N TODAY’s market, buying used capital equipment can make economic sense, particularly for emerging contracting firms. Bob Ferguson, IronPlanet’s director of inspections, explains: “Large, well-capitalised companies can use their purchasing power to obtain preferential prices to buy new fleet. They are production oriented, don’t want downtime and don’t want to do overhauls. Many rotate their fleet well before the predicted overhaul point, often after only two or three years or 3,000 to 4,000 hours of use.

“This provides the ideal opportunity for other contractors to purchase low hour equipment that is a few years old at reasonable prices. With regular maintenance, they will be able to get good use out of their equipment before a major overhaul is required.”

Ferguson, who has 26 years experience in the heavy equipment industry, shares some of his expertise on the art of buying used equipment. “No matter what type of equipment you are buying, there are always some key areas that are worth paying careful attention to,” says Ferguson.

Transmission: Construction equipment transmissions can take a battering, particularly in situations where they are constantly cycled through forward and reverse. Transmission testing can only be done while operating the machine. Also check the steering and brake functions, watching for uneven braking and steering drift.

Undercarriage: Undercarriage components on tracked equipment can be expensive, so the undercarriage’s condition is a significant factor in determining price. Look first at the pins and bushings. How visibly worn are the bushings and have they been turned? With experience, you can often judge whether hour meter hours are actual total machine hours by equating where the bushings are in their replacement cycle.

Next look at the sprockets. Are they sharp at the tips? Are the engagement holes showing wear and separate bushing engagement patterns for forward and reverse sides of the crescent? Also look for wear marks along the side across the pins. Extreme wear shows that they are scraping on the rock guards.

Next, check the rollers. Examine the flanges (where applicable) on both sides, and measure the wear and taper developing. Do any of them have oil stains or leaks? Notice if any of the flanges are no longer concentric with their axle pins, which may indicate bearing failure. Spin or shake those that are unloaded to check bearing condition. If one or two are bad, the others will likely be soon to follow.

Common mistakes

Do not be fooled by new or recently replaced sprockets. Since sharp sprockets are a red flag for a problematic undercarriage, sellers may replace only the sprockets – which are relatively cheap – to dress up the machine. Always look at the rails, pins, bushings, idlers and rollers, as these are the more expensive parts to replace.

A second common mistake is in overestimating the percentages of wear life remaining. Some buyers think if a link has 75 per cent of the remaining shoulder thickness left it is only 25 per cent worn. In fact it is probably considered more than 50 per cent worn by Original Equipment Manufacture (OEM) guides. This is because components can only be hardened to a limited depth below the surface. Wear rates increase dramatically when wear progresses into the softer metal below.

Pivot points: Pivot point wear is another key determinant of how much the machine is worth. Run the machine through its range of functions. Power down on machines with blades and buckets and look (and listen) for slack in key areas. Look at lubricated joints for evidence they have received good service. Many linkage joints have shim packs, which allow a loose joint to be tightened easily and economically by removing shims and closing the joint. See if there are shims left that can be removed to tighten loose joints. Often a sloppy unit can be brought back to fine grade quality by attention to proper shim adjustment.

Leaks: A good first check is to look on the ground under and around a machine. Then progress to the expensive areas. Look at the final drives, the transmission, hydraulic pump, hydraulic valves and finally the engine and belly pan. Don’t be fooled by fresh paint that may be temporarily blocking seepage. Be especially wary if paint is so fresh that turbos and exhaust components haven’t yet burned it away.

Engine: Check to ensure there is no oil in the coolant or frothing indicating coolant in the oil. An oil sample is good insurance. Ensure soft bearing source wear metals are at nominal levels and wear metals seem consistent with silicon (dirt) levels. High wear metals can be somewhat dismissed if they are normally proportioned, indicating a likelihood they have accumulated at a normal rate but during an extended interval since the last oil change.

Remove the oil filler cap and look for the amount of vapour (blow-by) emitted. This is crankcase pressure coming from compression leaking past the rings and pistons into the pan and back up through the oil return galleys. All engines have some blow-by but this increases with ring wear. On turbo charged engines look at the turbo for signs of oil leaks indicating seal damage. Listen for abnormal bearing noises and also listen for the whine of spool-up to be sure the turbo is functioning.

Often owners will mark the service date and hour meter readings on the oil filter cans with a permanent marker. Always look for these as they can add evidence helping correlate oil sample wear metal accumulation rates, and help validate the authenticity of machine hour meter readings.

How quickly the engine starts from a cold condition can be an indicator of compression. Remember to factor in temperature and how recently it has run. Weak compression first becomes evident on cold winter mornings. Be wary if the seller already had it warmed up or worse yet had it running for you when you arrived to view the machinery.

Listen for unusual noises or knocks.

Exhaust: Examine the exhaust. An unusual amount of black smoke may indicate low compression or over-fuelling. Blue-black smoke can be an indicator of worn rings, suggesting a machine that burns oil. White smoke after warm up may indicate water or coolant leaking into the combustion chamber. Extreme black smoke can also be an indication of a frozen or slow turbo contributing insufficient boost to provide proper air/fuel ratio.

General Condition

Check the condition of the sheet metal and look for evidence of repairs to the frame. The degree of cracking can be an indicator if the machine has been worked in rough rock conditions or has extreme hours of use.

Look for untended incidental damages like broken hinges and corroded battery terminals. While these are cheap repairs in the short term, they may also be an indicator that previous owners did not practice proactive maintenance. If the battery terminals are corroded and the seat has holes, there is a good chance the transmission fluid has not been getting the recommended 1,000 hour services.

Radiator fins should be checked for damage and plugging. A plugged radiator can mean the engine has been allowed to run hot and there could be internal damage.

Leaves and debris in the belly pan and under access panels can be an indicator that the machine has been submerged or operated in high water.

Verify all serial number tags are in place and have not been tampered with to be sure of clear ownership.

“A thorough check can take time, but will be worth the effort,” says Ferguson. He believes that the online marketplace offers good value for buyers of used equipment. “And while the online environment may provide the ideal place to shop around, it does mean that it limits your ability to do this kind of examination yourself,” he explains, “especially when the unit in which you are interested, is in a completely different geographical location.”

IronPlanet is a leading online auction company for used heavy equipment. And unlike other online marketplaces, offer detailed inspection reports on its inventory. “IronPlanet’s IronClad Assurance is a buyer’s guarantee that what is offered online is what they will receive on delivery,” explains Ferguson. “It provides buyers with peace of mind.”

The findings from each inspection are presented free of charge for prospective buyers to review before bidding on the equipment. The reports include ratings and comments for key systems and components, functional test results and 15 to 25 photographs. In addition the inspection reports include laboratory analysis of oil and fluids for contaminants and wear metals in major components and systems where appropriate. Inspectors verify the equipment make, model, age and serial number to ensure the equipment description is accurate. Inspections are conducted at a systems level. Within each section, line item ratings are used to represent the condition of specific subsystems and components.

Source: Construction Contractor