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Important Tips for Buying a Used Compact Tractor

Important Tips for Buying a Used Compact Tractor

27 Apr 2023 Read time: 5 min

Whether a company is growing, diversifying or simply upgrading what they already have, every business has numerous reasons to add new equipment to its fleet. 

It’s never been a better time to buy a used tractor, especially in the lawn care and landscape industry. Over the past few years, most manufacturers have seen double-digit increases in new tractor sales — causing manufacturers like John Deere to invest time and money into making compact tractors more efficient than ever before.  

These upgrades are not only encouraging new sales, they also generate trade-in opportunities from early buyers providing even more choices for those seeking low-hour, pre-owned machines. For companies looking to add to their fleet, used equipment continues to be a financially viable option. 
The influx of available options may seem perfect for used tractor seekers, but not all used machines — or sellers — are created equal. It’s up to the buyer to properly research, vet and investigate a potential purchase. 

Whether you’re a seasoned used equipment buyer or you’re brand new to the game, here are five tips to consider to ensure your compact tractor ends up as a solid investment. 

Starting Your Search 

There are many avenues to explore when shopping for a used compact tractor. Whether it’s newspaper classifieds, websites, auctions or your dealer, finding the perfect machine to meet your needs can be easy. 
The online world is constantly evolving, and finding exactly what you’re looking for is becoming easier almost every day. Websites can update their inventory at the drop of a hat, ensuring customers are always seeing what they have on hand at any given time. RDO Equipment Co. team members work hard to provide an inside look at the history of their used equipment.  

Online shopping also gives customers the opportunity to research options and make comparisons between two or more models. With information being so readily available, even those who plan to buy their used tractor at a brick-and-mortar dealership can gain confidence in knowing they’ve done their homework. There’s even an opportunity to stop by your local dealer to talk to a salesperson and see what is on the lot. 

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

Vet the Sources 

Buying a quality, trustworthy used compact tractor starts with finding a quality, trustworthy seller. But how do you separate the good dealers from the less-than-desirable?  

Like the used car business, seller reputation is key in the used tractor business. 

Unlike buying a used car where the complete background details are available and easy to find, used tractor buyers tend to have to dig a bit to find the information they need. Whether it’s a private seller, auction house, dealership or other outlet, do some research into the history of the seller. Look for red flags such as bad peer reviews, unethical business practices and even records of stolen equipment. 
If you’re thinking of buying through a private seller, keep in mind their goal is to sell the tractor — regardless of whether the unit makes sense for the buyer. An equipment dealership typically has a large inventory and experts who can help a buyer determine which unit is the best fit. Not only do dealerships have a vested interest in a happy and 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.  
Auctions, while abundant with large inventories of tractors, also come with the biggest ‘buyer beware' warning. Companies that struggle to sell used tractors on their own often look to auctions as a last-ditch effort — making the quantity great at the expense of quality.  There’s also no recourse for buyers who end up with a tractor that has hidden problems. 

Timing Is Everything 

The agriculture industry's seasonal factors affect both used tractor availability and price. Manufacturer programs typically begin near the end of March and run through June, increasing the trade-in activity. Used tractor seekers can also capitalize on end-of-season sales where attractive offers on new equipment mean more trade-ins and more options. 
Smart buyers also stay up to date on what’s happening in the industry too, as market trends often dictate the potential swing in pricing. Keep an eye on auction prices, new equipment sale prices and other online used equipment prices. Watching the ups and downs and keeping a pulse on the industry can help secure a timely purchase. 

Machine Details 

You’ve found the right make and model of tractor and you’ve vetted the seller. You should be ready to buy, right? 

Not exactly. Conducting a thorough investigation of the used tractor prior to purchase is essential to ensure you’re getting a quality machine. 
Ask to see a full evaluation, including hours, records of maintenance intervals and complete history of the machine. Be sure to get detailed photos that include both general shots of the machine and those that document major repairs and significant work done so nothing comes as a surprise. 

In addition to reviewing paperwork, do a visual walk-around inspection when possible. Check for leaks and look for signs that maintenance has been neglected. Signs of wear are normal, but cracks and rust are concerning and could lead to bigger problems down the road.  
Most reputable sellers will allow a potential buyer to test out a machine, and when you’re working with a dealership like RDO, test-driving your options is encouraged. 

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 the overall functionality of the unit. It’s also a good idea to bring along another expert or talk to a salesperson on the lot to spot key things to look for and possible deterrents in a quality machine. They can even answer questions you may have about running the compact tractor or things to watch out for.  
In order to get the best value when buying used equipment, it’s recommended to look for a tractor three years old or older. Experts generally agree that, at three years, the higher cost you’d find with new equipment is no longer a factor.  
Warranty is still attached to the tractor after three years, too, making buying used that much more attractive. Some manufacturers also offer five- or even six-year warranties, so even some older pre-owned tractors may still have warranties remaining.


The final tip for success continues long after the machine has found its new home.  

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 can go a long way. 

A good preventative maintenance (PM) program can include:

  • Visual inspection of the machine before starting, paying specific attention to cracks, leaks and other red flags. 
  • Check and refill fluids.
  • Grease crucial points.
  • Regular check of the engine — including air and fuel filters.

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

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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