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‘Good Time to Buy Hopper-Bottom Trailer,’ Says Auctioneer

Josh Peddicord takes a look at a hopper-bottom trailer that is being featured on the Successful Farming Show on RFD-TV. The trailer is up for sale during a Ritchie Bros. auction in St. Louis, Missouri.

“Wilson Pacesetters with ag hoppers are one of the few things that traded well in 2014 through 2016 in agriculture,” he points out. “This year, their prices are flat, if not somewhat weak. That indicates to me that this is as good a time to buy a hopper-bottom trailer than I’ve seen in years.”

Peddicord should know. He tracked transport trailers for Ritchie Bros. for years before he became an agricultural equipment specialist for Ritchie two years ago. His observation serves notice that if you have held off on upgrading trailers or you are looking to add a hopper-bottom trailer to your fleet, good deals can still be had prior to harvest. That’s not always the case, because these trailers often take a price spike at this time of year.

The Pocket Price Guide highlights recent prices for late-model trailers. The wide variety in values reflects the fact that a trailer’s make and the accessories it offers influence its final price. 

Go beyond mileage to discover values  

This sales snapshot provides a starting point for discovering general used values of late-model trailers. You’ll need to put in much more work to ferret out the true good deals, however. More crucial than knowing a trailer’s age and how many miles it’s covered is knowing how well it was cared for, if it is equipped to meet your needs, and if it’s being sold by a reputable outlet. 

“The most common mistake that farmers and the public, in general, make at an auction is not knowing everything there is to know about a particular item,” says Dick Phelps of US Auctioneers, a national truck and trailer sales house out of Rock Island, Illinois. “It starts with doing business with a reputable, honest auction company that will tell the bad along with the good.”

Phelps goes on to explain that when shopping for a used hopper-bottom trailer, it’s crucial to know the following:

  • The overall condition of the trailer.
  • The record of past maintenance and repairs.
  • Whether that trailer has been assigned a salvage or a rebuilt title.
  • Why the seller is selling the trailer in the first place.

“We encourage potential buyers to call sellers before purchasing. Sometimes, those sellers may not really know their equipment, or they have an inflated opinion of its condition,” Phelps says. “That’s where we, as auctioneers, need to step in and give our honest opinion and make all pertinent information available.” 

the importance of reputation 

There is nothing better than being at the sale to personally inspect and examine a trailer.

“We realize that the cost of travel and time away from your business may prevent you from attending,” Phelps says. “Again, it’s important to know the reputation of the auction company. Also, know what costs are involved, such as internet fees, storage fees, and transportation costs before bidding.”

inspection advice when sizing up a hopper-bottom trailer

You need to “do your due diligence before buying used trailers,” urges Dick Phelps of US Auctioneers. “Take time prior to the auction to inspect a trailer you are interested in buying. Look it over front to back, top to bottom. If you can’t be there in person (if you are buying via phone or online), hire someone to inspect the trailer for you. At the very least, call the auctioneer and ask about the condition of the trailer.”

Be sure to get the name and phone number of the seller, then call that person and ask how the trailer was used and maintained. “Be sure to ask roughly how many miles it covered,” Phelps says.

Here are four specific areas you’ll want to inspect.

  • Tires. Examine every tire for wear and damage. Buying a trailer that needs new rubber can set you back an average of $3,500 (based on the average cost of two of the most common tire sizes on grain trailers). During your inspection, check tread depth. Tires showing less than ¹⁄16 inch of tread are prohibited on trailers in many states. Also, look for tread separation (on recapped tires) and for splitting or cracking on sidewalls. 
  • Hoppers. Inspect hoppers to see if they are dented or damaged. “Look at the slopes to see if someone has been pounding on them,” Phelps says. “Look for cracks on hopper sides and frames. Operate the doors to see if they freely open and close.”
  • Frame. Examine the trailer’s frame. Pay attention to side rails and cross members for excessive rust (on older trailers), dents, cracking, and twisting.
  • Roll tarp. Operate the roll tarp manually (if the trailer has one). See if the tarp mechanism operates smoothly or has damaged or missing parts. Examine the tarp for cuts and tears. A replacement tarp can cost up to $1,200.
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