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Choosing Sweeping Equipment

Choosing Sweeping Equipment

What To Look For In A Used Sweeper

Here are the items to consider when you evaluate a used sweeper.

Always examine the sweeper as thoroughly as possible. Some of this can be background information, but it is also very important that you drive the unit, 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 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 tells me something. Experience has shown that the 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 de-value 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. 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 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.

If the fan and/or 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 anyway, first ask the present owner to tell you about its condition in detail. Then keep that information in mind 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 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 in someone else's neighborhood, pick a mechanic in that locale and pay him to look the machine over. Cost usually ranges from $50 to $100. Have basic engine checks performed, including compression tests. If he tells you not to buy it, don't — unless it 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 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. They can certainly provide some good pointers and advice, usually about the particular model that you are considering.

[Editor's Note: Our World Sweeper Discussion Forums might be another good place to get advice from industry professionals.]

You might even want to discuss the type of job you need the sweeper to do, and let them help you evaluate whether or not the model you're thinking about will even do the job. They may tell you what they think you ought to look for, what models by what manufacturers, etc. They will be most knowledgable about their own sweeper line, of course, but also have a good general knowledge about suitability of the other major brands. There is some older equipment that has been on the market for years that they may not be totally familiar with or educated well enough to give a good opinion on.

Surprisingly, the model year of a sweeper doesn't have much of a bearing on its price. Condition is much more important. You can have one example of a particular model that's worth $15,000, and one of the same year that is 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. 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? Are they 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 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 a wafer broom style or a digger broom style? (I would say that 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 power unit?

If you are on the other side of the sales arena and are looking to sell one of your used sweepers, here's some advice for you, too. First: it seems that new paint sells better than anything. Most people will buy equipment with new paint over something that is mechanically sound - even when they're 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, and most people do not keep good ones. That's why 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 sweeper when it's time to sell or trade it in on a new one. 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!

This article is excerpted from American Sweeper magazine, v4 n2.

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