4 Tips & What to Look For When Buying a Used Excavator

4 Tips & What to Look For When Buying a Used Excavator
4 Tips & What to Look For When Buying a Used Excavator
Author: Small Business Expert | August 17, 2020 | Topic: Used Equipment

4 Tips & What To Look for When Buying a Used Excavator

An excavator is a type of heavy equipment that utilizes a boom and stick to complete a variety of tasks around construction sites, landscapes and other industrial and residential projects. They are useful for things like:

  • Demolition
  • Digging
  • Material handling
  • Mining
  • Forestry
  • Roadwork
  • Worksite clean-up

Excavators are available in various types and sizes, and the cab rotates, which makes them an ideal solution for those who need to tackle a variety of functions. If you're looking to add a robust and adaptable machine to your lineup, investing in used equipment is a great way to save money and get started as soon as possible. Read on to learn more about what to look for when buying a used excavator.

Benefits of Buying a Used Excavator

If you're looking to purchase an excavator, you can choose to buy either a brand new machine or shop the used equipment market. While a new excavator might be the right choice for some, many choose to shop used because of the lower start-up cost, diverse selection, minimal depreciation and perks of machine ownership.

Benefits of Buying a Used Excavator
  • Lower start-up costs: One of the most significant benefits of buying a used excavator is the lower initial cost. For many, the cost of the equipment is the greatest barrier when it comes to completing a project or starting a business. In some cases, your insurance may be lower on a piece of used equipment, compared to a brand new one.
  • Diverse selection of equipment: The market for used machinery and attachments is constantly growing, so you always have options available to you. Better yet, because the equipment has already been used, you can witness the durability of the excavator first-hand and know what to expect from its performance.
  • Depreciation and resale: Heavy equipment depreciates the most within the first few years. When you buy used, you avoid this initial depreciation but still have the option to resell your equipment in the future.
  • All the benefits of ownership: Owning your excavator means you can make any changes and upgrades you want whenever you have the time, need and budget to do so. You can use your machine as needed, without having to worry about returning it by a specific date and time.

What to Consider When Buying a Used Excavator

If you've decided buying a used excavator is the best option for you, there are a few things you need to consider before you begin your search.

Different excavators serve different purposes. To make your search for a used machine quick and easy, narrow down your options by considering the following:

  • Size: Excavators can be compact, standard or large. Consider the type of work you plan to do and attachments you will use to determine the best size for you. Keep in mind that smaller machines are easier to maneuver, transport and store, while larger excavators are a more powerful and durable option.
  • Type: What kind of work are you going to use your excavator for? Different machines can do different tasks. For instance, a suction excavator can loosen and move dirt, while you would use a dragline excavator for strip mining. Other options include crawler, skid steers and long-reach excavators.
  • Track or wheels: Instead of wheels or tires, a tracked excavator uses thick, movable tracks to navigate steep inclines or slippery conditions. They are heavy, which makes them stable while in operation. Wheeled excavators have large tires and are ideal for standard operating conditions. Because they are lighter than tracked machines, they are less likely to damage sensitive terrain.
  • Attachments: Consider what types of attachments you will need to purchase along with your excavator, such as augers, compactors, grapples or rakes. Always confirm the compatibility of your excavator and attachments before purchasing.
  • Transportation and storage: Although the initial purchase of your excavator is an important step, it's not the only cost to consider. Before you bring your machine home or to the worksite, consider how you are going to transport and store it when not in use. The larger your excavator, the more challenging and costly it may be. Having these logistics figured out before making your purchase is the best way to avoid surprises and keep unexpected costs to a minimum.
  • Preventive maintenance and repairs: Routine preventive maintenance is crucial for staying on top of your machine and catching small issues before they grow into larger ones. Should something malfunction or behave abnormally, do not wait to contact a professional to take a look and make any necessary repairs or replacements. The better you take care of your excavator, the longer it will last.
  • The reputation of the dealership: One of the most important tips for buying a used excavator is to choose your dealership carefully. Before agreeing to see the excavator, take the time to research the company or individual you're going to work with. Read third-party testimonials and verified reviews and ask to learn more about their return policies, warranty program and any other pertinent information. Never agree to purchase any type of heavy equipment unseen or without first performing an inspection.

4 Inspection Tips for Used Excavators

To help you find the perfect equipment, consult this used excavator buying guide before you begin your inspection. Inspections are encouraged and expected. If you're working with a used machinery dealership that does not want to participate in an inspection, you should consider searching elsewhere. Four things to check before buying a used excavator include the external condition, internal parts, performance and quality of the dealership service.

4 Inspection Tips for Used Excavators


1. Examine the External Condition

The first thing to inspect is the external condition of the excavator. Some damage, like scratches or rust, is easily visible without too much investigation. Other areas, such as the undercarriage, might require a closer look.

  • Frame: While minor cosmetic blemishes are normal for a used machine, make sure the frame of the excavator is free from significant or problematic dents, scuffs, rust, scratches, paint chips or warping. Excessive damages could mean the machine wasn't properly cared for. Check that all welded areas are intact and that each hinge and latch are functional.
  • Cleanliness: Consider the overall appearance of the machine, including the cab, frame and any windows. A reputable dealership will not sell an excavator that is caked with dirt, mud or other build-up.
  • Tires or track: If you're looking at a wheeled excavator, make sure the tires are intact, full of air and free of visible damage. Be sure to ask the dealership how long the tires have been in use. For tracked machines, count how many tracks are on the belt and if any are missing or damaged.
  • Undercarriage: The undercarriage of an excavator accounts for half of the cost of ownership, so don't sign any papers until you've inspected yours carefully. Check for any dents, holes or oily residue, as all could be signs of misuse or internal damage.


2. Check the Internal Parts

Once the outside of the machine passes your inspection, it's time to begin a more detailed inspection of the machine's internal components.

  • Wiring: Inspect the quality of all wires and note any damages or frays. Turn the lights on and off to test functionality.
  • Fuel: If you see or smell fuel or emissions while the excavator is running, this could indicate a serious problem or internal leak. You should also check that the fuel cap tightens securely and that the fuel inside does not smell expired or tainted.
  • Battery: Check that the battery is secure inside the battery box and that all terminals are clean and not corroded. Check for stains, sticky spots or residue, as these could be signs of leaking oil or fuel. Note the expiration date of the battery.
  • Cab: One of the most important things to look for when buying a used excavator is a safe and comfortable cab because this is where you will spend most of your time while using the machine. Sit inside the excavator cab and note the condition — is the seat comfortable and free of rips or holes? Do you have a full range of vision? Do the steering and gears work correctly? Are there any scratches or cracks in the windows?
  • Hydraulic system: Inspect the hydraulic cylinder, lines and pump for cleanliness and make sure there are no visible leaks.


3. Test the Performance

The performance test is a critical part of any inspection. This is where you get to see how the machine feels when you operate it and consider whether it's the right piece of equipment for your job.

  • Start up and shut down: Turn the excavator on and listen for any unusual sounds, such as rattling or excessive noise. If the excavator stalls or turns over when you try to turn it on, something may not be working correctly. Test the swing of the arm, as well as the control panel. Once you've tested the performance of the excavator, turn it off and continue listening.
  • Attachments: If any attachments come with the excavator, inspect their condition, quality and compatibility with the excavator.
  • Accessories and features: If your excavator has any additional features, such as built-in air conditioning or satellite radio, make sure they operate correctly — especially if you're paying extra for those options.


4. Consider the Service

Even when the excavator is in perfect operating condition, you need to consider the company you're working with and the services they offer. Make sure you ask plenty of questions about the equipment, as well as the dealership's policies:

  • The history of the machine: Ask how old the excavator is and how many hours of operation it has seen. Ask the dealer to include information about the machine's performance history, including any previous issues or repairs made.
  • Safety features and compliance: Verify with the seller that the excavator is safe to operate and that all safety features, including the brakes, cab, fire extinguisher and alarms, are all compliant.
  • The year and model: Record all important information about the excavator, including the year, make, model and serial number. Keep in mind that if the excavator is very old or from an uncommon manufacturer, you may struggle to find replacement parts or repair service if necessary.
  • Comparison to the listing: As you gather all the information from your inspection, compare it to the sale listing and see how the details match. Did the seller leave out any noticeable damages? Does the price seem justified? Ensure all documentation is included with the excavator, including the user manual and any manufacturer warranty information.
  • Warranty and support: Finally, ask the seller or dealership what kind of warranty, return policy and after-sale support options they offer. A good dealership wants you to get the most out of your purchase and will do whatever they can to make sure the excavator you choose is right for you.

Why Buy a Used Excavator From Cat Used?

While using these used excavator inspection tips is a great way to make sure you're getting a quality excavator, nothing offers peace of mind like working with an honest, reputable Cat® dealer.

When you work with a dealer on Cat Used, you get:

  • Access to an extensive network of Cat dealers: Cat Used has a large network of dealerships across the United States with a range of heavy equipment, including excavators of all types and sizes. No matter what kind of machine you're looking for, your Cat dealer can help you find it.
  • Quality and support: Your Cat dealer cares about your experience while shopping for and using your equipment. That's why there is a strict rating and inspection system for all of our used machinery before we even list it as a part of the Cat Used inventory. Your dealer may offer Cat Certified Used equipment, which is selected, inspected and serviced to a higher standard. You can view those inspection reports on our website to learn more about the excavator you plan to purchase.
  • Flexible financing available: Our network of dealers know your time and money are valuable, so they will work with you on financial assistance and can offer flexible plans to help you get your Cat equipment when you need it.
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