How to Take the Surprise Out of Buying a Dozer

With supply of new equipment choked and prices of for used equipment categories up 12% to 35%, now's a good time to consider the steps equipment professionals working the used market recommend taking to ensure a used crawler dozer doesn’t come with costly

Undercarriage condition has a major influence on used equipment valuation. With so much at stake, it is advisable to have the undercarriage inspected by a trustworthy product expert.
Undercarriage condition has a major influence on used equipment valuation. With so much at stake, it is advisable to have the undercarriage inspected by a trustworthy product expert.

The current machinery environment is creating challenges that may require rethinking acquisition strategies. Start with an understanding of market conditions.

According to Ritchie Bros., tight supply and unprecedented demand are driving record-breaking equipment prices. “Supply chain issues have had a direct impact on production of new equipment, which has certainly had an impact on used equipment prices,” says Doug Olive, senior vice president, pricing, Ritchie Bros. “The tight supply and unprecedented demand we have been driving at Ritchie Bros. has seen equipment and truck pricing hit record highs through our various marketplaces.”

According to the October 2021 Market Trends report (available for free at, prices for used earthmoving and vocational trucks are up 12% and 35%, respectively.Dozer Q1This 1979 Caterpillar has a fairly recent paint job. It is very clean and has been well maintained throughout its life. The paint job is not hiding anything like rust and decay.bidadoo

“The supply chain issues have resulted in used equipment pricing that is very high,” agrees Doug Thayer, Sr., marketing manager, bidadoo. “Without new equipment available, trades are pushed back, forcing more utilization and higher hours before dispersal.”

In particular, the acquisition of high-value earthmoving equipment requires careful analysis. There are several reasons to consider the purchase of a used dozer, especially in this supply-limited environment. When a brand-new machine isn’t an option, used equipment presents an opportunity for contractors to expand their fleet.

A lot will depend on your fleet needs and the intended use. “Purchasing a used dozer can be a great fit if a buyer is unable to afford the cost of new; the use doesn’t require a late-model machine; or for when the buyer needs a backup machine,” says Thayer. “The focus on specific makes and models may be necessary, pending the availability of specific brand parts and service options in the buyer’s area. It may also be worthwhile for the buyer to check with their equipment operators to see if they have preferences.”

Olive adds, “There are a variety of factors to consider when

looking to add a used dozer to your fleet, most notably: make, model, hours, condition, year and price. Depending upon what is needed for the job, you will also want to make sure you have the right blade, ripper (single- or multi-shank) or winch. Technology also plays a key tole, with GPS and inclination monitors to help with productivity and mounted cameras for improved safety.”

Determine Application and Budget

Identify the size of dozer needed and research the sales prices for these units.

“For a contractor who is looking to add a used dozer to his fleet, budget will determine the equipment hour range they will be shopping for. They should also find out how the equipment was previously used,” says Thayer. Hours only tell part of the story. Some applications are harder on equipment than others. “If possible, find out the type of environment the dozer was used in. Environment also plays a role in how the contractor will be utilizing the dozer, along with how long they may need it.”

Application determines the correct choice. “In terms of finding the right machine, No. 1 is consider your specific needs for the machine,” says Si Hanna, general manager of remarketing, RDO Equipment Co. “What environments will it be in, what applications, how frequently will you use it? A lot of that will factor into finding the right machine in terms of size, hours and remaining life.Dozer Q3Most manufacturers provide at least two styles of blade mounting. The photo above shows a cabbed-up, low-tracked machine with a C-frame blade mount.bidadoo

“As far as finding a good machine and not one that’s going to be an unreliable money pit, that is all about eliminating the unknown — eliminating the chance for surprises,” Hanna adds. “That goes back to having trust in the seller and having a full picture of the machine’s history in terms of applications, environments, service work and replaced or re-lifed parts.”

Pay Attention to Critical Components

With crawler dozers in particular, there are several areas that deserve special attention to ensure a successful purchase. Not all used machines are equal. You must conduct a thorough investigation on the used dozer prior to purchase. Ask to see a full evaluation of the machine, including hours, records of maintenance intervals and a complete history of the machine.

“The key items that deserve special attention when inspecting a used dozer include the engine, transmission and drivetrain,” says Thayer. “These will all be considered major repairs if there are problems.Dozer Q3bThis is a Caterpillar machine with OROPS, a high-track configuration and a C-frame mounted blade.bidadoo

“For the engine, are there any oil leaks or loose belts? For hydraulics, look for any signs of a leak. For the blade, look for any plate lines or weld marks, both of which mean it has excessive wear, so you’ll want to make sure further repairs aren’t needed,” Olive advises.

The undercarriage is often the Achilles heel of a used crawler tractor. Due to the cost of replacement, the condition of the undercarriage is one of the key factors in finding the best deal.

Machine age isn’t as much of a concern as the operating hours. Particularly, it is useful to understand the hours on the undercarriage. If it is a high-hour machine, you want to find out when the undercarriage was replaced.

“Generally, the undercarriage makes up close to 20% of the value of the dozer, so it’s important to understand its condition,” says Olive. “When inspecting the undercarriage, take a close look at the bearings and track pads. Flattened bearings could be a sign of excessive wear. And if the grouser bar on the tracks is worn down to the level of the pad bolts, the pads will likely need to be replaced.”Dozer Q3cThis dozer is equipped with push arm blade mounting.

“The undercarriage is a wear item and costs to keep those components in good condition should be built into a purchase decision, as well as ground-engaging tools like cutting edges and ripper teeth,” notes Thayer. “The true condition of an undercarriage can be measured to determine wear and the remaining life. Those measurements obtained and deducted from what the components are when new gives a percentage of life left. Buyers should look at all of the key wear components of the undercarriage — this includes the tracks, rollers, sprockets and idlers. A full undercarriage replacement can add up quickly.”

Excessive undercarriage wear or unusual wear should raise a red flag. Also check the undercarriage for cracks, rust and leaks.

A quality undercarriage inspection can help ensure that you don’t have any unexpected repairs. It can also give you a good estimate of exactly how much undercarriage life is left. Just because an undercarriage looks good during the walkaround doesn’t mean there are no significant problems. These would be identified during the detailed undercarriage inspection.

One issue to check for closely is uneven wear. “It’s important to remember that allowing one or more components to wear down too far before being replaced can cause what is known as ‘runout.’ When this happens, it can get expensive due to all the components that require replacement at the same time,” says Thayer.

There are other items that deserve careful attention. “Many things get overlooked, such as the condition of the blade mounting pins and bushings, push arm trunnions and equalizer pins,” says Thayer. “Those components can take plenty of abuse, and if not greased regularly, fail to the point of requiring expensive repairs.”

He adds, “It is not a pleasant surprise to learn that one may need to hire a welder to do a weld, line bore and pin and bushing replacement to tighten up a machine to work as the manufacturer intended. Also, on non-high-tracked machines, the buyer should check for cracks and oil leaking from final drives under the back of the machine.”

History and Support Can Trump Price

Maintenance records can help take the guesswork out of a dozer purchase. Request to see a full evaluation, including hours, maintenance records and complete history, as well as its applications.

“Maintenance history is an important factor when purchasing a used dozer,” says Thayer. “It is part of knowing the story of that equipment. For many veterans in the industry, knowing the history of the used dozer and who the previous owner was is the most important factor.”Dozer Q8i

Just because a machine appears to be in good condition doesn’t mean it actually is. Don’t be fooled by first appearances. “Look for

cosmetic improvements that may hide poor equipment conditions,” says Thayer.

During an actual or virtual walkaround, you will want to take special note of signs of wear beyond what would be normal for the machine’s hours and previous application.

With some private sellers and auctions, the maintenance history might not be available or may not be complete. Dealer rental units and units that were maintained through a dealership are more likely to come with complete documentation.

“There are a few advantages of working with a reputable equipment dealership to find a used dozer, one of the biggest being service after the sale,” says Hanna. “This is something an auction and private seller cannot provide. It’s the parts availability, scheduling service and even some of the add-ons that a dealer can offer. At RDO, we also have an entire customer support team that offers a lot of dedicated support like machine monitoring and technology support. Dozers are often equipped with GPS machine control technology, so that support is crucial to consider.”

He adds, “Reputable dealers can also show full history of the machine, including service, oil scans, anything rebuilt or replaced — essentially everything done on the machine. Our certified technicians maintain our rental fleet and do thorough inspections on any trade-in dozers we’d sell. In many cases, they still have warranty on them.”

Reputable sellers can also add peace of mind when buying used equipment. “Buyers may want to look at purchasing an extended warranty on qualifying machines, or work with their local dealer for a service contract,” says Thayer. “Working with your local dealer can also help you source specialty attachments as needed.

“When evaluating buying from an auction or a dealer, buyers should weigh the benefits of each model,” he continues. “Auction pricing is most often less than buying a ‘retail’ used machine from a dealer and opens up a lot of inventory options. That said, having a dealer relationship when it comes time for repairs or servicing can be extremely important for your ongoing fleet operations.”

Auctions Provide More Options

Cost and options can favor auctions. “One advantage of auctions is the possibility of getting the used dozer at a lower cost vs. retail channels,” says Thayer. “Additionally, some online auction companies offer logistic support to aid the buyer in selecting equipment shipping options to their location.”

Some online auction companies also allow the buyer to purchase equipment from anywhere; they’re not limited to acquiring the dozer from a specific location. “Moving a dozer to sell it only to move it again once sold adds cost and inefficiencies to traditional or live auction events,” Thayer comments. “Being 100% online, bidadoo doesn’t amass equipment and people to hold an auction event to sell equipment. All of our critical mass happens online.”Dozer Q8b

“In a tight market like today, selection is so important,” says Olive. “At Ritchie Bros., we have tens of thousands of items available in our upcoming inventory at any given time and a variety of marketplaces to buy from, each with their own benefits. Our traditional site auctions with online bidding are completely unreserved, meaning the buyers set the price, not the owner or the auctioneer — each item goes to the highest bidder, regardless of price. We also have weekly featured auctions each Thursday on

“If you can’t wait until the next site event, there are premier items with Make Offer and Buy Now options on Marketplace-E, and our newest equipment listing service Ritchie List, which has already surpassed 40,000+ items,” he adds.

With live site auctions, the buyer must do the necessary research. “The disadvantage of acquiring a dozer via a live auction is that the onus is on the buyer to assess the quality of the equipment being sold — call it ‘buyer beware’,” says Thayer. “To minimize the risk, buyers should do a physical inspection themselves or pay someone to do it for them. At bidadoo, we offer detailed condition reports, video demonstrations of the equipment operating and detailed photos. In addition, every machine is sold with the bidadoo 100% guarantee that it will be delivered as described or the buyer can receive a 100% refund of their purchase.”

“It’s always important to do your research before buying,” Olive agrees. “With Ritchie Bros., we offer inspection reports with IronClad Assurance as well as high-res photos and videos of items for inspection online. For our site auctions, you can inspect and test items in person. We also provide maintenance records and can connect you with the previous owner to learn more about how the item was used. Anytime you are buying something second-hand, it’s great to know the owner and how they cared for the equipment. These are expensive machines and the more you know, the more confident you can be when bidding and buying.”

Hanna adds, “When buyers think about taking the auction route, the immediate advantage that comes to mind is you can get a great deal. That is sometimes true. But when buying at an auction, you also may get a machine that runs today but has issues in a few weeks. You are accepting that risk of the unknown.”

 Private sellers provide a third avenue to used acquisition. “There are a lot of private sellers out there and oftentimes good deals can be found,” says Thayer. “That said, buyers need to do their homework when buying from an unknown company or individual. Be sure you do your due diligence to not only vet the machine but also the seller. Be sure to understand your recourse if something were to go wrong. In the end, buying used equipment can be a good option if you source from a trusted and transparent seller.”