7 Red Flags to Avoid When Buying Used Construction Equipment

7 Red Flags to Avoid When Buying Used Construction Equipment
7 Red Flags to Avoid When Buying Used Construction Equipment
Author: Small Business Expert | January 16, 2023 | Topic: Used Equipment

7 Red Flags to Avoid When Buying Used Construction Equipment

Used heavy equipment is beneficial for various industries that demand high-functioning, reliable and safe machines at lower price points. Whether you need a skid steer loader or excavator, you can boost your bottom line by investing in used equipment. While most equipment is up to par with regulations and standards, there are a few red flags to avoid when buying used equipment.

The Benefits of Buying Used Heavy Equipment

Buying used machinery minimizes your expenses while delivering high-performing equipment with a high return on investment (ROI). It also offers these benefits:

  • Slower depreciation rate: Used equipment depreciates slowly and retains its value for a longer period, giving you the ability to resell in the future if you uphold proper maintenance. NOTE: The resale value of your equipment is not guaranteed to increase.
  • Lower purchasing cost: Used equipment can come in at a lower price point, allowing you to allocate saved money to attachments and a regular maintenance schedule.
  • Safety and reliability: Most pre-owned machines undergo rigorous inspections to ensure you're working with a piece of equipment that's in good condition.

7 Red Flags to Look for When Buying Used Equipment

No matter if you're a seasoned buyer or new to the used equipment world, it's critical to understand the various red flags when buying used heavy equipment. Knowing the things to look out for when buying used equipment helps you avoid faulty equipment and keep your crews safe while working in the field.

The best thing you can do is to hop in the cab and give the machine a test drive. And this doesn't mean run it for 5 minutes and give it a thumbs-up. You will want to test the machine hard, as if it's performing the same tasks you require in a day's work. A few minutes won't compare to running it all day, so make sure you know what you're getting and test it to the limit. In addition to running the equipment, it's also smart to complete a walk-around inspection.

To get the most value out of your machines, let's focus on the top seven red flags when buying used construction equipment.


1. Defective Engine

The engine is the powerhouse of every machine, making it one of the top red flags to look for when buying used equipment. A faulty and defective engine can compromise a machine's overall performance and safety, costing you more in repairs and replacements than the equipment's original price tag. It can also hinder staff and work site safety.

Turn over the engine and look out for faulty signs. Does the engine turn over smoothly? Does it emit smoke? Does it struggle to start? Investing in a high-functioning engine is step one when searching for pre-owned heavy equipment.


2. Excessive Wear and Tear

Some wear is normal to see on used equipment. But there is a difference between regular wear and excessive signs of damage that can relate back to improper use and maintenance.

If you notice major damage to the machine, it may indicate costly repairs or replacements. Check various components like the tires, attachments, hoses and undercarriage while searching for cracks, rust and corrosion. Used machines may not be aesthetically perfect, but be sure to conduct a thorough inspection to ensure the equipment doesn't show signs of serious wear and tear.


3. Extensive Welding Marks

A used machine with excessive welding can signify considerable damage that was repaired by fusing parts back together. Check the equipment's buckets, joints, backhoe, arms and attachments for signs of welding.

While welding is a sturdy fix, it's also temporary, and welding so many parts back together can create a weaker frame that's prone to breakage. New paint is also a telltale sign of welding because technicians will paint over underlying issues like welding marks or even rust.


4. History of the Machine

Not having the equipment's repair history, services and inspection reports is a huge red flag to look for. If the seller cannot provide the proper paperwork for the machine's history, either they didn't keep good records or something underlying is wrong with the engine. This is where a strong dealer-buyer relationship is crucial. Some used heavy equipment may look shiny and nice on the outside, but after researching and looking into the machine's history, you could find it's been rebuilt.

History of the Machine


5. Improper Regular Maintenance

Regular heavy equipment maintenance sets a safe, reliable and efficient machine apart from one that malfunctions. Always look for irregular maintenance in the equipment's records if they're available and in your walk-around inspection. Inspect for:

  • Loose bushing and pins
  • Adequate liquid levels
  • Uneven tire or track wear
  • Rust
  • Warning lights
  • Sticky movements

When it comes to tire inspection, look for holes, cracks and uneven wear that can be indicative of irregular maintenance or improper storage. If the equipment has tracks, ensure they work smoothly with no debris stuck inside. If the previous owner completed regular maintenance, the cab of the machine will be sturdy with smooth pedals and controls that don't jam.

Regular maintenance expands the equipment's lifespan, boosts productivity, reduces future repairs and keeps operators safe.


6. Leaking Fluids

Even the smallest fluid leaks can indicate major issues within the engine's functionality. It's important to check for leaks while the machine is at rest and while the engine is running on idle.

Inspect the equipment's chassis by looking for ruptured hoses, damaged attachment arms, broken cylinders and other components. Keep an eye out for leaking fuel, oil, hydraulic fluid and other liquids. Even discolored oil can signify an issue.

Some situations may not be deal-breakers with purchasing used equipment, but be cautious if you find leaks. Make sure you can find the root cause and how much it may cost to repair to determine if the machine is still worth it.


7. Uncommon or Odd Noises

Listen for strange noises from the brakes or drivetrain. It's common for drivetrain repairs to be quite costly, sometimes even more than what you paid for the machine.

Be aware of warning signs when buying used equipment like odd noises, uneven tire wear and uncommon sounds when you turn on the engine. Does it rattle when you turn it over? Does it begin to smoke? Or does it turn over smoothly without fail?

Listen for squealing, crunching and clunking sounds around the drivetrain while the machine is running.

Why You Can Trust Used Equipment Sold by Your Cat® Dealer

Before you start looking at used heavy equipment, research and know the seller beforehand. Most Cat Used inventory comes from rental fleets, trade-ins or lease returns. It's always important to know the source of the used equipment you're looking at. Our dealers also offer Cat Certified Used (CCU) inspection reports, machine service and repair history, protection and financing options to help support your projects and budget.

In most cases, our dealers inspect, appraise, clean and fill Cat Used machines with fluids before they go up for sale. Dealers also test and trust our engines to deliver top performance, meaning your heavy equipment is ready to hit the job site the moment you take it off the dealer lot.

Our teams understands the different caution signs when buying used equipment, so our dealers are here to help you each step of the way.

Shop Used Heavy Equipment Online

With the top seven red flags when buying used equipment in mind, you're ready to start the buying process. Shop for used machines online or find a Cat® dealer near you.

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