Tips For Buying A Used Self-Propelled Forage Harvester – for Sep. 6, 2010

Farmers may be used to walking onto a dealer’s lot and checking out a used pickup, tractor or combine on their own. In those cases, checking a few key components and watching it run or taking a test drive provides a pretty good indication of a machine’s general condition, but that approach won’t work for self-propelled (SP) forage harvesters.

Sid Patterson, owner and manager of Hepson Equipment Ltd., a Claas dealer at Brandon, Man., says that a simple test drive isn’t enough for these types of machines. Forage harvesters have several internal components that are subjected to a high degree of wear during operation, and many farmers are unfamiliar with this type of equipment. What’s more, most of these harvesters were purchased new by custom or large-scale operators, so they’ve covered a lot of acres in a relatively short time.

The downside of that is farmers buying a used machine could be stuck with a very expensive bill to bring one up to working condition. “You can spend $50,000 (on repairs) pretty quickly,” says Patterson.


So how do you avoid that pitfall when buying a used SP forage harvester? Patterson believes buying from a reputable dealer who specializes in that type of equipment is the only way to guarantee you won’t get stuck with a lemon. A good dealer will have put the machine into the shop and had a mechanic do a complete internal inspection to evaluate it.

“You have to take it apart and look,” says Patterson. Robert Gilbraith, a custom operator from St. Claude, Man., with a lot of experience using harvesters, agrees. “There’s no other way (to evaluate it),” he says.

Without a thorough internal inspection, you won’t know what you’re getting. Patterson admits even he has had bad experiences taking in used models that way. He often imports harvesters from the U. S. for his dealership and in some cases has had to rely on a seller’s declaration and only an external inspection. That hasn’t always worked well. “I’ve had a few disappointments,” he says.

But because Patterson deals with regular suppliers in the U. S. that hope to keep him coming back for more machines, he can recover excessive repair costs found when his dealership technicians take the machine apart for an overhaul before reselling it. “I can go back, but a customer buying only one can’t do that,” he says.

As the horsepower of these machines increases, the life of consumable components decreases. “With bigger capacity, some wear parts will wear out faster,” says Matt Jaymes, a senior product specialist for Claas hay and forage products. That makes a complete inspection before buying even more important.


Jaymes says components in harvesters wear much faster when the machines are used in some areas of North America compared to others. He points to California as an example. The sandy soils there are the cause. Inevitably, sand particles work their way through the machine with the crop and act as an abrasive, increasing wear. Parts that last months in some regions last only weeks there.

And that, Patterson explains, is one of the pitfalls difficult to avoid when looking south of the border for used machines. But even if the machine isn’t currently in a region notorious for heavy wear, that doesn’t mean it didn’t originate in one. Patterson says he’s found machines for sale in Minnesota that originated in California, Texas and other parts of the southern U. S.

He sums things up by suggesting finding a dealer that can supply a used, fully inspected machine that is backed by a guarantee along with after-sales service is key. Gilbraith adds thinking about long-term needs has been the key to keeping his harvesters in the field and not in the workshop. He, too, thinks the best way to do that is to begin by shopping for a good dealer.


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About the author


Scott Garvey

Scott Garvey is a freelance writer and video producer. He is also the former machinery editor at Grainews.



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