When it comes time to buy a used tractor, there is a lot to consider. Ideally you will have a grasp on what type of machine you want and what capabilities you need. This could lead to shopping and looking at a broad spectrum of tractors, or if your specifications are more stringent, a very small pool of tractors. Either way, there are tractor components you need to closely examine to ensure you bring home a machine that will work for you.
1. Take a look at the maintenance records. Some people might not put this at the top of their list, but maintenance records speak volumes and should be considered. Since I keep track of maintenance performed and keep receipts, I hope to find a seller who does the same. Granted, maintenance records may be fudged or be nothing more than scratch in a notebook with no real proof of work done, but the simple fact that someone thought enough about their tractor to make some indication of maintenance gets things off on the right foot. Maintenance logs are the closest you can get to a Carfax for tractors.
2. Examine the overall appearance. If you take a good hard look at a tractor, it should be obvious if the machine has been truly well cared for or if just enough has been done to make it presentable for sale. Check the body for imperfections as well as inspecting the tires for bulges or cracks. Look at the zerks to see if they appear hollowed out due to overfilling and entrapment of dirt or if they have been filled carefully and kept clean. Even the smallest detail can provide valuable information, so don't be afraid to get up in there and give it a once (or twice!) over.
3. If the tractor has an enclosed cab, hop inside and take a look around. What you should see is a clean cab that is not full of dirt and dust. While you are inside, check all displays and electronic components for proper function and verify engine hours. Check air filters for the cab and ensure that air conditioning is in good working order.
4. Make sure that the power and function of the PTO (Power Take-Off) shaft correspond with what you will need for your implements and attachments. Having too much PTO power or horsepower is better than having too little, so it is extremely vital that you plan to have the power you need when you call upon it. Having the PTO power you need or even a little more will give your tractor better fuel economy and a longer life in the field. To check the function of a tractor's PTO, turn it on and listen for strange sounds coming from the vicinity of the output shaft. What you should experience is smooth rotational motion free of knocking sounds.
5. The articulation point allows for turns to be made laterally by pivoting and thus the articulation point is another important part to inspect. Be on the lookout for metal shavings or shards as these indicate wear due to flawed maintenance. This part should be well greased and can be tested while driving the tractor. If you feel any sort of wandering while steering, the pin in the articulation point could be damaged. Alternately, if the steering is rigid, it may be under-greased.
6. Engine components such as hoses and hydraulics should be closely examined. Look for cracks in the lines and seals as well as leaks. Even if the lines look good, look around them for signs of past leaks; this will give you an indication if severe leaks were present at one time that might impact the future operation of that particular tractor. Damage to the hydraulic outlets or tank can be deduced by what you see when doing this inspection and that of the auxiliary and return lines. Be sure that the tractor has the right number of outlets for the work you intend to do and that the proper level of hydraulic power (GPM/gallons per minute) can be generated within those lines. Also check the air filters to see if they have been changed in a timely manner and listen for pings and knocks within the engine or cylinders as these could be signs of trouble brewing.
In a perfect world, every person selling a used item would be honest and reliable, representing that item truthfully. Unfortunately this is not a perfect world in which we live and we have no choice but to cover ourselves when making investments. While a new, warrantied tractor would be a thing of wonder to bring home, sometimes used is what the budget allows and is thus the option we must pursue. When you do set out tractor shopping, be sure to inspect each machine thoroughly, leaving no stone unturned, or no hydraulic line unexamined, as the case may be.