Buying a used excavator is a great way to get a quality machine without spending a huge amount of money. Excavators will generally have a long lifespan, with many machines often lastings 10+ with proper care and maintenance. But, as with buying almost anything that’s been pre-owned, there are a few things you will want to look out for. So we’ve compiled our list of the top 8 tips for buying a used excavator. 

1. Research

It may seem obvious, but the first thing you’ll need to do is research. You can’t know you’re buying the right excavator unless you’ve done the research beforehand. Maximum operating weight, dig depth, boom length, you’ll want to know what you need to get your job done so you can look for the right machine straight off the bat. 

Once you’ve found a used excavator you like, you’ll need to research it to make sure it can actually do the job. Aside from that, you’ll also want to look for information on available service packages, any known issues with the model or brand, and just the overall performance of the excavator. 

2. Check history

When you’ve decided on an excavator, it’s time to get a bit more serious. Our next tip is to check the service history of the machine. A used excavator that has been well-maintained and regularly serviced should have a clearly documented service history. 

If the excavator you’re interested in doesn’t have service history readily available, it may indicate it hasn’t been serviced properly and could have underlying issues. Of course, it’s important to not immediately write off a machine just because it doesn’t have the documentation. It may have been lost, or simply not documented properly. We always recommend you do a full inspection of the machine yourself before deciding. Which brings us to our next tip.

3. Inspect machine

Always, and we mean always, inspect the machine before making a decision. Excavators are a huge investment for almost any company, so making sure you get your money’s worth is important. There are several important parts of an excavator that should always be inspected before purchasing, including the: 

  • Fluids & oils
  • Cab
  • Undercarriage, wheels or tracks
  • Hydraulics
  • Final drive
  • Pins & brushes
  • Attachments
  • Cab accessories

Fluids

When checking the fluids and oils, it’s best to take some samples and visually inspect it. If the engine coolant is cloudy or dirty then it indicates there may be cooling system issues. And if the engine oil is grey or watery, there’s the potential for engine issues. We recommend getting an oil sample for the major parts, things like the final drive, hydraulic tank, engine oil and slew drive. 

Cab

There are several parts of the cab you’ll want to check. Of course the seat needs to be in good condition so you can actually use the machine for extended periods, but you’ll also want to check that the cab has adequate ROPS or FOPS fittings. This is especially important on tight work sites or anywhere there is the potential for debris or materials to fall onto the excavator during operation. 

Undercarriage

One of the most expensive parts of operating an excavator is the undercarriage. Maintenance and replacement costs can add up over time, so it’s vital you do a thorough inspection of the undercarriage before buying a used excavator. Getting a good understanding of the remaining life of the tracks is going to help you understand whether you’re getting a good price. Of course, if you’re looking at a wheeled excavator you’ll also want to inspect the wheels and tyres to ensure they don’t need to be replaced immediately after buying. 

Hydraulics

When possible, it’s best to see the excavator working under load so you can verify the hydraulics hold up and there’s no vibrations or strange noises. If the operation isn’t quiet and smooth (for an excavator) then there may be some issues. Something as small as a pin-sized hole in the hydraulics line can cause major issues with performance. 

Final Drive

With the final drive, or planetary drive, we recommend checking for leaks and excessive contaminations, and double checking the oil levels. You should also ensure that the excavator reacts quickly and doesn’t feel like it’s struggling, as these are indicators there could be something wrong in the final drive. 

Pins & Brushes

An area often overlooked by buyers of used excavators is the wear levels on the pins and brushes of the front digging attachment. If the wear around these seems excessive, it may indicate that proper care hasn’t been taken over its lifetime. 

Attachments

If you’re buying a used excavator that comes with attachments, it’s definitely a good idea to do an inspection of all the individual attachments to ensure they aren’t overly worn or cracked and that they are the right size for the excavator. 

Cab Accessories

Of course, you can’t forget about the accessories in your cab! Operator comfort often comes down to what’s included in the cab, so making sure all the accessories are in good condition is a must. Some of the most important ones are the air con, UHF radio and reverse camera if your model has one. Additionally, you’ll also want to check any diagnostic monitors that are included to ensure they are working and displaying accurate information.

4. Get an expert in

Now, not everyone that’s buying a used excavator is going to be an expert. Which is why we recommend you get one in if you have to! If possible, get in someone who is familiar with that specific make of excavator, someone who is an expert in that exact model is even better. Otherwise, anyone who has plenty of experience checking excavators and is able to give you quality advice that you trust is a good option. 

5. Test Drive

This one is a no-brainer, whenever possible, test drive the excavator. The only way to truly know if the machine you’re looking at is right for you is to give it a test run. This is also a great way to give the machine a proper inspection, as you’ll be able to test hydraulics, attachments and the cab accessories while getting yourself familiar with the machine. Hearing and feeling the excavator in operation will give you a clear picture of what it will be like when operating on your site, and you may come across issues you wouldn’t have noticed if you never turned it on. 

6. Warranty

This one won’t be applicable to the majority of used excavators on the market, but it never hurts to double check about any potential warranty it may come with. Any included warranty is potential money saved if something goes wrong.

As a bonus tip, check for any current service packages as well. An excavator that comes with a service package included will generally cost more, but you’ll get the bonus benefit of pre-organised servicing from professionals. 

7. Consider maintenance costs

On the other hand, if your excavator doesn’t include warranty or a service package, you’re going to need to consider ongoing maintenance costs. If you’re buying it for a one-off job, then this won’t really apply, but in the majority of cases, you’re going to need to consider costs for repairs, regular maintenance and even things like fuel and additional cab accessories. Keeping your equipment well-maintained not only extends its lifespan, but also makes it easier to resell when you no longer need it. 

8. Know what you’re willing to pay

Our final tip, know what you’re willing to pay. It sounds obvious, but going into the market without establishing a clear budget can cause all kinds of problems. Excavators are expensive, some of the larger models go for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even when used, the price isn’t anything to sneeze at, so going into the market with a firm budget in mind will make it easier for you to avoid a machine that is more expensive but realistically unnecessary. 

So those are our 8 tips for buying a used excavator. Think we missed something? Leave us a comment down below and tell us what your top tips for buying a used excavator are.

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