Used Sweeper Purchasing Advice

Old SweeperIf there is an overriding Golden Rule to sweeper evaluation it is to check everything out to your own satisfaction.

From both a dealer’s and a customer’s point of view, used equipment is a ‘buyer beware’ situation. There are steps you can take, however, to maximize your prospect of getting a quality used sweeper. Always examine the sweeper as thoroughly as possible. Some of this can be background information, but it is also very important that – if you are able to see the unit in person – that you drive the machine, operate all the controls, check to see how much rust there is and look at any available maintenance records. Even then, you still might not be getting what you think you are. Miles and hours are not necessarily a good indicator of a machine’s condition, especially if it is owned by an individual. There is too much variation. However, if it has been owned by a shopping center and it has 30,000 miles on the chassis engine and 6,000 hours on the auxiliary, that is information you can use. Experience has shown that 30,000 miles on a truck that hasn’t been out of the mall is equal to 200,000 road miles. With mall sweepers, you should devalue any seemingly low miles on the front engine. It is also relatively more important that you test drive a mall-owned sweeper. Best is to take it for a 100-mile drive; see how much oil it uses, and check out the front end and the fan (or have them checked). On most equipment today, the hopper can be raised so that you can look right inside the fan housing. However, on some equipment you will have to remove a plate, a hose or maybe several other items to be able to gain access to the fan. Whatever it takes, do it. If you are not able to see the sweeper in person, or don’t know what you’re looking for, hire a local truck mechanical shop to do it for you. If you aren’t very familiar with what a fan in good condition should look like, then you may want to find out what the thickness of the metal was when it was new. The best way to find out about that and any other original equipment specifications is to call the manufacturer of the sweeper and ask. They should be very helpful, since if you buy one of their models used and like it, you will likely be buying a new one from them someday. If the fan is worn out and the housing is worn out, you will spend a considerable amount of money to replace them before the machine will sweep well. Furthermore, if those items are worn badly, you’d better look around and see what else is worn out. Chances are, you’ll develop a long list. By the way, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy the sweeper. If replacement of those wear items can be negotiated into the price, you might have inspected yourself into getting a bargain deal.

Ask the owner all about the unit before you inspect it. Then, if you find discrepancies, you’ll know to be suspicious of other information as well.

If you are going to be inspecting the unit, first ask the present owner to tell you about its condition in detail. Then keep that information in mind (and take good notes of what is said) as you look the machine over yourself. Sometimes you will find certain discrepancies in what you have been told, and that means you should suspect other areas where the present owner may have been less than forthright. In your general inspection of any truck-mounted unit, start at the front of the chassis. Look at the front suspension system to see if it has any substantial wear. Front-end repair is expensive. Generally speaking, most front end shops will give a free inspection and estimate. Even if not, it would be worth the price of an inspection to have a professional opinion. Next, check the engines. If you are not able to do the needed checks yourself and are in someone else’s neighborhood, pick a mechanic in that locale and pay him to look the machine over. Cost usually ranges from $100 to $200. Have basic engine checks performed, including compression tests. If he tells you not to buy it, don’t – unless the machine is a real deal even if you had to replace one or both of the engines. Next look for any obvious damage to the truck or the sweeper that may have been caused by an accident. If any exists, question the structural integrity of the machine and check for frame damage on the sweeper as well as on the truck. When it comes to checking the sweeper itself, most mechanics are not very well versed on the operation of anything other than the power unit. They probably won’t be able to give you a good estimate as to whether the sweeper itself is going to require a major amount of work. That’s why it is very important that you educate yourself before going to look at the sweeper. Talk to other people who own or have had experience buying, selling and operating the same type of sweeper before you evaluate it yourself. That’s the only way you will know what to look for. This might well include calling the manufacturer and asking what they would recommend for you to do prior to buying. Usually a senior member of the manufacturer’s sales team, or one of their repair personnel, can provide some good pointers and advice. They may even have a checklist on the particular model you are considering. You might also find the Discussion Forum to be a good source of ideas and information. When you seek advice about the sweeper, you might even want to discuss the type of job you need the sweeper to do. That way, the sweeping professionals you talk with can help you evaluate whether or not the model you’re thinking about will even do the job. When you talk to manufacturers and experienced contractors, tell them what type of sweeping you will be doing. Most folks will tell you what they think you ought to look for, what models by what manufacturers, etc. We can usually provide that type of information at WSA, as well, or refer you to someone we know will be familiar with the model(s) you are considering.  Many experienced contractors have a good general knowledge about suitability of the other major sweeper brands. Surprisingly, the model year of a sweeper doesn’t have much of a bearing on its price. Condition is much more important. You might well see two identical model sweeper with a realistic value that is as much as $15,000 or more  that was worth $15,000, and one of the same year that was maybe worth $1000. Because that kind of spread is possible, try to get away from the idea that a particular model year is worth a corresponding amount of dollars. One is simply not representative of the other. And always keep in mind that your total cost of a sweeper is the purchase price plus what it is going to cost you to get it into operable condition. Ideally, you should keep some money in reserve in case it needs more extensive repairs than you estimate. Don’t buy something that you will have trouble getting parts for, or service performed on. If it is an older model, make sure the manufacturer still sells parts for that model and that they still keep the parts in stock most of the time. Few business decisions in sweeping are as bad as buying a used sweeper and then not being able to get parts to repair it in a timely fashion.

Other questions to answer before you buy include:
  • Does the debris hopper have any holes caused by rust?
  • Has the truck or the unit ever been wrecked?
  • How many miles does the transmission and/or the engine have on it? Is this the same amount of miles on the body?
  • Does the odometer on the truck work so that you know the number of miles shown is accurate? Is the seller willing to certify on the sales slip that the mileage and hours are accurate?
  • How often was the oil changed on both the truck and the sweeper? Is there a service log?
  • Was service done in their shop or at some type of public facility?
  • What condition is the front end in?
  • How are the brakes? When were the brake shoes or pads last replaced on the unit? (If it has been actively used in the sweeper business, chances are you need a brake job at least once a year.)
  • Do the intake or exhaust hoses have any holes? How old are they?
  • Has the head ever been bent? Is it straight now?
  • Are the flaps on the bottom of the head in good condition? Have they been changed recently, is wear proportional, or are they worn out?
  • Are the side plates or runners in good condition? Have they ever been changed?
  • Are they adjustable or are they fixed in one position?
  • What type of head raising and lowering mechanism does the machine have? Is it done with hydraulics, with a chain, a cable, a lever? (These days, a hydraulic system is the best. It probably lasts the longest and is the least troublesome of any of the systems.)
  • Is the sweeper a high dump? A high dump is the best thing out there, because it allows you to dump debris directly into a dumpster.
  • Is the dump system in good working order? What has been done to it? Have there been any difficulties with it?
  • Does the unit have a curb broom? If so, what type? Is it adjustable? Is it a wafer broom style or a digger broom style? (More people prefer the digger broom over the wafer broom.)
  • Is the broom operating properly? Does it extend, retract and spin the way it is designed to do? If not, what is wrong with it?
  • Is the sweeper mounted on a truck that you can service yourself or get serviced in your area? How about the auxiliary engine power unit?

If you are on the other side of the sales arena and are looking to sell one of your used sweepers, we have some advice for you, too. First: it seems that new paint sells better than anything. Those in the business of buying and selling sweepers report that a customer will buy equipment with new paint over something that is mechanically sound – even when told that the rougher-looking machine is a better one than the one next to it that looks like a new penny! Unfortunately, there seems to be a feeling that if the paint is good then the operational condition is good also. Of course, this does not always hold true. Service records also sell. Unfortunately for them when they go to sell their used equipment, most people do not keep good ones. Everyone should keep a log book in the truck that lists all service work, who did it, the mileage/hours when it was done, etc. If you do, it will help you get top dollar for your used sweeper. Being able to show that regular servicing was done on a sweeper goes a long way in building a comfort level for a prospective buyer. It is also helpful for you as the present owner to be able to look back easily to when repairs were made. Finally, let’s assume that the sweeper of your dreams has passed all the tests. Now you are entering a critical time in your relationship with your new business tool. Be careful how you operate it, especially if you haven’t used that model before! Remember, you can always contact the WSA office with your questions. Call toll free, 866.246.6605, or send an email to