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How to Inspect Used Heavy Equipment Before You Buy

Buying used heavy equipment can save you a ton of money, especially when working on a tight budget or when you will not be putting the machine in heavy, constant use. However, you want to make sure you are getting the right machine for your money. You don’t want to purchase a used excavator only to find out that the hydraulic arm malfunctions or is hard to operate due to excessive wear.

Use our handy Heavy Equipment Inspection Checklist

Tips for Buyers — Performing Visual Inspections

An in-depth inspection of the construction equipment allows you to spot issues that the seller can address before you make the purchase. It also allows you to figure out if you want to go ahead with the purchase and deal with the repairs on your own, or walk away from the deal. We recommend visually inspecting before you buy used equipment, no matter who it’s from.

Inspections will vary based on the type of heavy equipment that you are purchasing. Bobcat skid steers will have rubber tracks and a loader that will need to be inspected while John Deere loader backhoes will have both the loader and a hydraulic arm that will need to be evaluated. Use this general checklist of items to visually inspect, as you never know what the previous owner has done to the machine until you’re done.


heavy duty vehicle rear wheel viewTires and tracks can be key indicators of wear and tear on heavy equipment, such as wheel loaders, truck tractors and skid steers. Visually inspect the tires and rubber tracks to see how worn they are, or ask when the last time they were replaced. If the wheels or tracks look new, or worn on certain sides, this may reveal that the machine has been put into extensive use and on uneven ground. Then you can ask about how many hours that the machine has logged.

heavy duty vehicle engine viewEngine and Transmission

Always check the engine compartments before your equipment purchases. You’ll want to see how well the engine starts. Is there a noticeable amount of smoke when turning on gas or diesel engines? If there is a lot of dark smoke, there may be a problem, such as weak compression. You also want to listen for any rattling or knocking when the heavy duty equipment is in operation.

Undercarriage and Chassis

The undercarriage and chassis on used construction equipment will typically show scratches and small dents from extensive use over rough terrain. So this isn’t a big indicator about whether or not there is something seriously wrong. Instead, focus your inspection on any hairline fractures, rust, or extensive wear on bearings, spring coils, or mountings. These signs could be an indicator of a major failure that could occur in the near future that could be very costly to repair.

Hydraulic, Engine Oil, Coolant, and Transmission Fluid

heavy vehicle engine viewHydraulic hoses are easy to inspect. Open up the engine bay and hydraulic fluid hatch to check all fluid levels, hoses, and other components. You’ll want to see if there are any wet spots inside or under the heavy equipment that can indicate leaks. In addition, check the fluids themselves. Dirty fluid can be an indication that the seller skipped on providing proper maintenance, while water in the engine oil can indicate a significant issue with a mini excavator or track loader.

Cab and Operating Controls

inner cab of a heavy machineAlways climb into the cab of the excavator or compact track loader to check out the operating controls. You’ll want to make sure the cab is comfortable for you. Also, you’ll want to see how the operating controls handle. Keep an eye out for problems such a controls that stick, are hard to shift into other positions, or excessive vibration that makes it difficult to operate the controls. You’ll also want to check for malfunctioning lights.

Specific Equipment Inspections

When buying used heavy equipment, specific types of construction equipment will come with parts and components that need to be individually inspected. For instance, a skid steer will have a loader bucket that will experience the most use. So you want to check the side panels, bottom of the bucket and teeth for excessive wear or recent welds. You will also want to check excavator arms for cracks, poor welds, and cracked pins or bushings. If you are purchasing pallet forks, you’ll want to thoroughly inspect the hydraulic systems, controls, and damage or bent forks.

When buying used construction equipment, you want to purchase several attachments, or you may just be looking for heavy equipment attachments for sale for your existing equipment. If you’re looking for heavy equipment attachments, you want to look for damage, rust and bad welds on backhoe attachments, spreader attachments, excavator attachments, plow attachments and auger attachments. You also want to inspect the quick couplers to ensure the equipment attachments can be placed onto or detached from your heavy equipment without any problems.

warranty card for a heavy duty vehicle purchaseGetting Used Equipment for Your Needs

In addition to the visual inspection of the heavy equipment, don’t forget to read the maintenance logs, existing manufacturer’s warranties, and log hours. These records can tell you if the machine has been in heavy use, its age, and if the seller performed all the proper maintenance during that time. Then you can decide if the used equipment will be a smart purchase.

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