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5 Tips for Buying a Used Compact Tractor

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Growth. Diversification. Simply upgrading. Every business has numerous reasons to add new equipment to its fleet. For companies seeking to add more machines yet unable to swing the cost of purchasing brand-new, used equipment continues to be a viable option.

Especially in the lawncare and landscape industry, the time to buy a used tractor has never been better. Most manufactures have seen double-digit increases in new tractor sales and most of those buyers have traded in their previous models. Additionally, because of the growth in this segment, more R&D is being invested into these smaller tractors. Not only is this encouraging more new sales, the trade-in opportunity from those sales creates even more opportunity for buyers seeking newly-traded, pre-owned machines.

This influx of available options is great for used tractor seekers. But, not all used machines – or sellers – are created equal, meaning there’s even more ownership on the buyer to properly research, vet, and investigate a potential purchase. Whether a veteran buyer of used equipment or a first-timer, here are five tips to ensure your compact tractor ends up as a solid investment.

1. Starting the Search
Newspaper classifieds, magazine ads, auction websites, even Craigslist – there are numerous avenues one can explore in the search for a used tractor.

Because we live in a digital world, online searches are highly recommended by experts. Not only are websites evolving to be more search-friendly so it’s easy to seek out exactly what’s desired, online also offers the most up-to-date inventory selection. RDO Equipment Co. developed its website to highlight used equipment inventory and provide an inside look at the history of the machine.

If not even to make a purchase, going online presents a great opportunity to research options. Most tractor manufacturers have informative comparison and research tools on their sites. Those who feel more comfortable purchasing a used tractor at a local dealership or rental center can go in with some background on what they’re looking for and what’s out there in the market.

Newspaper and magazine listings are still options for starting a used tractor search but keep in mind that most will direct to a website with the up-to-date information on available machines.

2. Vetting the Sources
Buying a quality, trustworthy used machine starts with finding a quality, trustworthy seller. So how does one separate the good from the bad?

Just as seller reputation matters in the used car business, it’s key in the used tractor business. Unfortunately, buying a used tractor isn’t like buying a used car where complete background details are available and easy to find, so a tractor buyer has to do a bit more digging. Whether private seller, auction house, dealership, or other outlet, ask around, scour the web for online reviews, and do some research into the history of the seller. Look for red flags such as bad peer reviews, unethical business practices, even records of stolen equipment.

If choosing the route of a private seller, keep in mind his or her goal is to sell the tractor, regardless if the unit makes sense for the buyer or not. On the other hand, an equipment dealership typically has a large inventory and experts who can help a buyer determine which unit is the best fit. As a business, not only do dealerships have a vested interest in a happy, satisfied customer, building a relationship is also a great opportunity for the buyer to purchase parts and receive service on the machine down the road. 

Of all the options, auctions, while abundant and typically offering a large inventory of tractors, also come with the biggest ‘caveat emptor’ warning. Companies that struggle to sell used tractors on their own often look to auctions as a last-ditch effort, so while the quantity is great, the quality often comes up short. There’s also no recourse for buyers who end up with a tractor that has hidden problems.

3. Timing Is Everything
The agriculture industry has seasonal factors that affect used tractor availability and price. Manufacturer programs typically begin near the end of March and run through June so that’s the time dealerships see the most trade-in activity. Used seekers can also capitalize on end-of-season sales where attractive offers on new equipment means more trade-ins and more options.

A smart buyer will also stay up-to-date on what’s happening in the industry overall too, as market trends often dictate the equipment market. Keep an eye on auction prices, new equipment sale prices, and other online used equipment prices. Watching for low and high points, combined with a pulse on the industry, will help secure an ideally-timed purchase.

4. Machine Details
When the right make and model of tractor is found from a quality seller, it’s a green light to buy, right? Not quite. A thorough investigation must be conducted on a used tractor prior to purchase.

First, ask to see a full evaluation, including hours, records of maintenance intervals, and complete history of the machine. Ask for detailed photos to be included, both general shots of the machine, and those that document major repairs and significant work done.

In addition to reviewing paperwork, do a visual walk-around inspection when possible. Signs of wear are normal but cracks and rust are concerning, and could lead to bigger problems in the future. Also, check for leaks and look for signs that maintenance has been neglected.

Most reputable sellers will allow a potential buyer to test out a machine. While operating, look for black, white, or blue smoke coming from the engine, listen for strange noises, feel for rough operation points, notice things that just don’t feel right, and ensure overall functionality of the unit. It’s also a good idea to bring along another expert, whether a veteran equipment operator, service technician, or anyone who has been around equipment enough to know key things to look for in a good machine, as well as deterrents.

In order to get the best value in buying used, it’s commonly recommended to look for a tractor three years old or older. Experts generally agree that, at three years, the higher cost one would find with new equipment is no longer a factor. A buyer can feel confident in quality after three years too.

A warranty is still attached after three years so if the seller is transferring the warranty, it’s one more attractive benefit of the machine. Taking that a step further, some manufactures are now offering five or even six-year warranties so even some older pre-owned tractors may still have warranty remaining.

5. Post-Purchase
The final tip for success with a used tractor purchase continues long after the machine has found its new home in a fleet. Just as with new equipment, ongoing maintenance and care is important to protect the investment and extend the life of a used tractor.


Too often, buyers neglect or simply forget about regular maintenance but even just a little effort goes a long way. At its most basic, a good preventative maintenance (PM) program can be boiled down to five key steps:
-Daily, visual inspection of the machine before starting, checking for red flags like cracks and leaks
-Daily check and refill of fluids
-Daily greasing of crucial points
-Regular check of the engine, including its air and fuel filters
-Regular documentation of maintenance activities, including significant work and repairs

In addition to regular PM, tractor owners are advised to schedule a thorough service inspection every year with a local, trusted dealership.

New Doesn’t Have to be Brand-New
Just because a tractor isn’t shiny and brand-new doesn’t mean it’s not a great addition to your fleet. With a little bit of homework, and effort to thoroughly inspect both a seller and machine, a used compact tractor can be a great investment in your lawncare or landscape business.

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About The Author
Mark Kreps is Vice President of Agriculture Sales with RDO Equipment Co. in Moorhead, MN.

Search the complete inventory of quality used equipment from RDO Equipment Co. or visit your local store for more information. 

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