The Quest for Buying a Used Backhoe

Buying the right piece of equipment is often the equivalent of digging for buried treasure, and X rarely marks the spot. It takes a meticulous sort of mind, keen on research, experience and more than a little exploration, to find a diamond in the rough. When it comes to finding a good piece of used equipment — say for instance a nice second-hand backhoe loader — the search can be even more difficult. But every cloud has a silver lining and during this ominous marketplace, finding treasure might actually be a little easier than you think.

“Because of the economic conditions that we are experiencing, there are a lot of low-hour, very slightly used machines coming through the market,” explains Paul Hendrix, equipment pricing analyst for IronPlanet (the largest online equipment auction company in the world). “With the market being pretty much depressed overall, there are some pretty good buys in used equipment.”

That’s good news for both small and large contractors who are looking for economic alternatives to investing in expensive equipment assets. Backhoe loaders in particular have become a popular used equipment category. An auction site like IronPlanet or Ritchie Bros. might have well over 100 used backhoe loaders selling on any single day. Dealer lots and rental companies are also great venues for finding pre-owned equipment deals. There are still, of course, many reasons to buy a new piece of equipment, including warranty, finance programs and tax benefits. Plus new equipment offers the contractor an opportunity to have the latest features in the industry. But if you can find a stout, low-hour used machine, the price point can be an enormous advantage to your pocketbook.

“Each used piece of equipment is unique and one of a kind,” says Bud Martin, field sales manager for TerraQuip Construction Products (the Terramite line of compact backhoes). “However, savings anywhere from 30 to 60 percent can be realized, depending on the age and condition of the equipment.”

Before you decide to buy brand new, it’s always a wise decision to research the alternatives. While finding the ideal pre-owned backhoe loader might be easier than some Indiana Jones adventure, we must remember that all that glitters is not gold. Patience and a critical eye will be your map and compass as you hunt for the best in used tractor loader backhoes (TLBs).

The Legwork

Good finds are discovered with rigorous research. First off, compact backhoe loaders are categorized by the dig depth of the backhoe — typically any dig depth less than 14 ft. Any machine with more than a 14-ft dig depth would be considered a full-size backhoe. There is also a category called sub-compacts, which are backhoes fitted onto a tractor-type chassis, usually with a dig depth of 6 to 7 ft.

Sub-compacts (made by manufacturers such as Terramite, Allmand Brothers, JCB and Kubota) are for light-duty applications — like a homeowner who occasionally needs to dig a hole for a tree, fence post or drainage ditch and then use the loader for everything else. They’re light-duty machines and are certainly not intended to be used eight hours a day on a construction jobsite. Caterpillar, John Deere, Case, New Holland, Komatsu, Terex, Volvo and JCB concentrate on larger backhoe units, from 14-ft dig depth and above. Bigger-size backhoes, with dig depths ranging from 10 to 17 ft, can also assist in landscape and residential work or lend a hand in larger construction projects such as utility work, road building and material handling. As an example, Caterpillar sells six main backhoe setups today (from the 416E to the 450E), ranging from 87 to 124 hp (diesel engines only), 14.3- to 17.2-ft dig depths and cool features such as ride control, grading systems and enclosed cabs.

While the used market will vary in types of models mentioned (as new and old are usually different) and may include older or foreign brands such as a Ford, Bobcat, Fiat, Venieri and Ingersoll Rand, finding the ideal used unit should basically include the same techniques.

“The type of work a loader backhoe will be used for and the type of terrain it will be required to work in, will largely determine what features and things a contractor will look at when making a purchase,” says Dean Siddle, vice president and senior valuation analyst of Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers, the world’s largest industrial auctioneer. “Similar to purchasing a car, there are some options that can add value to a loader backhoe. We encourage all potential bidders to thoroughly inspect the items prior to purchase.”

Basic options for backhoe loaders typically include 20- to 124-hp engines, operating weights between 3,000 to 27,000 lbs and a bucket breakout force up to 11,000 lbs. These backhoes are also available in two- and four-wheel drive with bucket and backhoe options (like extensions and specialty bucket choices) and sometimes attachment plates that often use skid steer-compatible implements, wielding augers, forks, trenchers and the like.

Compact backhoe loaders are available in a wide range of prices. These machines can cost anywhere from $12,000 to $50,000 new, depending on the size, dig depth and manufacturer. For example, a standard 10-ft backhoe loader new, the most popular size, can range from $25,000 to $35,000. When buying used, these units can be much cheaper.

“As most of the Allmand backhoes are sold into the rental market and include long-life components, it is rare that they are sold off with low hours,” says Doug Dahlgren, sales engineer at Allmand Brothers. “Even so, it would not be unusual for a four- or five-year-old Allmand TLB to bring 50 percent of its original purchase price when sold on the used market.”

The Fieldwork

Because backhoes can tackle the basic functions of most construction — digging and loading — these units are popular with smaller contractors, entrepreneurial landscapers and even homeowners.

“I would venture to guess that most used backhoes are sold to owner/operators,” says Hendrix. “They’re buying a piece of property that they’re going to use to create income, which means they tend to take it very personally and they tend to take it very seriously when they’re buying. It’s not hard to convince a buyer like that to go in and do the due diligence — study the model, study every system, study every picture to better understand what he’s buying. And then compare it with other models.”

Inspecting a used backhoe entails quite a large area. First determine the model, the year of manufacture and approximate hours if possible. Then you can break down the inspection process into a few categories to cover the basics. Without making it too difficult, you should break the items down to good, fair or poor. “Overall the machine should be in a work ready condition for proper evaluation,” says Martin. He gives us this simple breakdown.

Overall Machine Condition

  • Paint, rust and appearance
  • Frame cracks or welds (look under the machine)
  • Tire condition
  • Hydraulic hoses
  • Hydraulic controls
  • Seating
  • Seat belts
  • Steering
  • Front axle condition
  • Parking brake
  • Battery and cables
  • Lights if equipped
  • ROPS/Canopy


  • Diesel or gas
  • Starting easy or hard
  • Power to cycle the loader, backhoe
  • Smoke/no smoke
  • Hoses, belts and radiator
  • Air cleaners and filters
  • Oil level and appearance


  • Noisy or quiet
  • Power
  • Oil appearance


  • Cracks or welds
  • Cylinders and pins
  • Bucket and bucket teeth
  • Boom hinge points loose or tight
  • Boom pivot loose or tight


  • Cracks or welds
  • Cylinders and pins
  • Bucket
  • Loose or tight

“Obviously nothing takes the place of an onsite demonstration or evaluation of a machine,” notes Martin. “However auctions both live and online do offer an alternate source. There are many good auctioneers out there. They can be checked out by contacting them and asking for their references, latest results and upcoming auctions.”

Established in 1958, Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers has become one of the biggest venues for selling used equipment. In the last three years Ritchie Bros. has sold close to 3,500 loader backhoes in unreserved auctions worldwide. Of that total, 1,450 of the units sold were on average 6 to 10 years old, says Siddle.

Companies like Ritchie Bros. usually sell both used and unused equipment (overstock inventory a dealer might call new) via the unreserved auction method — all equipment is sold “as is, where as” with no minimum bids, reserve prices or warranties. Sometimes Ritchie Bros. will sell late-model or unused equipment that may still be covered by a manufacturer’s warranty.

“They also offer comprehensive refurbishment services at most of our auction sites,” says Siddle. “Staff will provide refurbishing recommendations in the consignors’ best interest to get the equipment auction ready. Cleaning, detailing, sandblasting, welding, painting and parts installation are just some of the refurbishing activities available.”

Online auction sites like IronPlanet are offering stay-at-home alternatives to purchase used equipment. Create a profile, navigate through various tabs and learn how to buy and sell. At IronPlanet, unreserved auctions happen every other Thursday (where everything sells on that day) and then it also has Owner Auctions running for one week intervals (where owners can put a reserve on equipment). For quality control purposes (since a buyer can’t inspect the backhoe themselves), IronPlanet offers its IronClad Assurance, where the company sends out its own technician for inspection.

“We are the eyes and ears of the buyer at that point,” says Hendrix. “It’s a very thorough inspection. We send a technician out and he’s completed a full inspection of the backhoe. He’s started the backhoe and checked out all of the gears. He’s checked the steering, brakes and hydraulics. He’s looked for wear and noted it and he’s looked for structural cracks or welds. Most inspections will have well over 100 pictures available for each of the various systems.”

Web servers should also check out sites like the Used Equipment Network (, which lists over 75,000 pieces of used industrial and commercial equipment for sale by used equipment dealers. Besides auctions, rental companies and dealers are really the place for used equipment. Big manufacturers like Caterpillar even offer Cat Certified Used Equipment at their dealerships, which include financing, extended service coverage, machine maintenance history, thorough inspections and the knowledge that the professionals who make these machines are rebuilding them. Because while buying at auction can be a very attractive thing, sometimes the ability to drive the backhoe before purchase gives a buyer the best reassurance.

“As with any piece of used equipment, it would be advised to operate the equipment,” says Dahlgren. “Look for wear in the working joints of the backhoe, hydraulic component condition, seals and certainly examine the physical condition of the entire machine. Service records can also be a great indication of condition. Certainly auctions are a popular source for used equipment of all types and conditions, but Allmand would typically move used equipment on its Web site or through other channels before taking it to an auction.”

Keith Gribbins is managing editor of Compact Equipment, based in Peninsula, Ohio.

Buyer Beware

Kubota Warns of Grey Market Used Equipment

When purchasing used equipment, a buyer should first and foremost check to ensure that the backhoe was specifically manufactured to meet the certification and emission standards of the United States. Although a backhoe may appear to be a standard model, for example, if it was made to operate in Japan it will be missing important features that are required of the U.S. market.

“Gray Market backhoes are not designed for sale in the United States,” says Keith Rohrbacker, Kubota product manager. “They are not ordinarily equipped with the exact type of important safety equipment such as ROPS and seatbelt, PTO shield, safety decals or the operator’s manual specific to the U.S. When in doubt, always check the model number of the equipment, and make sure that it matches that listed as a domestic product from the manufacturer.”

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