What to Look for When Buying Used Equipment

Deals on heavy equipment are out there, but buyers should make sure they get their money's worth.

Heavy equipment is a huge investment. Buying pre-owned might make sense, especially for construction businesses that can't justify the expense of a new one, either because they don't have a recurring need or don't have the money in the budget.

Before signing on the dotted line, though, buyers should kick the tires — literally — and inspect the equipment.

First, make sure the seller has a title to the equipment, and check the serial number with police reports or the National Equipment Register to make sure the machine is not stolen.

Or, for more peace of mind, buy used from a reputable company such as United Rentals (which also offers financing), or from an authorized dealer. This is your best chance at getting warranty coverage, and you'll always know where to find them in case you experience trouble after the purchase.

Next, move on to a physical inspection. Bring a heavy equipment mechanic along if necessary.

First up are the biggies: engine, hydraulics, undercarriage, power train and transmission. Start the equipment and look for cracks, leaks or smoke. Next, hop in and take it for a little spin. Try all the gears, including reverse, and make sure the braking and steering are operational in all of them. Listen for any unusual noises that could indicate a problem.

While you're in there, give the seats and other interior items a quick look. Wear on the seats is a decent indication of how heavily the machine’s been used.

Also check out the condition of the equipment's frame, tires, wheels and attachments. Inspect for corrosion and signs of above-average wear and tear, such as dents and body patches.

For those pieces of equipment that have articulation joints, which make sharp turns possible, check for deterioration, broken bolts and loose pins and bushings. Drum scrapers should be adjusted correctly and not show excessive wear on the cleats of padfoot rollers. Check drum seats for leaks and rubber drum-frame pads for overall condition.

Ask to see the maintenance log. This will tell you if the equipment has been regularly serviced and by whom. If it’s gone missing, be suspicious.

A simple fluid check could reveal how well the equipment has been maintained as well. Low or dirty fluids might mean the last owner skimped on routine care.

Finally, choose a popular model. This will make it easier to find parts as well as service technicians familiar with your new-to-you piece of equipment.