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What to look for in a used excavator

Used industrial assets are becoming highly sought after in Australia’s booming seller’s market. With international delivery and production experiencing severe delays, many are turning to home-owned assets for purchase. In a marketplace that is seeing machinery bought quickly, it is important to do your research ahead of time to ensure that you are able to snap up quality assets when they become available.

If you’re on the hunt for a quality pre-owned excavator but need some guidance before pursuing a purchase, here are our insider tips on what to look for in a used excavator.

Choosing a model

There are a huge array of makes, models, sizes, ages and types of excavators on the Australian market. And there are many questions that accompany researching each. The most important factor to take into consideration when choosing the kind of excavator for your purchase is how you are able to service the machine. Before buying a machine make sure you do your research into how much repairs and parts on the asset cost and take this amount into consideration with your overall budget. It may be hard to source parts for some older model excavators in your region, so keep this in mind.

Condition inspection

While it may not always be possible to inspect a machine in person, where able you should inspect the asset yourself. Positive signs to check for on the excavator are:
  • Well-maintained tracks
  • No signs of oil leaks
  • A clean cab
  • A smokeless engine

Service history

Once you’ve determined a machine is worth pursuing, ask for the excavator’s service history. An accurate and detailed service history is very important as it establishes if the machine has been maintained using industry recommendations.

Hour meter

A service history should support the meter of the excavator, however hour meters are not tamper proof. If you suspect the validity of the meter, you can check the controls and pedals. The controls and pedals can indicate if there’s a high amount of wear and tear. If the condition of the controls or pedals aren’t aligned with the hours on the meter it may be broken or have been tampered with.

Fluids and oil samples

It goes without saying that all the fluid that runs the machine should be clean and shouldn’t emit a strange smell. Where possible, visually check all of the oils and coolants to ensure they aren’t showing red flags like looking or smelling bad.

When checking the engine coolant, it should appear ‘clean and green’. Dirty machine coolant can be an indicator of cooling system problems. When checking the engine oil, it should be black and have consistent viscosity. If the engine oil displays varying textures and colours, it can be a sign of engine failure. If possible, get an oil sampling done on major components of the excavator like the engine oil, final drive, hydraulic tank and slew drive. These tests can be done for as little as $50 and can provide excellent reassurance before making a purchase.

Smoky engine

Engines that create a lot of smoke are a huge red flag. Replacing or repairing an engine can be very expensive and time consuming. It is important to test every function of the machine and every speed to see if at any point the stress on the excavator causes the engine to smoke up.


Excavator booms/arms do come under significant load when digging so the integrity of the equipment is critical. Cracks or dents on any of the load-bearing elements of an excavator (such as the boom, stick or bucket) can be a sign that the machine’s overall structural integrity has been compromised, and this in turn can mean that the equipment will need replacing.

Hydraulic leaks

Significant leaks may indicate poor maintenance. Check or inspect all cylinders, hoses and lines for signs of leaks. If there is a leak, it’s not necessarily a sign of a defective machine, hydraulics do wear down over time and need maintenance and replacement to operate at full function. But if there is a leak, it will need to be repaired before the machine is working at full capacity.


Tracks are one of the most expensive and crucial parts of an excavator. Replacing or repairing excavator tracks is very expensive. Before buying a machine, check for wear in the sprockets, pins, plates or lugs and how much adjustment is left in the tracks before the idlers are at the end of the track frame. These are all visually easy to view and make a huge impact on whether a machine is worth the purchase.

Testing the unit

When possible, you should move the machine through all working scenarios. When testing the unit you should be on the lookout for the following:

          - Does the machine run smoothly and display a reasonable amount of
            vibrations or noises that become  evident under load?
          - Do the hydraulics react quickly?
          - When the digging arm is on the ground and taking weight off the machine
            are there any concerning movements throughout the boom foot, pins
            cylinders, arm and quick hitch?
         - Is the air conditioning blowing cool and the heater blowing warm?
         - Is the machine’s monitor displaying any concerning service or diagnostic alerts?

If in doubt, get a reputable company or the OEM to do an inspection. They will have the necessary tools for downloads, history, alerts and verify the hours.

Conduct a PPSR check

Do a Personal Property Securities Register (PPSR) check to make sure the machine is not encumbered or has any interested parties. You can perform a PPSR search at

Ready to start searching for an excavator with confidence? Pickles hosts a huge range of used excavators for sale around Australia. If you are ready to bid, sign up to MyPickles and keep an eye on the thousands of machines available around the country. Or check out the range of fixed-price excavators that can be bought now.

19 Aug