6 September 2002

HOWTOGETTHEBEST DEAL

FORSECOND-HANDTRACTOR

Can a dairy farm justify

spending £25,000 on a

new tractor when there is

a good selection of 80hp to

110hp models on the used

market? Mervyn Bailey

offers some pointers on

where to get the best

second-hand buy

WHEN the time comes to retire a faithful old tractor, many decisions need to be made to ensure a replacement is up to the task.

The first questions to answer are what horsepower and drive system are needed. Four or six cylinder? Two or four-wheel drive? How many gears? What sort of transmission? The possible combinations are almost endless.

The intended workload should be the deciding factor. If the newcomers most strenuous job is powering a diet feeder, then a manoeuvrable four-cylinder – with a whistling turbo to give plenty of power in a compact package – would be a sensible option.

But when the tractor has to do a lot of heavy draft work, such as ploughing or subsoiling, or strenuous pto duties, such as powering a forager, then the extra weight and stamina of a six-cylinder engine would be favourite.

Then there is the question of where to buy. Local franchise dealers will usually have something suitable in stock or will know where to get it. They will be familiar with the make and models they sell new and will doubtless make sure any used tractors are in decent condition.

Prices will likely be at a premium to other sources, but should include a warranty giving additional peace of mind for a while.

Dealers specialising in used and reconditioned tractors offer an alternative, preparing older models to an as-new standard. Provided it is a design with a good track record, these machines should represent good value.

Auctions provide another option. Most farm sales will have one or two sub-100hp tractors on offer and on arable units these are unlikely to have been coupled to a loader, so excess clutch wear should not be a concern.

However, buying a tractor as seen is risky for those with limited mechanical knowledge and with the export market still buzzing. Auctions rarely throw up many real bargains, especially in the presence of dealers looking to snap up popular models.

Higher in spring

Buyers will also find that tractors tend to go up in price around spring for the coming season, so it is best to buy after harvest or towards the end of the year.

Whichever buying route is chosen, it is worth doing a little homework before settling on a particular make and model. Check out useful features, changes in specification, and find out about any inherent weaknesses with transmission, hydraulics, electrics and the like.

A short drive is a must to reveal any flaws and get an impression of what the tractor will be like to live with. General appearance can give some clues. A bright and sparkly tractor suggests the driver has looked after it, but if the front mudguards are ripped off and the cab is caked in mud it is best to walk away.

General engine checks include pulling out the dipstick to have a look for traces of cooling fluid and to see whether or not the oil has been changed for a while. Warming the engine to operating temperature will give aural clues on engine wear.

Black smoke, usually caused by over-fuelling, is not a major problem and should be relatively cheap to put right. But blueish smoke can indicate worn piston rings and valve guides, while grey or white smoke is a sign of poor combustion.

An exhaust pipe that emits pure white smoke is a sign of coolant entering the combustion chamber, due to a blown head-gasket or cracked cylinder head.

Assess the condition of the stub axles and bearings on a two-wheel drive tractor by trying to rock the wheels back and forth. Do the same on four-wheel drive models, but also check for signs of oil seeping from the front axle or hubs.

Expensive to repair

There may be enough oil to keep the gears lubricated, but do check if in doubt, as front drive axles can be expensive to repair.

Also have a look at the condition of radiators and see if they are clogged with dirt – a sure sign that maintenance has been neglected – before moving to the back end, where the pick-up hitch can be checked for wear and signs of welding.

Lifting each linkage arm and shaking it should give an indication of wear, but bear in mind that a degree of play will be present by design. The pto also deserves attention, the main check being for any traces of oil around the stub shaft, which would indicate that a seal needs replacing. &#42

Buying a used

tractor from a dealer

has the added benefit of a warranty, something

that a farm dispersal

sale cannot offer.

Dealers usually do up tractors to reasonable condition, but some give a more thorough rebuild for older models, which can be a good buy.