Add safety to used tractor shopping list

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FARGO, N.D. – The used tractor market can provide opportunities to purchase horsepower at a lower price, but the reduced price may also mean reduced safety.

“There are likely to be plenty of used tractors available at farm equipment auctions, and it will be a buyer’s market,” said George Maher, agricultural safety specialist at North Dakota State University.

“Those older tractors don’t have to be dangerous. Many safety features that are standard equipment on newer tractors can be retrofitted on older tractors, making them safer to use.”

Safety features. According to Maher, there are four categories of safety features to be considered: protection from hazards of operation, visibility and recognition, improved stability, and operator comfort.

The most effective protection from the hazards of operation is the roll over protective system (ROPS) feature.

“A ROPS can be retrofitted on most older tractors, providing the same safety feature found on newer tractors. Most dealers will install a ROPS on an older tractor at a very reasonable price or at cost,” Maher said.

Many dealers and county extension agricultural agents have a reference catalog of ROPS for older tractors.

“Installing a ROPS on an older tractor is like buying life insurance, except you don’t have to die to use it,” Maher said. “It’s never a good idea to build your own ROPS. How would you know it is strong enough? How would you test it to know it will protect you?”

Similarly, a bypass starting shield is another key piece of safety equipment for older tractors, he said.

“Bypass starting a tractor is gambling, with your life in the balance. All tractors, new or old should have a bypass starting shield to prevent this practice. Farm machinery dealers will install a shield for you.”

Prevent accidents. Maher notes that entanglement in a PTO shaft is not as common as it used to be, but it is still a devastating accident.

“No tractor is safe to use without a master shield on the PTO stub shaft,” he said.

The master shield should cover the top and sides of the stub shaft and support the weight of a 265 pound person without bending.

Older tractors also can be retrofitted with improved lighting systems equal to those found on newer machines.

“Better field lights can improve safety in the field and reduce operator stress. Turn signals and hazard flashers as well as reflectors and tail lights can be installed to improve your safety on the roadway,” he said.

“Simply replacing an old faded slow moving vehicle sign on the tractor can improve it’s safety. The newest SMV signs are more reflective with better paints and are many times more visible to drivers approaching from behind. Few tractor operators survive rear collisions without injury. A good SMV sign, properly placed, can prevent the collision from happening,” Maher said.

Other factors. Another factor to consider before buying a tractor is its weight distribution and ballasting.

“Consider the weight distribution and ballasting of a tractor before buying it. Will you have to add ballasting to get the most use from it?”

Likewise, consider if the wheel configuration – two wheel drive, front wheel assist, four wheel drive – works with your field equipment.

Maher notes that operator comfort is an important feature on a tractor that is used day after day.

“Only a few farmers don’t complain of a bad back, often caused by poor, worn out seating. A comfortable tractor seat is safety equipment – it can prevent back injuries and help keep a farmer farming,” he said. “Newer seats can often be retrofitted to older tractors and improve their usefulness.”

Maher suggests paying close attention to existing safety equipment when shopping for a used tractor. Some features can be economically added to a tractor, enhancing its value. But generally, safety equipment that comes with a tractor will be less costly than adding the same equipment to a tractor that does not have it.

“If you have to add safety equipment to a tractor there is a chance that it won’t get done,” Maher said. “Be sure you will actually do it as soon as possible, and be sure you have the resources to do it. Preventing accidents and fatalities is well worth the investment.”

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