Motor graders are hardy beasts, used towards the end of a construction project to smooth and level the ground to prepare for blacktopping or ground leveling. However, before and after that construction stage, they have limited use. As a result, they are frequently sold on to the second hand market in great condition. This makes them a good choice for the buyer who needs to buy a range of construction equipment, but wants to keep costs down. This article explores the types of machines that are available in the used grader market, and offers guidance on what to look for to ensure a good value purchase.
Over the forecast period 2023-2028, the used construction machine market is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.8% globally, from a value of USD 109 billion to USD 152 billion. In particular, many smaller companies are preferring to buy used motor graders, rather than face the high purchase and depreciation costs that come with new machines. The depreciation factor is more distinct for new motor graders than for other new machines, given that graders are used only towards the end of a road construction project, and are then kept idle until their next use, all the while depreciating in storage.
Why buy a used motor grader rather than a new one?
Motor graders, or road graders, are specialty machines used to level the ground to prepare for asphalting, or road finishing. They may also be used for leveling and grading earth banking and road edging, and can be used for snow clearing in winter climates. Overall, graders have a specific role to play towards the end of a road building or ground leveling project and then are mothballed for the next project.
One estimate is that the average motor grader is used around 1,500 hours per year, substantially less than other tractor-type machines. Owners may keep the graders for up to five years or may sell them on earlier to the second hand market after one to two projects. Graders do not have the heavy wear challenges that other road building machines might have, such as bulldozers and loaders, and they don’t have the same demands on major parts replacement that heavy-lift and crawler machines need.
These factors mean that a motor grader can stay serviceable for many years and can be a good value buy in the used grader market, with savings of upwards of 40% off the new machine price. This is especially true for the big brand companies such as Caterpillar, John Deere, Kubota, and Volvo. Big brand machines can retain their value well, and in many cases come with the manufacturer’s extended warranty, so can offer a challenging price comparison between a trusted used machine and a new or used lesser known brand.
Articulated frame graders are the most common machines available, and most will come with options for a front loader and rear ripper. These will be choices for the buyer to consider when looking at the machines and costs available, as well as the basic factors of size and power. The following section will look at some examples of the wide range of motor graders available in the online market.
The above photo of a used Cat 140k grader shows the main parts to consider when inspecting a used motor grader for purchase. Buying a used grader online should include a physical inspection to assess and confirm the condition. First check all available photos of key parts and ask the seller for the maintenance records, and for any receipts of replacement parts.
Once a physical inspection is possible, here are ten suggested areas to inspect:
1. Overall condition
What is the first impression of the machine and does it look like it’s well maintained and in good condition? Is the machine dirty, and is that dirt hiding any rust or peeled paintwork? Does the body look resprayed? Are there any signs of welding, added patches or cracks hiding under oil or dirt?
2. Maintenance record
Review the maintenance record and notice how frequently the service intervals are spaced. Compare this to the manufacturer’s guidance. In general, minor preventative maintenance, such as filter changes and oil/battery top ups, are conducted every 250 hours of operation with main oil changes conducted at 500 and 1000 hour intervals. Check the records for any major parts replacements and where possible check whether quality parts were used.
3. Check the engine
Start the engine. Check for leaks or signs of dripping, listen for any knocking from the engine or any white or black smoke from the exhaust? If the engine is Euro 5 or Euro 6 certified, use a portable emissions tester to check that the exhaust emissions are within range. Check oil and air filters and compare their condition to the maintenance record.
4. Check the operator’s cab
Check the condition of the cab. Do the cab and seat look intact? Do the pedals and joysticks function and are all instruments working? Check the tachometer for recorded hours of operation and compare with the maintenance record. Check the cab windows are intact and not so scratched as to impair visibility.
5. Check the axles and tires
Check the tire condition for tread wear or cracks. Tires are a costly replacement. Are the wheel rims and axles in good condition and well greased? A damaged axle can be an expensive replacement. Check that the front and articulated steering work as expected and that the front wheels angle on turning.
6. Check the front loader bucket and rear ripper
Is the loader bucket edge sharp or dented, or if there is a front scarifier fitted, are the teeth undamaged? Check that the pins and bushings on the bucket and ripper are tight and that there is no excessive sideways movement. Check the ripper movement and look for damaged teeth that would need replacement.
7. Check the main frame, transfer frame and articulation point
Check the frames for signs of rust, signs of damage or evidence of reinforced welding. Check if there is excessive play in the transfer frame and articulation point. If the engine compartment sits lower than the cab, this indicates a bent articulation point.
8. Check the circle
Move the blade and check for any uneven wear on the pinion gear teeth. The blade should be able to move, tilt and rotate smoothly and make fine adjustments. If not there may be bearing damage or an alignment issue. If the circle doesn’t move freely the blade will not be very usable.
9. Check the blade (moldboard)
Check that the blade is straight. Standard blade edges can wear quickly and dual carbide edges are harder and last longer. Check for wear or damage that would require replacement. If the blade is serrated or is fitted with scarifier teeth, check the edges for wear or damage.
10. Check the hydraulics
The loader bucket and ripper have hydraulic cylinders to raise and lower them. The articulation point has hydraulics to steer. The circle has hydraulics to raise and angle and tilt the bucket. In each case, check that all hoses have a tight seal and there is no sign of a leak. If the hydraulic fluid is being topped up frequently this can indicate a leak.
Second hand motor graders are readily available with a wide variety of choices. The most common are in the 120-18 hp range with big name brands leading the way. Used graders can be a good value buy at upwards of 40% reduction over a new machine price, as long as they have been well maintained. They can offer many more years of use, and also be a good value sale when no longer needed.
Of course, a buyer should do due diligence before confirming purchase, by checking all maintenance records in advance, and then by conducting a thorough physical inspection. Where possible, choose a supplier that offers an extended warranty, or offers return/replacement if the buyer is dissatisfied. For more information on the wide choices of used motor graders available, check out the Alibaba.com showroom.
Roger is a machinery and supply chain management specialist. He has a history of successful senior roles across different industries, with significant experience across all aspects of the business. His hobbies include arts and crafts, and writing short stories and poems.