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    Tips and Advice For Buying A Used Tractor

    By Linda Williams

    Photography by Mark Coffey

    Sure, you can kick the tires, but if you're planning to buy a used tractor this spring, you'd better look a little harder and a lot closer.

    "Always remember," says David Laughlin, of Laughlin Farm Equipment in Butler, Mo., "it's buyer beware and once you buy it, it's yours."

    They don't come cheap. Used-tractor buyers trying to avoid paying for new machinery (which starts off in the neighborhood of new-car prices and goes steadily up) still can expect to pay thousands of dollars, depending on what they get.

    Laughlin and his father, Jim, have been in the tractor and machinery rebuilding business for 10 years, so they're quite familiar with the toll that years of wear and tear can have on a tractor.

    First, decide for what uses you want the tractor, and that will help you figure what size best fits your needs, David Laughlin advises. If you plan to use your tractor for hauling and general maintenance around your property, a smaller model would suffice, but if you need it for general farming - plowing, disking, mowing, etc. - then search for a larger model, he says.

    When you find a tractor for sale, your first inclination might be to check the hour meter on the tachometer, which marks the hours and tenths of hours that the engine runs at an average RPM.

    But, like the odometer on a used car (which registers miles driven), the hour meter can be changed, so don't put a lot of stock in that if you're unfamiliar with the owner, Laughlin says.

    However, if you know for certain that the hour meter is a true reading, then figure that a reading of 2,000 to 2,500 is well broken in, while a reading of 35,000 to 45,000 hours is considered high mileage on a tractor, he says.

    When you're looking over the tractor, be aware of wear and tear that could turn into large repair bills before summer's out.

    He suggests these tips:

    • Overall appearance counts. Is it clean and does it look cared for? But look a little closer and make sure it hasn't been spot-painted to cover up rust. Ask questions such as, where was it kept? A tractor that has been kept in a shed or garage is always going to be in better shape than one constantly exposed to harsh weather conditions.
    • Check for signs of leaks. Any kind of leak - gas, oil or water - is a sign of potentially serious problems.
    • Check wiring. If it's frayed or damaged, it will need to be replaced.
    • How do the tires look? Are they cracked and worn or in relatively good shape?
    • Is the steering tight or is it loose and floppy? Linkage to the steering column should be tight.
    • Drive it to make sure the clutch, brakes, hydraulict lift, and power take- off work properly.
    • How does it handle? Is it comfortable to you? Getting on and off the tractor should not be difficult. Is the design of the tractor safe? Would it tip over easily?

    "You have to be comfortable with your tractor," Laughlin says.

    Make a wise investment, he says, and you'll make it only once.