Repair costs can climb pretty quickly on a worn-out combine. So if you’re shopping for a used machine, here’s how to give your potential new harvest mate a thorough inspection before signing the cheque.
As with any vehicle, a combine’s overall appearance can be a good indicator of its mechanical condition. Neat and tidy combines without an endless number of dents and scratches are likely to be in better mechanical condition than something that looks like a hammered up jalopy.
Mike Bevans, project manager with the Alberta Ag Tech Centre in Lethbridge, suggests you check the engine (on a self-propelled model) the same way you would when looking at a used tractor. Start it yourself. Let it run. Look for good clean exhaust. Look for any signs of leakage around the engine. (For a full explanation of these points, see my article on how to buy a used tractor in the December issue of Grainews.)
Then pay attention to areas that are likely to have damage from careless operation. Check the auger on the header table for dents that may have been caused by picking up stones or
stumps. If they made it that far, there is a good chance they went up into the feeder house.
And if you’re looking at a straight-cut header, check out the cutter bar. Replacing knives and guards isn’t a major problem, but if a lot of work is required to bring the cutter bar up to standard, the costs can add up.
While you’re still at the front of the machine, look at the bars on the feeder house chain. Are they bent or damaged? What is the chain’s overall condition? Replacing it involves some effort. Remove the access covers and have a good look at the rub bars on the cylinder (or rotor) as well as the concaves. These are normal wear items, and high-hour machines will likely need attention here. If there is a lot of wear, factor the cost of replacing them into how much you want to spend on the combine.
Some brands of combines use different concaves for different crop types. Ensure the combine you’re considering is ready to harvest the kind of crops you grow. If not, add in another expense for the conversion.
Give all the belts a close inspection for cracks on their inner radius and edges. Here, too, belt replacement isn’t usually a major problem and is inevitable as they age, but knowing how many need replacement soon will give you an idea of short-term maintenance costs. And some belts can be very difficult to replace, particularly larger ones on primary drive systems.
Have a look in the back at the sieves and straw walkers. Look for bent teeth or other damage. Open up the clean-out covers on elevators and check for wear and damage on the tinwork at these points. You’ll need to do some patchwork on holes to avoid loosing grain unnecessarily, especially if you grow canola and other small-kernel crops.
After a good look over it, start the combine again and engage the threshing drive. Throttle it up and see if there are any excessive vibrations at operating speed. Then walk around the combine as it runs and listen for unusual noises. The sieves — and straw walkers on conventional models — move back and forth, and if they have significant damage or require repair, they will likely make a banging noise. This noise will be relatively easy to hear. A bent or damaged unloading auger will also be noisy during operation. Likewise, dry bearings may whine. Engage the header and see if the electric clutch functions properly.
If all this turns up anything, give the suspect areas a closer second inspection after shutting down the machine. Look for signs of excessive wear. This is a critical step in evaluating a combine. Some components can look OK when the machine isn’t running, but reveal their flaws during operation.
Conside rA $600 dealer inspection
Generally speaking, the newer the combine the more complex it is. That means inspecting a late-model machine requires a lot more than tire kicking to honestly evaluate it. Most long-time farmers are pretty familiar with a combine’s mechanical design, but if you’re not, consider having a dealer perform an off-season inspection on the combine before you write the cheque, especially on a private sale.
That will likely cost around $600, but it could be money well spent if it turns up a major problem. Jim Archer, a service manager at one of the Mazer New Holland dealerships, put it this way: you get a trained and experienced technician looking at all the major components and providing a list of required or recommended repairs. The shop then prices the cost of those repairs for you, which means you’re often getting more hours of labour than you pay for, particularly for the effort of pricing out all the recommended repairs.
Of course there is no guarantee they’ll find everything, but you may be able to use the recommendations to negotiate a lower purchase price to cover the cost of any problems that are turned up. At least you can be a little more confident with your buying decision, if nothing else.
Make sure you do your homework when it comes to asking prices. Check out all the advertisements you can find that offer similar models for sale. And Ritchie Bros Auction service offers an online sale-price listing of their sales results that anyone can access at But remember this when considering those numbers: You won’t be able to get the full particulars on every machine to see exactly what kind of condition it was in. This greatly affects price.
Give yourself enough time
Treat your search for used combines the same way you would for