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Buying your first tractor: The People You Buy From
This article applies mostly to the first time buyer of the working tractor but if you have purchased many tractors, you may find yourself reminiscing about a few of your own experiences. If you are a first-time buyer, chances are that you are likely to take the word of the seller on things. This is where the problems start...
You have reviewed your implement needs and determined the size of machine that will fit the bill and even made a list of the most desirable models. You checked on the availability of a 3-point hitch for the machines on the list and advertised in your local classified paper with something like the following:
The calls start pouring in with everything from a fellow who restores Fords and has a beauty for $4500 to a person that says "I think it's a AC CA" (in reality it's a Simplicity lawn tractor). You are going to have to wade through this mine field of the wrong machines to find those that really are contenders. Take your time and go look at the ones that sound like they are close in price and condition but remember that no matter what was said on the phone, reality may throw you some curves. Your dealings may just uncover some of the following:
You will find the first category is the norm. Most people who respond to your advertisement will be cleaning out the barn or garage and just want to get rid of Uncle Bob's old tractor. This can be a good source for machines (and frequently the lowest prices) but remember that most folks in this category have machines that may have sat for years or they had purchased the machine recently, couldn't get it running and want to cut their losses. Since these people have no knowledge of their tractor, they can be trusted (since you won't be relying on much that they say). Unfortunately this means you must be the expert and do your own evaluation (In another article we cover some of the technical evaluation criteria for previewing).
The second category is more difficult to deal with. I have only had a few situations like this and must say that most of my dealings with tractor people have been positive experiences. One of the bad ones was a knowledgeable tractor dealer that advertised a relatively desirable machine in an Ag paper. I drove 300 miles with my truck and trailer to find that it was the right brand but a completely different and worthless model. Another instance, I previewed a "restored" AC B tractor. After a 80 mile trip I was confronted with a frozen engine ("I took off the pan, all the parts are new, it just needs to be reassembled correctly"), 5 year old brush paint over rust, cheap decals half torn off, and a completely disconnected electrical system ("It just needs to be hooked back up"). The last instance of this was a AC D-17 that "runs but just needs a valve job". When I looked at the machine, there were 8 foot tall blackberries (some branches growing through the rot in one fender). It was apparent that this machine had sat for many years. Given his asking price I didn't bother to check if it was frozen or not. I just left. In each case, these people seemed to want "something for nothing". They are easy enough to spot if you are on your guard. I would love to say "stay away from this type of purchase" but in some cases, you can find a machine that may not be what you expected from a person you'd rather not deal with... but you can't pass it up. I bought the AC B mentioned above because I had a spare good engine and after discussing the price, I had to have it.
The best situation for buying a working tractor is either to purchase one that is currently being used (but the owner needs to upgrade) or from a reputable dealer. The first category is usually someone just like you who needs a tractor on a day to day basis. These dealings are usually enjoyable and can even spark a long term relationship that goes beyond the buyer/seller aspect. This type of individual will probably even let you try the machine out with an implement and tell you all those things they would fix if they were keeping the machine.
Buying from dealers can also be positive but even at a dealer you should be armed with your evaluation criteria rather than depending on "the warranty". Even if your state has implied warranties, hauling a tractor back for even free repairs will cost you both in transportation and in lost time. Also remember that the dealer is honestly (most of the time) trying to make a profit and it is improbable to find both the cheapest price and a perfect machine.
While some of the above experiences may sound a bit negative, to be honest the stories I have had to add to a session around the coffee table have never stopped being a source of enjoyment and occasionally a good laugh on myself!
Now.. there was the time we went to buy this horse....