Buying plant machinery

Please note that these guides do not constitute legal advice and any information provided in the guides should not be construed as legal advice or legal interpretation. We do not accept any liability for any loss caused by your reliance on this guide.

The DoneDeal guide to buying plant machinery

Things to do before buying

  • Always do extensive research before you buy. Use the internet to view the range of makes and models
  • There are many and varied members of the plant machinery family and some do similar jobs to others. However, each machine has distinct operational features such as the maximum load it can carry, its torque, height range, etc.
  • Decide which machinery (model and manufacturer) suits your needs best
  • Consider the availability of servicing and parts for each machine
  • Research the average market price for the equipment you are purchasing

Things to watch out for

  • Plant machinery is designed to last; age is not an issue if the machine has been treated well
  • Check the serial and model numbers to gauge the age of the machine
  • Ask questions about usage and hours worked
  • Ask about the reason for selling
  • Remember that private sellers are not obliged to give information unless asked directly

Dealing with the seller

  • Research first – is the seller reputable and genuine?
  • If you have friends in the industry ask them about the seller, or approach plant sellers or plant hire companies for advice
  • Before ever contacting the seller, have your research done and questions prepared
  • These questions should cover areas such as the machine's suitability for certain jobs, usage, mechanics, transportation requirements and price
  • Go and view the machinery either at the seller's place of business or on a site while in use
  • When viewing, if you are not very familiar with the machinery, bring along someone who is
  • Check the mechanical soundness of the machine (if the seller has objections – walk away from the deal)
  • If the equipment is from another jurisdiction, ask about its history
  • Always ask for servicing and ownership papers

Examining the machine

  • Most plant machines have complicated hydraulic systems
  • Check all the hydraulic and air pipes for cracks and leaks
  • Check around seals and major components for deposits of oil, cracks or corrosion
  • Oil or hydraulic fluid deposits could be a sign of fatigue or major mechanical failure
  • Move the machine and check for oil spots
  • Test the hydraulics to make sure they work and to ensure they can lift, dig etc

Turning on the engine

  • Make sure the ignition is smooth and the machine starts up quickly
  • Check the dashboard and make sure there are no warning lights
  • Examine the temperature and oil gauge; make sure they remain constant
  • Check the exhaust pipe for oily build-up; it could be a sign of engine issues
  • Ask the seller or helper to turn on the engine, while you watch the exhaust
  • If there is excessive smoke, either blue, white or black, it could point to engine issues
  • If there is oil spitting from the exhaust, this could point to engine issues also
  • Move the machine and test all the gears in both high and low ratio if necessary
  • Use the clutch and listen for the gears crunching. No crunching is perfect, but the less the better
  • Listen to the engine for unusual sounds
  • For diggers, excavators etc, use the controls. Perform all the tasks the machine can handle
  • Manoeuvre each control to its maximum and discover if the machine has an even balance of movement for both left and right, up and down

Cooling system

  • Check the engine for rust, corrosion or leaks
  • Check that the radiator is clean inside, with no mineral deposits
  • Check the radiator fins are true; this insures proper cooling
  • Check the air filter and its seals. Is it collecting the dust?

Wheels and tracks

  • Check the nuts and welds around the wheels for cracks or warps
  • If the machine has tyres, examine each carefully and see if they are evenly worn
  • If the machine has tracks, check the pins that release them – are they removable? With tracks, use each track individually to ensure it is fully functioning
  • Ask about the servicing of the machine, as track systems and gears are expensive and difficult to fix
  • Thoroughly examine the seals around the gears for any evidence of leaking fluid. This could point to corroded ring seals and lack of lubrication


  • Check the cabs and the seat. The amount of wear in this area is an indicator of the amount of care taken with the machine in general
  • Check for major dents, weld jobs, new panels, etc, and ask how they came about


  • Most plant equipment is heavy and cumbersome and not allowed to use public roads; this includes excavators and most track machines
  • Investigate your legal obligations regarding transport
  • Transportation can be expensive and may need other machinery, such as a truck and trailer
  • It is possible to hire transporters to move machinery – find out how much this would cost and factor it into the purchase
  • If buying a trailer or transporter, check it is the right design to carry your purchase

Tax and insurance

  • The tax can vary depending on the machine, but in general the annual tax is reasonable
  • Check the cost of tax at
  • Insurance costs differ depending on the type of machine; it is advisable to shop about
  • All road-using vehicles must be registered and users must have the relevant licence to drive them