A Buyer’s Guide to Used Boom Lifts

By Mike Ferguson

Michael Ferguson is the Used Equipment Manager for US Markets, Inc. Based in Dallas, Texas, he has more than 20 years of experience in sales management and new business development with several national lifting equipment sales and rental companies. Previously, he was Territory Manager for IronPlanet and VP of Sales for Acme Lift.


Today, there are numerous options for purchasing good quality used aerial work platform equipment. Whether it’s at auction, via an online marketplace, or direct from a rental fleet, savvy buyers are wise to do their homework. Boom lifts that are five years old or younger often represent a good value for fleet owners. Just remember, that the equipment’s age and hours is less important than how well the boom lift has been maintained.

Your inspection process should be guided by the size of the boom lift. AWP’s with platform heights of 80 feet and less are generally simple machines and easier to inspect. For bigger booms, it’s a good idea to make sure the person doing the inspection is highly experienced with this type of equipment. When you are unable to conduct an inspection yourself, a third-party inspection is a good idea.

The first step should be to operate all functions on high and low speeds through the boom lift’s entire range of motion, including extending axles if applicable. While doing so, the three priority areas for inspection are the engine, lift cylinders, and driveline/chassis.

For the engine, perform a compression test and engine oil analysis. Inspect engines for proper performance. Unusual noise or exhaust smoke can indicate problems. Remove and inspect the engine oil filler cap. Brownish or white milky residue indicates moisture in the oil. Sniff the engine and hydraulic fluid to tell whether it has overheated, which will exhibit a burnt odor. If it has, expensive repairs may be needed.
Cylinder repairs can also be expensive, so beware of warning signs. Look for hydraulic leaks and check to make sure there is no moisture at the hydraulic cylinder’s head. When inspecting the cylinder rods, look for knicks, gouges or scarring. With the cylinder fully extended, make sure the cylinder rod is not bent. Use a simple straight edge tool for comparison purposes. Articulating booms feature a greater number of cylinders and pins that require examination. On older boom lifts, make sure that 7- or 10-year lift-cable replacement has been completed.
When inspecting the driveline and chassis, look for rust. Be especially cautious of equipment that has spent most of its life in a corrosive environment, such as working along the coast or in certain industrial facilities, such as fertilizer plants. What may not be immediately visible is damage to hydraulic hoses, pins, which may seize up, or around bolts.
Check the tires for tread wear, cuts deeper than ¼-in., and weather cracking. For trailer-mounted boom lifts, check the condition of the wheel bearing, hitch, and safety chains. Most critical, is a properly functioning emergency parking brake.
Like tires, the outer covers of rubber hoses will crack and wear over time, especially where they frequently bend or flex. Check to make sure there is no moisture around hose end fittings and function manifolds.
Check that the torque hubs are not leaking, that all structural welds are sound, and that the ring gear does not have excessive broken, bent, or damaged teeth. If you see damage, you may need to replace the rotation gearbox as well. Slow or sluggish operation can indicate a hydraulic pump issue.
Perhaps the biggest design change to boom lifts in recent years is the move to computer-based controls. Start with checking all wiring harnesses for corrosion and serviceably, including inside the upper controls box. More important, however, is whether numerous software updates are current. With the serial number, the manufacturer can usually confirm status of software updates, as well as provide a warranty history of the machine. This information offers the buyer insight into potential problem areas.
Other Considerations
Generally, the brand of the equipment has less bearing on your decision than physical condition of the boom lift, unless the manufacturer no longer exists. In that case, it’s difficult to research historical recalls or updates. Finding parts, especially structural parts, may be an issue. And, you’ll have no liability support from the factory should there be a catastrophic incident with the machine. For existing brands, you may also want to keep in mind your company’s dealer support relationships, which may sway you toward one brand or another.
Knowing a little about the previous owner can also be factor. The vast majority of boom lifts that come out of rental fleets may look rougher than those previously owned by end-users. However, the nature of the rental business means that you can usually count on these machines having been well-maintained. When you know the specific rental fleet, reputation also plays a part in your decision.
How do you know if you’re getting a good value? Auction houses will often publish past auction results. On the Ritchie Bros. website, for example, you can search, sort, and disseminate sales data. Take that information and compare to list prices at online retailers, such as Machinery Trader. This will give you a general idea if the price for the used equipment is in line with similar makes and models. For large quantity purchases, you may want to enlist an asset appraisal company, such as Rouse Services. Auction houses also often offer asset appraisals.
While in-person inspection is always the best, it’s possible to make a smart purchase based on a virtual inspection. There’s a growing trend for equipment owners to post online detailed video of all the key systems and components while the machine is being operated. This combined with a third-party inspection report may be all you need to snap up a great deal on a used boom lift.
A used boom lift can be a great addition to any fleet. Just do your research, get a good inspection, and focus on the critical areas. And remember, if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

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