In this guide to buying used construction equipment, you will learn how to make the right decisions when buying or passing on used equipment pieces. That’s right, to be successful in the used game, you will need to pass on more equipment than you buy. Here are seven red flags that scream – Pass!

1) Unusually High or Low Hours


Photo of hours meter with high hours

The first thing you should look at is the hour meter. High hours can ultimately lead to big bucks in repairs. If you are on the fence, ask the seller to provide updated maintenance records to prove the equipment has been regularly maintained and serviced. Unusually low hours can also be a red flag as unscrupulous sellers have been known to replace the hour meter without relaying this information to the buyer. A good tip is to check the screws that hold the meter in place for scuffs and wear indicating it may have been changed.

2) Untrustworthy Dealers

WSuspicious equipment dealer in front of "like new" signhen buying used construction equipment, always make sure you are purchasing from a reputable equipment dealer or rental house. Do a background check for online reviews, customer testimonials, and Better Business Bureau reports. This due diligence can potentially save you thousands of dollars in repairs and legal fees. The last thing you want to do is get into legal trouble by purchasing stolen equipment or equipment with outstanding bank liens. Trust your seller or look elsewhere.

3) Missing or Incomplete Service Records


service records for buying used construction equipment
When purchasing used construction equipment, always ask for service records. These maintenance records can tell you a great deal about a machine’s history. A regularly serviced piece of equipment can perform at optimal levels for years to come. A machine without service records will leave you guessing. Always check that the fluids have been changed regularly and check for major repairs the equipment has undergone over the course of it’s lifetime. If you spot any red flags, it may be time to move on to the next machine.


4) Leaks and Other Obvious Visual Issues

Before making a used equipment purchase, make sure to perform a “walk around” of the machine. Check for any obvious oil or hydraulic leaks that might point to a larger issue.

Hydraulic component leaking oilAlso look for any signs that the machine has undergone additional welding since it’s manufacture as fresh welds may be hiding a more serious issue.

Hairline cracks on the frame or undercarriage may indicate that the machine has been in an accident. This is especially true for the undercarriage, which can be expensive to repair or replace.

While inspecting the machine, make sure to check all fluid levels and colors (coolant, transmission fluids, engine oil, hydraulic oil, etc.). Low fluid levels or dirty fluid may suggest that the previous owner may not have given the machine the care it needs.

5) Issues When Starting and Running the Machine 

Three colors of smoke pouring out of exhaust pipe

Always attempt to start the machine before making your final decision. If the equipment does not start after the first crank or two, it’s time to investigate further as there could be serious engine issues. It can also be something minor like a dead battery or loose wire. If the unit does start, run it cold for a few minutes or so, checking the color of the smoke exiting the exhaust system. Extremely dark black, blue, or white smoke can indicate severe engine troubles. Blue smoke can indicate that the engine is burning oil. Black smoke can indicate that the engine fuel mixture is too rich and white smoke can indicate that there is coolant leakage into one or more combustion chambers.

Trucks, boom lifts, and excavator submerged in water from flood



6) Equipment Originating from Flood Zones

In areas that have recently been flooded, you may see an increased number of construction vehicles and equipment hit the market. While these machines may look like great deals with low hours and clean exteriors, water may have made its way into the engine compartment, transmission, and electrical system. Waterlogged components are often expensive to repair and may not be easy to spot until your equipment starts to break down.
Excavator on a trailer with "for sale" sign
7) Suspicious Deals
When a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is, so don’t be afraid to walk away. Be wary of machines that are priced significantly lower than similar units on the market. Remember, not all issues are easy to spot during a brief inspection, Unscrupulous dealers have been known to unload faulty equipment to overly enthusiastic buyers.
For further questions regarding buying used construction equipment, call 1-800-DURANTE or visit us online at or our earth moving equipment division, New York Takeuchi.