Engine Man’s HP. Inspection Pointers
When in the market for pre-owned tractors, begin by speaking with the seller so you can glean as much of the history as possible. Ask if there are any maintenance records you can reference.
Next, inspect the tractor by looking for signs of fluid leaks on the engine and other areas. On larger diesels, check the crankcase ventilation tube and the area around it for excessive oil fumes. This is a strong indicator of worn piston rings and a glazed cylinder wall.
Remove the air filter and check what it looks like and the brand used. If it is extremely dirty or is an off-brand, that is not a good sign. Pull all dipsticks and inspect and smell the fluids. Remove the engine oil fill cap to check for sludge (lack of oil changes or use of cheap oil). If any white substance is present, there is either a coolant leak into the oil or a nonfunctioning crankcase breather. Not a good sign, either way.
Start the engine and listen for any sounds, how it runs cold, and if it goes into gear with a hydrostatic or automatic transmission. Check the exhaust for excessive smoke and note the color. Operate all systems, if applicable, such as hydraulics, PTO, etc. Be sure to drive the tractor around, which can reveal, for example, how smoothly it shifts or if the engine hesitates when accelerated.
If you are satisfied to this point, then make an investment in fluid testing. Using an extraction pump, pull samples from the radiator, engine oil, transmission, and hydraulic system. Hopefully, you can glean when the last service was performed by the records supplied to you or notations on the machine.
If the seller won’t let you pull samples and have them checked, walk away. On a diesel with wet cylinder liners, the coolant test is extremely important. The laboratory will include elemental analysis. If a good deal of iron is found in the coolant, that indicates cylinder liner cavitation erosion or, less likely, electrolysis. In either case, the engine is on the way out, and you need to know that.
invest in fluid analysis to verify
Do not be averse to spending the $100 for the fluid analysis for a prospective purchase that has passed muster to that point. Would you buy a farm field without a soil test? Then why do so many buy a piece of pre-owned equipment, no matter how low the hours, without fluid testing? You would be surprised what some people can do to an engine or transmission in a few hundred hours.
Finally, check the tire pressures, another telltale sign of the owner’s thought process. A fastidious owner will maintain the proper tire pressure for wear and to limit soil compaction.
The same logic and procedures for inspecting a potential purchase can be employed not only to farm equipment, but also to trucks, cars, UTVs, and more.
When you are selling or trading in, you want to get the most for the unit. Though price certainly comes into play during the purchase of a late-model pre-owned machine, the more dominant concern is the quality and the hope of reliable service. When you are investing in pre-owned, remember what President Reagan used to say: “Trust but verify.” The markets and weather hold enough uncertainties; you don’t need to buy any more surprises.
Ray Bohacz, The SF Engine Man Ray Bohacz has engine grease and field dirt under his fingernails from a life spent repairing vehicles and running a farm in New Jersey with his wife, Charlotte. His how-to articles also appear inand magazines. Contact Bohacz via email at SFEngine[email protected] Agriculture.com.