Fear and trepidation is normal when searching for used equipment. If only we had supernatural powers to see and know where trouble may lie.… Since we do not have such powers, a systematic examination of the used piece of equipment can help you locate problems which might otherwise be overlooked.

Mike Seckinger has over 44 years experience as a farm equipment mechanic in southern Indiana.

We all like equipment that shines. Too often, though, the examination of equipment starts and ends with the paint. People fail to look at what lies behind the shine. Beat-up equipment makes it easy to judge how the equipment was cared for. You cannot hide abuse when sheet metal is bent or missing, but you can hide abuse with paint, which shines.

When I am asked what a person should look for when searching for a used round baler, I tell them dealer support is at the top of my list of things to check. Large round balers have been around for nearly 50 years. Naturally, the newer the baler is, the more refined and reliable the balers have become, but a good dealer can be the determining factor in getting your hay baled, regardless of the baler’s age.

When examining a used round baler I start at the front of the baler. Look at the power takeoff (PTO). Are the shields in place? Damaged or missing shields are an indication the three-point hitch arms have made contact with the PTO shaft when turning. This contact can bend the PTO shafts. Slide the front shaft in and out of the rear shaft. The front shaft will slide easily if the shafts are not bent.

Check the U-joints for wear in the cross bearings. There should be no movement of the center cross in the bearing caps. If you have a CV (constant velocity) joint, hold the front of the PTO shaft stationary and pivot the front yoke up and down. There should be minimal movement before the rear yoke moves with the front yoke.


Gearboxes are next in the driveline. Check for oil leaks and, if possible, check the oil for proper level or if the oil has a burnt color or smell.

Chains and sprockets transfer the power from the gearbox to the components of the baler. Worn sprockets are easily seen, since the teeth will look like hooks. Worn chains can be more difficult to determine unless the chain rollers are cupping. To check a chain for wear, pinch the two strands of chain on each side of the sprocket together so the chain is tight on both sides of the sprocket.

Next, with your other hand, grab the chain midway around the sprocket. If you can lift the chain off the sprocket, the chain is worn.

The pickup is the first part of the baler the hay contacts. Check for bent or broken teeth and for damaged bands between the teeth. Tooth diameter makes little difference when comparing one brand to another. Some models use the pickup to help start the bale, which requires a heavier tooth. On those balers, if possible, compare the angle of the teeth on the baler with a new tooth.

Pickup cam bearings are not easily checked without some removal of chains and shields. The wind guard, to hold the hay against the pickup, should be in place and not bent or missing tines.

Belt lacings should be checked for damage and wear. If the baler has endless belts, check the condition of the belt splice. Look for cuts and tears along the belt. If possible, attach a tractor to the PTO and, while standing at a safe distance, watch the belts as they rotate so the complete belt can be examined for damage.

While watching at a safe distance, observe the belt rolls for wobble, which would indicate a bent roll or a potential bearing failure. If possible, let the baler run for some time and then shut the PTO and tractor off. Take an infrared thermometer and check temperature of each bearing. A higher temperature could indicate a bearing is close to failing.

If your baler has other gears that drive against each other, check for tooth wear. Check the idlers for wear and looseness.

On twine-tie balers, check for wear on the ends of the twine tubes. Check the condition of the twine-cutting knife or knives. Look for bent linkage. If possible, and while watching from a safe distance, manually start a simulated tying cycle and watch the movement of the components and for a successful completion of the tying cycle.

Net wrap baler operation varies with different manufacturers. Check for sharp knives to cut the net. If the baler has a rubber feed roll, check for nicks and cuts which can grab the net and wrap. Look at the condition of the drive belt, if so equipped. Check the net brake for proper tension. Look for any bent components.

Check the condition of the electrical wire harnesses and connectors. Look for corrosion and bent terminals at the tractor-to-baler connection. Connect the operator’s panel to the baler. Most modern balers will store the total bale count. If you do not know how, ask to be shown the actual bale count.

Unless the controllers have been replaced, it is not likely the total bale count has been changed. While the operator’s panel is attached and using the panel’s buttons, manually move the tying components to check the motors and actuators.

Look at the condition of the sheet metal. Look for cracks, which would indicate a potential vibration problem. Check the tongue for bends and twists. Look at the tires for abnormal wear. Raise the baler so the wheels can be spun. Listen for rough-sounding wheel bearings and loose bearings.

I give one last piece of advice to people who buy a baler as-is: Expect to spend additional money for repairs. Buy the baler at a price where you can have some financial room for repairs. If you have some time and confidence in your mechanical ability, pull the belts, remove all chains, spin the rollers and check for loose or rough-sounding bearings. Check the pickup cam bearings.

Check so the belts are all the same length. A little time spent checking the baler over in the off-season will give you confidence you can bale trouble-free.  end mark

PHOTO: Round baler. Staff photo.

Mike Seckinger has over 44 years experience as a farm equipment mechanic in southern Indiana, and says, “What I write is not intended to represent the only way to solve a problem, and it may not always be complete. If you choose to follow some of my procedures, remember to always practice safety first. Wear the correct clothing and safety equipment and use the equipment’s safety devices.”