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Ford 9N with finish mower


How to Buy a VERY Used Tractor

by Neil Shelton

If you're shopping for a tractor, if you've never owned a tractor before, and if you're reading the pages of, then I'm going to assume that you're in the market of a pretty cheap tractor; a VERY used tractor. 

This is not such a bad position to be in, because unlike when you're looking to purchase a car, the mere fact that the tractor you buy may be older than you are doesn't automatically mean that you'll wind up with either a museum piece or a pile of junk. 

Tractors are tools.  They're built like tools, and the older they are, the more so.  In this age when you have to buy a whole box of screws at your hardware store, just to get the one you want, you can still buy just the tractor parts that you need rather than a whole assembly or worse yet, the dreaded rebuild kit.  Not only that, but in my state, you don't even have to pay sales tax on tractor parts.

In fact, you'll find that as often as not, quite a few of your tractor repair parts might even be considered cheap.  After all, they've been making head-bolts for your 9N for the last 58 years.  If you harbor a few vague notions about how the internal combustion engine works, you can probably fix your tractor yourself with simple hand tools. 

Try that with a new car.

Probably the preeminent cheap-and-easy-to-repair older tractor is the Ford 9N-2N-8N series (see top of the page photo) but you can also still find parts readily available for other older-model domestic makes such as Case, International-Harvester, Massey-Ferguson, John Deere, Oliver and Allis-Chalmers, although you'll probably be dealing with differently-named companies.  (John Deere is the only one of those mentioned doing business under the same name.)

So relax, you don't have to be a mechanical engineer to buy a used tractor, you just need to know what you want to do with your new-old machine and look for a few particular things.

When it comes to older tractors, the most important thing to look for is a hydraulic system, otherwise known as a three-point hitch.  This consists of three arms extending from the back of the tractor which are hydraulically operated to lift and hold in place whatever attachments you want to use.  In the center of this linkage is a power-take-off or PTO, which is a rotating shaft that connects to and drives such attachments as a mower or tiller.

The first three-point hitch was introduced on the Ford 9N in 1939, so you'll find plenty of old tractors so equipped to choose from.  While there are still tractors sold that don't have hydraulics, notably the older Farmalls and John Deeres, these are mostly used as glorified lawn mowers.  You get so much more functionality with the three-point hitch system that you really shouldn't consider anything that doesn't have one.

The next thing to assess when buying an older tractor is the age of the machine.  This isn't as easy to determine as one might suppose.  First of all, most tractors look pretty much the same from one year to another and have only seen distinct model changes every decade or so, if that often.  The best way to determine the exact age in years is to find the serial number of the tractor you're interested in, and look it up on the internet.  You'll find no shortage of web sites listing dates of manufacture by serial number for all the major makes, but a good place to start is the Yesterday's Tractors Registry online.

Looking up the year of manufacture may not be convenient or practical if you've just found a tractor that otherwise looks very interesting at a dealer or auction, so you may want to cross your fingers and hope that the current owner has the correct information. 

Besides the date of manufacture gives you an indication as to what technology the tractor in question has, but it doesn't tell you much about the amount of use it's seen in it's lifetime.  That's why it's nice if the machine you're looking at has a working tachometer with an hour-meter.  An hour meter is also pretty handy to have when calculating your service intervals, but the chances are the machine in question won't have one, or if it does, that it won't be working.  So you'll need to make an educated guess.

A good way to do this is to examine the metal foot pedals, which are likely to have originally had a tread, grid or some sort of design that will now be showing wear.  If these are inconclusive then a more important criteria would be the overall condition of the machine.  Oil leaks and lots of play in the steering and pedal travel are not good signs. 

Of course you also need to remember that quite possibly someone has gone to some trouble to make the tractor appear newer than it is with a paint job.  That in itself is no bad thing since it amounts to protecting your soon-to-be investment, but if the tractor you're looking at has shiny new paint, you should  try to imagine what it looked like before.  Also, while professionals will tell you that a re-paint can actually be harder and more durable than the original, don't count on it.  That shine may be chipping or peeling within a year, so while a new paint job has its benefits, once it's been applied, it's hard to tell how long it will last..

When you're buying a pretty low-priced tractor, don't forget that replacing a set of tires may cost you $400 to $800, so look at the tires carefully.  Just because they have a lot of tread doesn't mean that they'll last a long time if they are severely weather-cracked, or if they have deep cuts.  In fact, it's not a bad idea to assume that you'll be wanting a new set of tires early on and bear that in mind when setting your budget.

Next, you want to start up the engine.  I'm assuming that you wouldn't be reading this if you were an expert at engine diagnosis, and I'm not one either,  but I can tell you some basic things to watch for that don't take a lot of knowledge. 

  Continued on page 2   >


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