Tips for Buying a Used or Previously Owned Skid Steer

Steering the Used Market

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 a nice second-hand skid steer loader, for instance — the search can be even more difficult. But every cloud has a silver lining and in today’s volatile economy, finding treasure might actually be a little easier than you think.

Terex makes it easy for customers to shop for and purchase used equipment with,” says GreggWarfel, district sales manager with Terex Construction Americas. “This online resource allows construction contractors to access spec information, photos and MSRPs on used construction, roadbuilding and aerial work platform equipment for sale through Terex. We know that customers today are making equipment decisions differently because of the economy. Savvy contractors know that buying used equipment can be a smart way to reduce investment cost and increase profit margins. To make it simple for our customers to find the equipment they are looking for, Terex has listed all available used equipment inventory, allowing customers to shop 24 hours a day, seven days a week for what they need.”

Good news: There are many outlets to find used equipment and thus used skid steers — manufacturer-certified sites, live and online auctions, rental houses and sites like — but it’ll take more than perusing a few listings and finding some financing. To determine the right time to invest in new or used equipment, readers will need to do a simple acquisition cost vs. utilization rate analysis. Some questions to consider are: Will this piece of equipment allow you to do more specialized jobs? Will it allow you to do your current jobs more quickly and efficiently? Will having this piece of equipment allow you to do jobs that your competitors are not capable of? All of these questions will help determine if used is a better option than new.

It’s also important to consider both the brand and dealer selling the used machine. “A used machine will require service and parts at some time in the future,” says Kevin Coleman, senior marketing engineer for Caterpillar.  “When it comes to servicing the machine, you want to know that there will be quick parts availability and the dealer is qualified to service the machine. Many dealers selling their own brand of used equipment [i.e. Cat dealers selling used Cat] will offer certified used programs for machines that meet certain specifications … very often these machines will include detailed inspections, a detailed maintenance history and a limited warranty.”

There are still, of course, many reasons to buy a new skid steer, including warranty, finance programs and tax benefits. Plus new equipment offers the contractor an opportunity to have the latest features in the industry (backup cameras and deluxe instrument panels, for instance). But if you can find a stout, low-hour used skid steer, the price point can be an enormous advantage to your pocketbook — especially considering the price and maintenance of Tier 4 Final engines. Tier 4 Final has diesel designers from Kubota to Perkins creating smarter, more complex and cleaner-burning engines for skid steers, but these engines will come at a significant price increase (up to 30 percent!) and will include new technologies, maintenance and (for bigger loaders) even extra fluids like diesel exhaust fluid (DEF).

Today, the most popular size of skid steer loaders continues to be the 1,750- to 2,000-lb rated operating capacity units and vertical-lift models, so expect to see a lot of those on used sites and resell lots. These units are ideal for rental applications, and they are light enough to be trailered with other equipment. In 2016, there are (at least) 14 major brands of skid steers being sold new in North America — Bobcat, Case, Cat, Gehl, JCB, John Deere, Kubota, Mustang, New Holland, Takeuchi, Terex, Volvo, Wacker Neuson and Yanmar — but the used market always has some interesting old brands for fans (Thomas or Hitachi anyone?). Big, used equipment auctions from the likes of Ritchie Bros. are a great place to find a variety of products, interesting trends and what models and brands are selling.

“Skid steer loaders are easy to find at Ritchie Bros. auctions around the world — all sizes and all brands,” said Terry Dolan, president (USA and Latin America) for Ritchie Bros. “We mostly sell used equipment, but you will find unused models in our auctions too. In the past two years, we have sold approximately 9,100 skid steers. Around 60 percent of these are wheeled models, and the other 40 percent have tracks. Our top brands sold by quantity include Bobcat, Caterpillar, John Deere, Case and Volvo, and the top models sold by quantity are the Bobcat S175, T190, S185, S250 and Volvo MCT125.”

cat used equipment track loader rental lot

Today, the most popular size of skid steer loaders continues to be the 1,750- to 2,000-lb rated operating capacity units and vertical-lift models.

The Inspection

To reduce the risk associated with purchasing a piece of used equipment, it is important to do an inspection of the machine before making a purchase. The degree of the inspection largely depends upon the age of the skid steer and the reputation of the seller. For newer machines, a routine/basic inspection should be sufficient, including: the condition of tires, belts and hoses, looking for leaks, signs of damage or unusual wear and tear. For older skid steers with higher hours, oil and hydraulic fluid samples should be taken to check for any contaminants or system problems. The thoroughness of the inspection should also be adjusted based on the weather and geographical conditions the machine has been exposed to. The more severe the environment, the more thorough the inspection needs to be.

“The major components that will require the most attention are the engine, transmission, hydraulic pump, hydraulic cylinders and attachment pins/bushings,” explains Warfel. “Maintenance and service records can tell a contractor a lot about the history of a machine, but at some point equipment may simply be too old to run safely and efficiently. With older machines, buyers should find out if the manufacturer even supports that particular model anymore. It might end up costing an owner more to replace parts if the manufacturer no longer supports it, not to mention the additional time it’ll take to hunt down the needed parts.”

Scrapes and scuffs, chipping paint and rust are other red flags to look out for. The tell-tail signs of wear on a pre-owned piece of equipment would be indicated by the condition of the bucket and frame pin/bushing, as well checking the condition of the tires, tire pressure and tightness of the wheel nuts. The steering assembly, the brake functions and the function of all the safety devices should also be investigated. Up-to-date maintenance records will give a good indication of the condition of the equipment. Larger contractors and auction houses should have service records, but if these records are unavailable — which may be the case when purchasing from a smaller distributor — the internet is a great resource for owner’s manuals and consumer reports.

“Check that all fluids levels are at recommended levels and that proper maintenance intervals have been followed by the operation and maintenance manual,” says Coleman. “Low fluid levels, leaks, un-greased pins and dirty air filters may indicate the machine has an issue or has not been properly maintained over its life.”

Obviously, nothing takes the place of an onsite demonstration or evaluation of a machine, and be sure to ask the seller lots of questions. If the owner can’t answer basic questions about the machine history, it might be a good idea to continue shopping. Also, try taking the product serial number into a local distributor to have them verify update and recall information on the skid steer.

Here’s a quick inspection checklist for overall skid steer 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


  • •    Smoke/no smoke
  • •    Hoses, belts and radiator
  • •    Air cleaners and filters
  • •    Oil level and appearance


  • •    Noisy or quiet
  • •    Power
  • •    Oil appearance

Loader Arms

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

Buying at Auction

The internet has certainly changed the used equipment market, and it’s definitely changed the auction industry. A person in Taiwan can buy a skid steer in Cleveland with a click of a button. As such, the emergence of online bidding has greatly increased the number and regional diversity of bidders at equipment auctions and, generally, more competition equals better prices.

“We have seen a constant uptick in online participation in our auctions ever since we introduced our online bidding service in 2002,” says Dolan. “In 2015 we sold U.S. $1.9 billion of equipment online, approximately 45 percent of total sales. While many people appreciate the convenience of buying online, the internet has not replaced the onsite auction experience. More than half our sales are generated by people bidding in person at our auction sites. And many online buyers still visit the site, or send someone in their place, to inspect the items they are interested in before bidding online — especially when they’re buying high-value items.”

All equipment at Ritchie Bros. auctions are sold as is, where is. The website features high-resolution photos and details for the equipment being sold. Interested buyers are also welcome to visit the auction site and inspect and test the item themselves and make the decision on what each item is worth. We definitely suggest you research some historical pricing before bidding. Find out what similar items have sold for in the past, so you know the price range of the piece you’re interested in. Determine how much you are willing to pay before you bid. You might want to pre-arrange financing too.

auction skid steer track loader

If you’ve never purchased equipment at an auction, take your time. Do your homework before the auction, decide how you are going to bid, in person or online and then give yourself plenty of time on auction day. 

“Once you know a price range, make sure you have enough funds to cover your purchase and shipping,” says Dolan. “Rather than using your company’s working capital, consider financing your auction purchase. Save your cash to run your business and pay for your equipment in low monthly installments. In many cases, you can submit a pre-approval application before you bid. We offer up to 100 percent financing through Ritchie Bros. Financial Services, with fast pre-approvals and no obligations.”

Some quick questions: Where is the equipment going once you’ve purchased it? Out-of-state? Out of the country? Who is transporting it? If you’re exporting the equipment, talk to a customs broker before you bid. If you need transportation, get estimates before you buy. Many auction companies provide logistics assistance on-site. Plan ahead, do your research, inspect the skid steers you want to bid on and one more thing:

“If you’ve never purchased equipment at an auction, take your time,” suggests Dolan. “Do your homework before the auction, decide how you are going to bid, in person or online and then give yourself plenty of time on auction day. Make sure you know how to bid. Ask the staff for assistance. Follow the auction to get comfortable with the process before you bid. And remember, you can never be too early for an auction, only too late! Check the schedule and make sure you arrive in time.”

Keith Gribbins is associate publisher of Compact Equipment.


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  • I do like that you emphasize the importance of getting a proper inspection before buying a used skid steer. After all, skid steers can have many uses depending on the attachments, so it is probably going to see a lot of work. Because of that though you have to make sure that the skid steer is in top condition before you purchase it.

  • November 15, 2017 05:38:50

    Thank you for providing this valuable information about buying used heavy equipment and machinery. I will keep in mind these things while buying a used skid steer.

  • May 8, 2017 12:00:52

    Very well written. I got a lot of good information here.

  • May 8, 2017 11:59:43

    This was very helpful to me. I commend the author. Very clear and concise information. Nice.