many hours a week in heavy construction work will have less use left and more wear than a used skid steer owned by a small maintenance department that only used it sparingly. The dozer would have had more robust maintenance tasks performed and use hours recorded.

While operating hours and age are important things to consider in used heavy equipment, strong maintenance practices can significantly reduce the impact of both on the equipment's performance. With solid maintenance, many buyers are happy to purchase an older piece of equipment. Keep an eye out for equipment that was in a rental fleet, since these pieces of equipment are often well cared-for and come with robust documentation.

With a strong maintenance history, you should be able to expect fewer problems. A robust history can include factors like regular care, major repairs, any current replacements required, and any cleanings, inspections and greasings. Maintenance history can also be valuable in knowing what to expect, such as downtime due to certain problem components or safety issues to pay attention to. The more information you have on the equipment, the better. That way, it's easier to plan for hiccups and understand the equipment risks.

Can You Conduct a Thorough Inspection?

Inspection is an essential part of any used equipment purchase and should be conducted by someone who is familiar with the type of equipment you're buying — whether that's you, a trusted colleague or mechanic. During this inspection, you'll look for anything that doesn't align with the seller's description. A used equipment seller that shows any signs of dishonesty poses a red flag. If they don't allow you to inspect the equipment at all, you'll likely want to pass on the offer.

Some of the things to look for in a used heavy equipment inspection include:

  • Signs of poor maintenance: Look for loose pins or bushings in poor condition, which could indicate breakage in the future. Other signs of poor maintenance include broken or worn belts and low oil levels. 
  • Large repair needs: Clear problems with components like brakes or the engine may be cause for reconsideration. With such a large investment at stake, these functional components shouldn't give you trouble any time soon.
  • Tire wear: Problems with tires aren't as concerning as other components, but replacements still pose another cost to be aware of. Depending on the equipment and its use environment, tire wear can occur at different times. If you're not expecting to replace tires, they should be properly inflated with no leaks or punctures. Lug nuts should all be tight, and it may be worth considering what tire maintenance will look like in the future.
  • Rust or cracks: If you find significant rusting or cracks, you might be looking at an indicator of greater damage within the equipment. These call for more investigation. 
  • Engine exhaust: Look for discolored exhaust smoke, which would indicate a problem. Steamy white vapor is expected sometimes, but cold starts accompanied by different colors reflects some significant problems. Black smoke could mean there is improper filtration, causing an inadequate mix of air and fuel. White smoke that persists after the equipment has warmed up can indicate fluids like coolant or water spreading into the oil. Blue smoke could reflect an overheated engine due to broken rings or valve seals that lead to oil burning in the engine.
  • Secure safety devices: Components like handrails, steps, lights, horns and roll-over protection systems must be in good condition. Check that they are secure, with no rusting or loose screws, and that electronic elements are working properly. These devices are essential for meeting Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements to provide workers with a safe environment.

Always make sure you can take the equipment on a test drive so you can listen for any odd noises or hiccups from the engine.


Is The Price Appropriate?

The price of used heavy equipment can be one of the most influential aspects of the purchase. You want a good deal, but too low of a price is suspicious. The cost of the equipment includes a wide range of factors, from age and operating time to maintenance practices, depreciation and demand. Spend time evaluating these factors alongside your company's needs to determine what price is right for you. You can even bring in an appraiser for more professional assistance.

Each price factor has different weight in the value of the equipment. For instance, operating hours can be much more relevant than age and affect the type of required maintenance practices to keep a piece of equipment in good condition. There's a slight balancing act required when comparing the effects of each factor, and their influence may vary based on company goals.

To calculate the total cost of ownership for a piece of equipment, add up the purchase price of the equipment, financing costs and taxes. Then, subtract the remaining value you can expect to get back from the equipment when you're done with it. You may also want to calculate operating costs, which include the costs of labor, fuel, maintenance, parts and overhead. Your cost of owning and operating is an important number to identify because it helps you place specific value on the equipment over its entire life span, rather than just the initial purchase price.

Working with reputable dealers is a great way to ensure you're getting a competitive price. These sellers have reputations to uphold and a strong understanding of the market, so accurate pricing comes with the territory. Here at Empire, we develop pricing based on a thorough assessment of the market and detailed inspections of every piece of equipment.


Do You Have All of The Necessary Documentation?

With any heavy equipment purchase, you'll need to collect a few different pieces of information and record them or gather documentation. Aside from confirming necessary details, these can be necessary in the future for proving your ownership. Extensive documentation is also valuable if you plan to sell the equipment when you're done.

Before buying, be sure to grab the equipment's product identification number and serial number and contact the police department or a reputable registry service to make sure the equipment isn't stolen. To check for liens against the equipment, search the Uniform Commercial Code filings. This type of information can help you make a more responsible purchase and protect yourself against future problems.

You'll also want to collect any information on ownership changes. Used equipment buyer history can clue you into the equipment's usage and how long it's been in circulation. Keep an eye out for equipment that's been seized. Typically, this equipment, which has been taken from a buyer who could not pay for it, has not been well-cared for, either during use or while it was being held. That's not always the case, so use your best judgment along with thorough inspections.

Other documents you'll want to collect include the title if paying in full and proof of purchase. Be sure to get a receipt for your payment and use a trackable method, such as a check. Always line up the seller's information to the invoice and ensure it is accurate before completing the purchase.

Getting documentation is another aspect that's easier when you work with an official dealer. Dealers typically hold onto every piece of documentation they can, like maintenance records and any information on liens or theft. These tools allow us to make the purchase easier on you and ensures we can accurately understand the item we're selling.


What Should You Know About Specific Types of Equipment?

Every piece of equipment is different, so there are some unique factors to consider with each one. Part of buying used heavy equipment is ensuring it can meet the needs of your project or fleet. Does it need certain tracks or wheels to match the needs of hazardous terrain? Do you need an air-conditioned or heated cab to support worker safety in extremely hot or cold climates? How about your technology needs? Are you looking for some high-tech telematics or fuel-saving efficiency improvements?

Also, when choosing your used construction machinery, think about the availability of parts. Common or more recent models will usually be easier to find parts for, making repairs less expensive. You can get parts faster and more affordably and minimize the downtime associated with repairs.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when purchasing some popular types of equipment:

Used Skid Steers

cylinders. These components see a lot of use and may have signs of wear on areas such as the leading edge. The condition of the bottom of the bucket and the thickness of the side panels can also be important to look at, revealing information on the bucket's strength. Keep an eye out for cracks, weld marks or leaks in the hydraulic system.

Used Dozers

Look for wear and damage along the top of the blade, as well as the guard and cutting edge. Blade push arms should be in good condition, with tight trunnion pins and caps. Inspect the dozer's undercarriage, too, looking for flattened bearings or worn-down track pads that could indicate excessive wear.

A used dozer with additional attachments like rippers or auxiliary hydraulics may be more valuable, so factor attachments in when making your cost assessments.

Used Excavators

Pay attention to the bucket in a used excavator and look for visible damage like scalloping to its teeth. These half-moon shapes between the teeth can point to limited cutting force, but not necessarily a need for replacement. Check the movement of the excavator's swing radius, and watch out for any extra play that could cause damage, safety issues or breakage to the slew ring.

Used Backhoes

Check the hoses of the hydraulic system for any scratches or tears, and watch the condition of the couplings and cylinders. Like the skid steer, you'll want to inspect the bucket's bottom, side panel thickness and leading edges, along with the teeth and scalloping. The hoe bucket and loader arms should also be checked for bends, cracks and re-welds. Look at the front axle to determine that it has a driveshaft and differential.


Shop the Wide-Reaching Selection of Used Equipment at Empire

You can eliminate much of the uncertainty of buying used by working with the trusted partners at Empire. Our extensive used inventory is full of equipment that can meet your needs, making us an effective go-to used equipment seller for many buyers. We carry a vast array of used Empire heavy equipment, with many pieces of Cat Certified Used equipment for a higher used standard and a Caterpillar warranty.

Working with the reputable experts at Empire gives you access to a full selection of parts, along with trusted service technicians. We've been family-owned since 1950 and bring company values like respect, integrity and teamwork to every customer interaction. Our knowledgeable team is ready to help you find the right used equipment to add to your fleet.

Learn more about buying used construction equipment from Empire today!

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