Buying Used Tractors is Tempting, but Are You Really Saving Money?
Buying older farm equipment can be an economical way to get started in the world of farming. Farmers and homesteaders have long been a thrifty bunch, either out of necessity or just on principle. Sometimes they decide to part ways with their farm tools and equipment, which offers others the opportunity to score a deal. The catch is; is it a deal?
Buying older farm equipment may represent an excellent deal for you, especially if you’re looking for robustly manufactured implements. Many farm stores sell category zero and category one sized implements, but not all of them are all they’re cracked up to be. Most of these implements are enthusiast grade, which is the new term for economy grade. If you’re looking for commercial grade farming implements, then buying older farm equipment is likely a good idea.
Many people fall into the trap of finding new, less expensive implements and not evaluating the size of the equipment. If your tractor can handle seven, eight or nine-foot wide implements, it’s best you buy that sized equipment.
Buying less expensive, new equipment that is not as wide may not work as well with your tractor’s track width (measurement of tire sidewall to tire sidewall), or make the job unnecessarily longer. There’s a time difference when you’re cutting a field with a six-foot-wide mower versus an eight-foot-wide mower. If you have acres to mow, those two feet add up in hours.
Buying older farm equipment that is appropriately sized to you instead of impulse buying a cheap, smaller new implement will serve you well in practical use. Purchasing the right sized implement at a used price will keep you in the budget, without sacrificing performance.
Older Farm Equipment
As with everything you intend to buy used, the circumstance in which the equipment is being sold will be a good indicator of how much of a deal is being offered. Is the seller upgrading? Why? Are they getting out of farming? Are they moving? Is it broken? Most farmers won’t part with their precious farm implements without good reason, so be sure you know why. Even in one of these circumstances, there are a few other things you should pay attention to when looking at older farm equipment.
Is this product, or a comparable product still in production? How much does it cost brand new? I’m not a fan of buying used equipment for more than 50 percent of new unless it’s in stellar, like-new condition, or the new stuff is insanely expensive. For instance, if you’re looking at a mower deck that’s all beat up and the seller wants a hundred bucks less than a brand new one costs, it’s not a real deal. Knowing what these things cost brand new will give you a gauge to measure the deal against, and give you some information to leverage when bargaining with the seller.
Every piece of older farm equipment has the potential to hide a severe flaw. It’s up to you to look for these significant faults before you hand over your cash. Finding problems may not be a deal breaker because lots of things can be replaced, repaired, welded or modified to suit your needs. Just make sure the estimated cost of those repairs is factored into the sale.
For example; if you buy a used field mower deck for $1,300, which usually costs $1,800, but you need to replace the gearbox for $500 because it ran without oil and seized up, you just paid for a brand new mower but got a beaten and abused one instead. Not such a good deal. Make sure you know what works and what doesn’t before you buy.
Older farm equipment tends to be neglected and left outside to fend for itself. Rust can be merely cosmetic, or it can be cancerous. Heavy implements like cultivation plows, especially older farm equipment from the 50s and earlier, are usually made of some thick, high-quality steel. A rusty patina on an old two-bottom plow is inconsequential, but rot holes in the sheet metal of a field mower are an entirely different story.
Sometimes older farm equipment is missing parts. Things like tines, cutter blades, wheels, and sodbusters tend to disappear over years of use, either by breakage or removal for specific applications. Be sure you know what parts are supposed to be there because sometimes there’s no tell-tale empty spot or unused bolt hole to give you a hint.
Rust and bearings are not friends, but they do know each other way too well. If the older farm equipment you’re looking at has moving parts, make sure they still move. If you need to soak these parts down with a penetrating lubricant to make them spin again, you will probably need to replace the bearings. Make sure you’re not taking on a challenge that’s too much effort to make it a worthy deal since bearings can be difficult to replace on really old implements.
Hydraulic hoses are rubber, reinforced with steel cords. They don’t last forever, and they don’t like friction or sunlight. Make sure hydraulic lines haven’t rubbed through down to the steel cords, dry cracked from years in the sun, or been compromised any other way.
If the old farm equipment you’re looking at has bad lines, not all is lost! Many tractor part stores, heavy equipment repair shops, and even some automotive parts stores offer custom hydraulic lines made to order, even on the spot! Remove the lines you need to replace, as intact as possible, and bring them to the shop. Having the original lines to copy makes the process simpler, and lets you compare the new lines to the old. These lines aren’t free, so be sure to calculate the cost of new lines and connectors into your offer price.
Implement, and small farm tractors have tires that tend to dry crack and flatten when left in the field for years. Unless they are a foam-filled tire or a solid tire, the odds are that you’ll need to replace them if they dry crack enough to deflate, or at least put a tube in them. Tractor tires can be exceptionally expensive, unlike a car or light truck tire, so be sure to look up the cost of replacement before committing to buying the old farm equipment in question.
Tires that are loaded with calcium chloride usually rust the wheels of old farm equipment. The typical start point for wheel rot is around the tire stem, so be sure the wheels don’t look rusty around the stem hole. If a tractor you’re looking to purchase has wheel rot, be prepared to buy both rear wheels, or all four wheels if the front tires were loaded as well. If one wheel has rusted out, the others are likely not far behind.
Older farm equipment, especially antique equipment, may not be in production anymore. Manufacturers have likely discontinued production of parts, or that manufacturer has since disappeared entirely. The scarcity of replacement parts for this equipment causes complications when trying to source new parts to repair or replace missing pieces of equipment. Sometimes you can get lucky and find parts from random sellers online, but not always. Before you buy, be sure you can still get the parts you need. Otherwise, you may be stuck reinventing the wheel so to speak.
Sometimes buying older farm equipment makes sense for farming on a shoestring, but you need to spend the time and effort to understand what you’re buying. For simple implements, such as plows, harrows, and some rotary equipment, buying used is a great option, but in my experience, the more complicated the machine is, the less of a deal it usually is. Be sure to fully understand what you’re buying, what repairs it needs before you can use it, and what the local market price is for said equipment.
Have you bought any used equipment that let you down? What pearls of wisdom can you offer a first-time used equipment buyer? Chime in below in the comments!