By Rich Taber
In the first installment of this series on selecting a farm tractor, I covered the tractor features that might be needed for you to accomplish your goals on the typical farm. In this second installment, I cover some of the different ways you might locate and purchase a tractor that suits your purposes. A tractor can accomplish a lot of work on your farm but can be quite expensive to purchase and maintain; you want to get the best value for your effort and investment.
In the previous article, I made some assumptions, one being that for a new farmer you would most likely be trying to locate a good used tractor, as compared to purchasing a new one. If you can afford a brand new tractor, by all means go ahead. However, a new machine suitable for the small farm will be a serious investment and can easily come with a several thousand dollar price tag—hence my assumption that you might be looking for a good used machine. If you can afford a new tractor, I would recommend that you stay with known brands and dealerships that have a good history of use and service in the area you live.
I will begin my suggestions with an oft quoted phrase: “caveat emptor,” or “let the buyer beware.” Purchasing a used tractor can be fraught with many of the same pitfalls as buying a used car. The worst case scenario would be for you to have to borrow money for your purchase, and then end up with a tractor that is little more than scrap iron leaving you with a lot of expensive repairs. Additionally, if you have some mechanical skills, and like to “tinker” on machines, you might be in a better position to buy an older machine. The old saying “you get what you pay for” generally applies to used tractors as well. However, there are some notable differences in the sources of tractors that are for sale.
Another factor to consider is the brand of the tractor. I prefer to own tractors that have locally available parts and service centers, as compared to obsolete lines that are periodically imported into the United States and then vanish after a number of years. Which brands do I prefer? I prefer a name brand that runs and operates, and that local mechanics have a base of experience of working with. If you don’t have much tractor or mechanical experience, it might be worth paying a mechanic to evaluate a machine prior to purchasing it.
Regardless of the place that you purchase your tractor, one compelling question to ask yourself is how much recourse do you have in resolving disputes with the seller after you’ve taken your tractor home? What sort of warranty does this used tractor come with?
Several places to locate used tractors are
- Tractor and farm machinery dealerships
- Farm dispersal auctions
- Consignment auctions
- Classified ads
- Word of mouth
- Internet sites
Each of these methods has certain advantages and disadvantages.
Dealerships can sometimes be the most expensive place to purchase a used tractor. Typically the dealership has taken a used tractor in on trade for a new machine. Did they improve this tractor in any way? Did they overhaul the engine, or transmission, or put new tires on it? Or did they just take the machine in and slap a big markup on it? With a dealership, sometimes you can get a short warranty for a used tractor. If you don’t have good machinery repair skills, a good dealership is worth its weight in gold. They may be more expensive initially, but if they offer good service, and come out to your farm late on a Saturday afternoon to help you get up and running again, it may well be worth it. This is the best kind of dealer to deal with.
Another type of dealer is called a “tractor jockey,” who simply buys used tractors from all over, typically from one type of auction or another, for resale, and typically with few or no warranties. Oftentimes little or no information is available on the history of the machine in this scenario. Again, beware!
The consignment auction is probably the most perilous of places that you can purchase a tractor. A consignment auction is a central location where all kinds of machinery are auctioned off to the highest bidder. Typically machines with issues are “dumped” at consignment auctions, and unless you personally know the reason the tractor was consigned, or the history of the machine, you can easily end up buying a “pig in a poke.” Consignment auctions are “what you see is what you get.” That is, if you buy a tractor, take it home and discover issues with it, there is no recourse whatsoever. Additionally, beware of the fresh paint job! People can be easily swayed when they see a bright new coat of paint on what is really an old worn out machine, just waiting to saddle you with expensive repairs when you get it home!
A farm dispersal occurs when a given farm is going out of business, and they are selling all of their farm possessions. You know the tractors being offered are for sale simply for the reason that the farmer is going out of business. These types of auctions can be a good place to purchase a machine, but again, there are no warranties. You buy it, you own it.
Classified ads in local or farm papers, or tractors with for sale signs on them on the side of the road can sometimes be a good way to find a decent tractor. If I see such a tractor for sale, I want to know if the owner has owned this machine, or has he or she simply purchased it from somewhere else with the idea of “flipping it” to generate a profit? How long have they owned it, and what have they done to it in the line of repairs? Do they know the history of the machine?
Word of mouth, or personally knowing the person from which you purchase a tractor, is one of the better ways of locating a tractor. The best tractors on my home farm have been purchased from friends and neighbors, and I know the sellers personally and the history of the machines.
Internet sites, such as Craig’s List and Ebay can be good sources for finding available tractors. Two other good sites are www.TractorHouse.com and www.Fastline.com. Both of these sites have printed editions of tractors for sale.
In conclusion, finding and buying a good used tractor can be fraught with frustrations and pitfalls—but when you do find a good one, it can end up being a machine that gives you years of good service and helps you get your work accomplished on your farm. Used tractors have recently been selling for very high prices, and you must be as prepared and vigilant as you can be in purchasing one of these very necessary machines. Good luck!
Rich Taber is Grazing and Ag Economic Development Specialist for CCE Chenango. He lives with his motley collection of tractors on a 165 acre grazing farm in Southern Madison County which includes beef cattle, sheep, pastured poultry, heritage turkeys, a coonhound kennel, and a 100 acre woodlot. He can be reached at 607-334-5841 ext. 21 or email: email@example.com.