Tips for Shopping for New and Used Equipment

The top five suggestions to ensure savvy shopping and extended equipment life.
Tips for Shopping for New and Used Equipment
Contractors should look at the size of the equipment and compare it to the jobs they are doing to see if it will be a fit for the company.

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Within the construction industry, digging equipment is arguably the hardest-working machinery being used on a daily basis, and as such, it is subject to shorter life spans and more frequent replacements.

Because of this, many contractors try to plan ahead for when equipment such as vacuum excavators, trenchers and directional drills need to be replaced with a newer unit. However, ads may list only minimal information about equipment for sale, leaving contractors to gamble on the honesty of a seller who may be located in another state.

The following five tips offer suggestions on what to look for when purchasing new or used equipment, allowing for a more reliable return on investment.

1. Size and Location

When considering the purchase of new equipment, size does matter — especially as it relates to the location of a job. The only thing that holds up a project more than waiting for equipment to arrive is finding it’s too big for the job once it gets there.

Marty Bolde, director of municipal sales for Hi-Vac Corporation, located in Marietta, Ohio, says contractors should “make sure the sizing of the equipment is right before they buy it so it can be easily maneuvered into the area where they’re using it. If the equipment is too large to fit on a small, downtown street, you’re going to have to find a smaller one for that application.”

He added that contractors should also be aware of local municipal restrictions that may prohibit equipment of a certain size from entering some areas of a city due to infrastructure reasons.

2. Capacity for Project

Once contractors ensure the exterior of their equipment will work for a project, they should also review the interior capacity of the equipment as well. Underestimation of the amount of debris to be removed can also result in costly delays as additional equipment is summoned as backup.

“Contractors have to make sure the equipment has sufficient water and air for the job as well as a debris tank that’s large enough to hold and transport all the material they pick up from the project,” Bolde says.

He also notes the importance of making sure the compressor is large enough for the job and that the boom has the proper capacity, reach and strength for the intended job.

3. Service History Records

Along with remembering tips 1 and 2 for any equipment purchase, there are additional issues for contractors when considering the purchase of used equipment, depending on the age of the equipment. However, a careful review of equipment service records can prove the most beneficial with any cautious sale.

Mike Selby, inside sales manager at Vac-Con, located in Green Cove Springs, Florida, urges contractors to “look at the regulations for emissions for your area, and make sure the equipment you want to buy meets the local resource board’s requirements. There’s nothing worse than buying a $50,000 piece of equipment and then finding out you can’t use it because of an emissions problem.”

He suggests that — whenever they can — contractors who purchase used equipment should “fire up the unit and make sure all the systems are working properly right away because equipment can be bought and repurposed all the time.”

Bolde agrees with Selby and also stresses the importance of making every attempt to procure the service records for any purchase of used equipment — regardless of whether the seller is an individual or a municipality.

4. Rubber Reveals All

Other important items to look at when considering the purchase of used equipment are any parts that include rubber, such as hoses and tires. While engine components may appear to be in working condition, worn rubber can tell a less-optimistic story for the anticipated life of the equipment.

Bolde says contractors need to “look at as much rubber as you can on the equipment. When you look at things like hydraulic and vacuum hoses, if you see dry rot on the rubber, that suggests the rest of the machinery probably hasn’t been maintained well either.”

Selby agrees and adds, “If you’re thinking of buying something online and the seller only offers a few pictures, take a good look at the tires on the equipment. If they’re in good repair, chances are so is the rest of the machine, but if they’re worn and look terrible, avoid that purchase.”

5. Locate the Leaks

Along with attention to worn rubber hoses and tires, locating cracks and leaks is just as important in the purchase of used machinery. While seemingly minor issues to some, experienced contractors understand how these drips can create a flood of problems later.

“Look for rust lines, which indicate cracks in the debris body,” Bolde says. “Then, fill the water tank and debris tank and watch them for leaks. If you see any weeping, there’s a crack in the debris body or vacuum system, which can mean big problems in the future.”

Selby also points out the importance of checking the door seal on the debris tank for leaks, ensuring its reliability and locking mechanism as well as confirming the water system is insulated for protection against any weather-related concerns during use.

When it comes to the purchase of both new and used equipment, the more detailed an inspection a contractor can make, the better. However, even a perfunctory review of service records can help contractors establish if their investment for the future has been maintained on solid ground or if the equipment will do nothing more than leak out hard-earned profits.


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