“Buying a used aerial lift is like buying a used car.”
That’s how several of the sources for this article described the buying experience. The big difference is that you’re actually buying two used pieces of machinery – the chassis and the lift.
However, they all agree that with some due diligence, a buyer should be able to achieve the desired results, whether it’s an economical initial entry into the lift market or to expand an existing fleet.
When considering buying a used car, you want to make sure it works correctly, has a solid set of records, is safe and can do everything you have been told it can do. The same considerations can and should be applied to the purchase of a used piece of aerial equipment.
Slade Screven is sales manager with Altec NUECO, a subsidiary of Altec Industries specializing in used bucket trucks, digger derricks, crane trucks, telecom equipment and parts for all these vehicles. Screven says the best way to begin inspecting your potential purchase is simply to get in the driver’s seat and look around.
“What you’re looking for are signs of wear and tear – broken controls, engine or system warning lights and extreme wear on gas and brake pedals,” Screven says.
A red flag would be anything that appears to be out of place. Pedals, handles and mismatched interiors can tell a lot about the equipment.
“Make sure the wheels are chocked, crank up the engine in neutral and listen to the engine. Set the parking brake and put the truck into drive, then reverse to listen for a thump or shift delay and to see how the transmission reacts. Look for warning lights that may not come on initially,” he says.
“Next, engage the PTO, but again, not before making sure the wheels are chocked,” he warns. “Follow the truck and lift manufacturer’s guidelines. All trucks and equipment should have an operator’s manual on both. If they are not with the unit, ask the seller where the instructions are. One should always refer to manufacturer’s guidelines and not operate without the manufacturer’s instruction manual present.”
Testing the equipment’s lift is one of the most important things you can inspect, Screven says, adding that you should make sure your surroundings are safe before you check out the equipment. He strongly advises that when checking the lift, the out-riggers are set. When all safety conditions are met, the lift is ready to be tested.
“Work the unit from the lower controls – not in the bucket – when you’re checking it out. Run a complete lift cycle as if you were doing a pre-flight checklist,” Screven says.
Screven advises that the next step is to do a good walk-around of all components, paying special attention to the chassis and boom. “Look for signs of leaks and check for rust by looking at welds on the steel,” he says.
Screven also says to check for any missing or broken parts. “Be sure to look for inconsistencies, make sure placards and decals are in place and check for safety devices,” Screven says.
In concluding the walk-around , Screven says to spend a few moments checking the paint and fiberglass for repairs and paint and cracks. “Look for loose, broken or rusted nuts and bolts, retaining wires and safety ties. Check to see that all fasteners are secure, as referenced in the operating-manual inspection list,” Screven states.
Screven also recommends checking any available truck and lift maintenance logs. “It’s important to make sure all proper services have been maintained and that all required inspections are up to date. As a seller, wouldn’t you want to give the machine to the next person in operable condition? It needs to be ready to work,” Screven says.
“Used equipment is a good way to go for people who may not have the capital to buy new. It’s a way to get started in the business or in a new part of the business, or to augment the fleet as business expands,” says John Dean, inside sales rep for Custom Truck One Source, specializing in used equipment for the company’s forestry sector. “We work with all types and brands,” he says.
“I strongly believe it’s wise to purchase used lifts from an established dealer who has the ability to inspect and certify the lift and chassis,” he notes, “versus directly from an owner who likely does not.”
Dealers, he maintains, generally ensure that annual inspections are up to date. “An annual inspection, to include certification, will cover dielectric properties (if the equipment is so rated), cracks and leaks to the lift mechanism and the bucket,” Dean says, noting that full inspections can run $2,000 to $4,000, assuming no repairs are needed. Typically, “With that comes a one-year warranty on parts and labor and lifetime on the structure. The most recent certification is attached to the inspection plate. We will sell equipment as is, but that is rare,” he adds.
When looking at a piece of used equipment, such as a truck-mounted aerial lift, Dean advises that a potential buyer should ask who owned it previously, whether the rig changed hands more than once and for documentation on prior repairs, maintenance, recalls and accidents.
Regarding the importance of a first-hand visual inspection, “A lot of buyers are concerned with aesthetics. No customer wants to see a piece of garbage working in front of their house,” Dean observes. “If the equipment does not look nice, you don’t look professional. There is a promotional, marketing aspect to good, clean equipment.
“One of the biggest issues I see now with used equipment is related to the new emission standards,” he states. “So a buyer would want to look at the reliability of the truck’s power train, especially in light of the new Tier IV Final diesel-engine requirements.” Part of that, he reports, is because some owners do not keep up with maintenance and some brands simply do not have the lifespan of older technologies, although he says that is less so with the major diesel-engine makers. For example, Dean points to Cummins Ford and Detroit Diesel as having good reputations in forestry use.
Dean advises that the truck-lift configuration also is an important consideration and should be factored in based on the type of work your tree care business does and whether the equipment is new or used. “A flat-deck, rear-mounted lift is in high demand because of its maneuverability,” he points out. “The shorter wheelbase (versus a chip-dump model, where the lift is mounted behind the cab) means you can back up to get closer to the work. With a forestry truck with the bucket mounted behind the cab, the lift must reach over the front of the truck or over the back and lose six to 10 feet of reach just reaching over the truck. The drawback with a rear-mount is losing the ability to pull a chipper with that unit.”
“Not everyone can drop $150,000 on a new lift truck,” maintains Mike Miller, general manager for Utility Truck Trader, LLC, a division of Versalift. To that end, he says, “I’m not looking to offer a used 2018 model for $118,000. Rather, it would be a 2010 to 2014 model, depending on mileage and condition, that would retail in the $60,000 to $70,000 range.” He offers that many of his customers are looking to upgrade or replace older equipment, are just starting in the business or are looking to get additional business – affordably.
The source of his trucks, Miller reports, is often from industry auctions, “Although I take as many in trade as I can if the truck has value to our company.” That said, he avoids truck lifts at the end of their lifespan and older equipment in general, since it is difficult to sell. “I have found that if you are a large commercial contractor, for example, customers want to see equipment that’s five years old or newer.” The reason is that large-contract bids call for newer equipment on the job as an insurance requirement. “Lift trucks prior to 2014 are fine for retail customers,” he adds.
“When a truck comes into our shop, we do a DOT (U.S. Department of Transportation) inspection, as well as ANSI and dielectric testing if it is a dielectric machine,” Miller states. “We do any needed repairs, as well as body work and application of non-skid materials. That includes repairs and maintenance on engines, brakes and transmissions. We also will apply a customer’s company decals.
“The objective is to make the machine as new as possible and to make the truck look good for our customer’s customer,” he says.
Miller’s company does offer operability warranties from 30 to 90 days, which buyers can ask about. “We also will sell as is,” he notes, stressing that “All are roadworthy and operational and will pass DOT, ANSI and dielectric tests before leaving the lot.”
When asked what an owner can do to get the most value on an outright sale or trade-in, Miller says, “The most important thing is to ensure that everything is operational, for example, upper and lower control arms and outriggers. Check to see there are no leaks, that the brakes are good, the transmission shifts smoothly and the overall appearance is good. Service records are important so a buyer knows what’s been done to the truck. See that inspections are current, and be able to explain why something failed certification.”
“I deal in both new and used equipment,” says Tony Marchand, marketing manager for business at CUES, Inc. in Amherst, New Hampshire. “Obviously, when you can buy used equipment in decent shape, you can save quite a bit of money,” he maintains. “One thing to do when buying used is to find out if the machine has recent safety stickers to certify that it still meets safety standards. If a lift truck comes in and its inspections are close to a year old, of course we would do what’s needed to re-sticker it. This goes for the lift and the chassis, and that’s one of the benefits of buying used equipment from a dealer,” Marchand states, reiterating the refrain. “Dealers like us will go through the machine in depth to ensure that the chassis and aerial device are both in good condition.
“Things wear out,” he observes. “Customers can go out and buy a used device not from a dealer and bring it to a shop like ours, and they may find it will take $10,000 to $20,000 to bring it back to spec. Sometimes, though, people luck out that way. It’s like buying a used car.
“So, at least get that piece inspected before you buy,” Marchand advises. “We would do an inspection of equipment in a private sale and charge just for the inspection, then let you know if you are good to go or let you know what needs work. It happens all the time, and I just had it happen here where an arborist came in with what he thought was a great deal, only to find the equipment needed a lot of work.
“When we get a good used unit in, in addition to fluids, a lot of times it will need hydraulic hoses or platform-control valves replaced. Sometimes there is a wiring issue,” he reports.
Marchand says a good used truck-mounted lift can be a good deal for both the buyer and the seller. “Sellers who take good care of the truck might recoup up to 70% of their initial purchase price, and the buyer could save that same 30%. Again, that assumes the equipment is well cared for, which is another reason to work with a dealer, if for nothing more than the first two annual inspections.
“Keep all your service records,” he stresses, “including those that came with the truck if you bought it used. Make sure all inspections are up to date.” Marchand reports that a typical ANSI inspection of a lift more than 30 feet might cost $479, less for a shorter boom, but he sees it as a small investment to help prove the value of your truck and lift.
Got a truck-mounted lift that you like and want to breath a bit more life into? “We do some refurbishment, too,” Marchand adds, recalling more than one instance where a boom hit a bridge and his company was able to save the chassis and boom turntable.