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Equipment lifespan

Brad Nelson Published on 05 February 2010
Equipment lifespan

“My friend, this machine will pay for itself,” was the pitch from the salesman.

“Send it on over after it makes the last payment,” was the reply from the farmer.

Do you need new?
The question asked was, “What kind of a pick-up should I get to replace my old one?” The answer given was, “A new one.” The question of new versus used is moot if you cannot afford to replace equipment.

One of the mistakes I have seen over the years is spending money made from a bumper crop or a higher-than-normal price year for down payments.

Anyone in business long enough to see stability in the “income” side of a budget will be able to plan ahead as to what kind of debt load the operation will tolerate. In most farming activities neither the income nor the expenses are stable.

Benefits of new would be a warranty, the hope of not needing the warranty, and of course the shiny new paint and new-car smell inside the cab.

New equipment comes without any bad habits or maintenance lapses that could leave you high and dry in the middle of harvest. You should expect excellent dealer service since the dealer would love to sell a similar machine to your neighbors.

This won’t happen if your neighbors are aware that there were issues that the dealer could not or would not correct right away. It’s fair to expect something new to work on arrival, and to work well for a long time.

Just keep in mind that the parts of new equipment that run in dust and dirt will wear out and need to be replaced. New equipment needs to be maintained and lubricated as specified by the manufacturer from the get-go. Most equipment owner’s manuals have a chart and listing of all the points for lubrication.

Contraindications for new would of course start with the price. After you jump that hurdle, read the owner’s manual and maintenance guide before signing the papers. You could find yourself in a new generation of equipment that calls for fuel, motor oil and other fluids that you have no inventory of or experience using.

For years I had used 15W-40 oil in all my cars, trucks, and pick-ups. It was a good multi-vehicle oil, which I used for both gasoline and diesel equipment. The only side effect this had was that in 30,000 to 50,000 miles, the hydraulic valve lifters would start to clatter.

The cure was to add a quart of ATF (automatic transmission fluid) to the crankcase at the next oil change. That would cure the problem for another few thousand miles.

Then when I got a 1992 Ford Crown Vic, I noticed that the specified oil was 5W-30. I dutifully used the prescribed oil and was glad I did when I happened to notice that in the newer generation of Ford engines (4.6 liter, 5.4 liter, etc.), the clearances between the rod and main bearings and the crankshaft were a tenth of what they had been with the earlier generation of Ford engines (302ci, 351ci, 460ci, etc.).

With the 2006 model year, and probably earlier, the oil spec had changed to 5W-20. I now need to have on hand four different motor oils just for personal vehicles.

Most new equipment comes with at least part of the machinery monitored or controlled by computer. If you are making the jump from full mechanical to computer-controlled, do something so you at least know what the tech is talking about when the computer is cussed or discussed.

Another red flag for new equipment is to make sure that you are not the guinea pig for something untested. Years back Detroit Diesel came out with the “350 Detroit” engine, which was the old standby “318” engine plus a turbocharger. There were teething pains with this engine, and not just a few truckers lost it all due to massive downtime while the manufacturer tried to make the new engines run with a modicum of dependability.

Can you afford used?
Major questions about used equipment center on the care given it by the previous owner(s). A couple of rules of thumb are to stick with things that are so simple that any schoolboy could look at it and tell if it is in good working order, and/or, to stick with things you understand.

So if you have used a specific model of baler for years and feel you know all its secrets and potential expensive hidden breakage issues, and you find one you can buy for a bargain, go for it. Something new to your area in either design or brand name requires much more “homework.”

I once had a Canadian-manufactured swather. I finally gave up on it when I found that the knife, guards, and in fact the whole header were identical to those used on dry-land grain combines. I was trying to cut heavy stands of irrigated alfalfa and had more down-time than running time. If you are venturing into a new area, take someone with you who has experience in what you are planning to do. Someone you trust.

The nature of your operation will dictate what you can or cannot afford in the way of equipment. If your farming plan leaves no time for breakdowns at harvest time, then your machinery must be 100 percent reliable.

If you have the capability to maintain, repair and upgrade in your own farm shop, you have the option of adopting some used machinery and of keeping what you bought new longer than normal. If you have a shop foreman who is a magician and the staff to back him up, you can make equipment last a very long time.

But everything eventually wears out. If, on the other hand, you are a custom operator and range far from your home shop, there may be a need for newer machinery. Case in point is the trucking industry. Smaller operators who run “coast to coast” are prone to trade in equipment about the time the warranty expires.

Regional carriers who are hardly ever more than a couple of hundred miles from home are prone to keep equipment longer, since the tow bill to bring a broken truck 100 miles to the home shop is bearable – while a truck broken 2,000 miles from home is not a headache, it’s a nightmare.

A few years back I observed that three or four smaller gravel trucking companies had joined forces to get the haul on a road rebuilding project.

One of the trucks was brand new, and another had a million and a half miles on it. To place these two trucks side-by-side you could not tell which one was the new truck. If you have the time and expertise to maintain forage-growing equipment to that standard, go for it. When downtime and repairs approach what the payment on new (or newer) machinery would be, then it’s time to trade.

Why did the previous owner part with this machine? If you can’t get a straight answer on this one, then look for signs of decent maintenance.

Fluid levels should be correct. Obvious signs of “just run it like that” rather than fixing little things are a big red flag. If you are dealing with a dealership then re-furbished equipment should come with some warranty. The abilities and reputation of the dealership here become a major factor in any purchase decision.

After considering all the pros and cons, and considering the finances involved, note that one of the secrets of happiness is the ability to be content with what you can afford. FG

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