Scott Lambert considers the potential pitfalls of buying a cheap, classic tractor, and the likely costs involved in bringing it up to scratch.
We’ve all done it – thumbed through the pages of Tractor Mart, or scrolled through the listings on Internet auction sites and found a bargain, only to question whether it’s too good to be true. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is, but you tell yourself that, at that price, it has to be worth a punt. Doesn’t it?
There are, of course, occasions when buying a cheap tractor isn’t a gamble – such as if you intend to fully restore it and strip it back to every last nut and bolt along the way. If replacing parts as a matter of course is your intention for such a project, then buying cheap is probably the way to go.
But, what if your plan of attack is to use the tractor as it was intended? Does buying cheap make sense then? There’s always the hope that you could be lucky and purchase a tractor for considerably less than the ‘going rate’, that does everything it should and serves you well. But there are many potential pitfalls to be avoided, too, and the aim of this feature is to investigate some of those and illustrate some of the costs associated with buying on a budget, should your new steed not live up to expectations.
Buying a tractor is not like buying a car. There is no MoT history or service record to provide any sort of reassurance. What’s more, tractors are never bought as straightforward, A-to-B mile-munchers; their whole purpose is to work for their living, and to do so hard and typically in harsh environments. So, with this in mind, it can almost feel like you’re buying ‘blind’ when purchasing a tractor, but your gut feeling can often steer you in the right direction.
There’s always the possibility that any tractor you buy may not live up to expectations and that, just because something looks good, it doesn’t always mean that it is good. A lick of paint can hide a multitude of sins but, as ‘shiny’ tractors aren’t usually priced at the lower end of the scale, this article is centred around those tractors with an appearance to match their price tag.
The important thing is to take your time and to do your homework wherever possible, as this will save heartache and expense in the long run. But if you decide to buy unseen or make a snap decision – the temptation to do so can often be hard to resist – then I wish you good luck with that approach, as well!
As my Guinea pig for this illustrative purposes in this feature, I’ll be using the 1974 Massey Ferguson 165 you see here. On the market for £1,000, it’s clear that its best days are behind it – but tractors of this era are renowned for their build quality and, with a well-liked Perkins engine under the bonnet coupled to a proven transmission and hydraulic system, what could possibly go wrong?
At 62hp, the second incarnation of the MF 165 is powered by the Perkins A4.212 engine, developing 173lb/ft of torque at 1,250rpm, and is a handy-sized tractor to have around. It may not have the appeal of a 135, or the ability of a 590, but it’s dependable, capable, easy to work on and there’s a multitude of spare parts still available for it.
Your intentions for your new purchase will dictate how much you’re willing to spend on getting it up to scratch and, for the purpose of this feature, I’m working on the presumption that any issues are purely cosmetic, with a few exceptions that will be discussed where necessary. Unfortunately, lack of space prevents me from going into as much detail as I’d like, particularly with regard to mechanical issues, but what’s here will give you a useful guide in terms of what you can expect regarding costs.
Getting a tractor back to the spec it was in when it left the factory won’t be high on everyone’s agenda but, to make this a straightforward exercise, that’s the approach I have taken. If a part is missing, it would theoretically be replaced and, where possible, I’ve provided the costs relating to three grades of parts – used, replacement and genuine. Not all parts are available, but for a full breakdown please refer to the table.
Assuming that you see an advertisement for the tractor that says it’s just been serviced and is ready to go to work, and presuming that the vendor is true to his/her word, how much has this saved you? If you’re buying a cheap tractor that’s an unknown quantity in terms of maintenance, you’ll want to undertake a basic service at the very least.
The table details all of the elements required for such a task but, as a ‘ball park’ figure for an MF 165, you’ll need to spend at least £100 plus VAT on oil for the engine and transmission, for which Massey Ferguson 10W-30 ‘Super Universal’ was recommended by a dealer. With the addition of fuel filters, oil filters and air filters, your total ‘service’ bill will be anything from £135 +VAT to £200 +VAT, depending on whether you opt for replacement or genuine, respectively.
There’s also the small matter of the tractor not having a battery. The operator’s instruction book states that the battery should be a 96Ah or 125Ah unit and, with that in mind, I contacted specialist company Alpha Batteries of Lancashire. Prices ranged from £150-200 (including VAT and delivery) for a 125Ah battery, with the cheapest offering a two-year warranty and the most expensive, a four-year one.
Despite the vendor hunting high and low, no registration documents could be found and, if in a similar situation, where you would like the original registration is to be retained, you may want to employ the services of a specialist used to dealing with the DVLA. Thomas Andrews is on the DVLA list of vehicle owners’ clubs, and can provide assistance with registering your tractor.
The service starts at £55 with the final cost depending on whether local authority records need to be accessed and the like. “Councils charge for accessing records, and this can be as much as £40, which will be an additional charge,” Thomas told me. Obtaining an age-related registration shouldn’t cost as much as retaining the original registration mark without documentation, but these are both costs to be aware of.
Following a service, the first port of call is the bonnet. Reasonably straight, if a little unloved, this one’s almost complete and just requires a few items to put it back to the state it was in when it left Banner Lane.
The obvious omissions are a fastener for the bonnet flap and the triple triangle emblem. If you’re lucky, you can find used examples at breaker’s yards or on Internet auction sites, or you might be content with non-genuine replacement parts. Whatever you decide will probably be down to how you envisage the tractor at the end of the project, but these parts alone will cost you from as little as £13 +VAT, all the way up to 10 times that.
The grille isn’t bad and simply needs some silver paint to give it that original look. This is the cheapest option, but it could be replaced too. One headlight assembly is missing completely and the other is damaged; replacements will cost anything from £15.60 to £65 each, again plus VAT.
At the back end of the bonnet, shrouding the battery, both side panels are missing, and it’s in this situation that things become rather interesting – depending on your preference for original, replacement or genuine parts. A conversation with used parts specialist Richard Pocock revealed that parts for the Massey Ferguson 165 are hard to come by. Many of these tractors were exported to Africa and, where once there was an abundance of used parts, the flood has now become a trickle.
The mudguards on this particular tractor are not bad – with the exception of the left-hand unit having suffered damage at some point in its life. Once again, there’s a big difference in price, ranging from £168 +VAT for a replacement, to £500 for a pair of original mudguards found on the Internet.
Having assessed the damage, I approached a fabricator with a view to repairing it, and was told that I could expect a bill for £100-150, depending on the time taken for the work. This was also on the understanding that we removed the mudguard and delivered it to his premises.
As a 1974 model, this tractor was equipped with Massey Ferguson’s sound-insulated flexible cladding safety cab as standard, and this is where the cost can really begin to stack up. The system comprises a roof panel, rear curtain, left and right side screens, left and right lower door panels and a bonnet surround, with optional ducting to channel warm air from the engine to the driver in winter.
These parts aren’t available as genuine items from your local MF dealer, but are obtainable from specialists, including Cab Parts Interiors Ltd. Currently, suppliers are struggling to obtain these components and/or the material to manufacture them, due to problems that have arisen from the Covid-19 pandemic, with no indication of lead time or price, but you can expect to pay in excess of £600 for a cladding kit, with additional cost should you wish to equip the tractor with the warm-air ducting.
A De Luxe seat was fitted as standard to the 165, but this example is fitted with the optional spring suspension seat. A cushion and backrest for the standard seat will set you back around £35 +VAT, but the optional unit is a little more involved.
Until recently, the covering for the spring suspension seat, built by Fritzmeier, was unavailable. But enthusiast Richard Sherratt decided to have the covering reproduced for his own tractors and, following a positive response from fellow enthusiasts, he’s had numerous others made. These retail at £160 each, which includes UK delivery.
The wiper arm is damaged and will be repaired, as it’s no longer available to buy as a replacement or genuine part, but a wiper blade will need to be found and with severed wiring, the wiper motor is an unknown quantity. A search revealed that replacements are obtainable, but stock appears to be limited.
Thankfully, the instrumentation on this MF 165 is intact and appears to be functioning correctly, but used and new replacements can be purchased. The alternative is to have the originals repaired/reconditioned by a specialist, such as Speedograph Richfield of Nottinghamshire, or Speedy Cables (London) Ltd of South Wales. This is specialist work and can be expensive.
The cab-mounted work light is missing, but a replacement can be bought for between £10 and £15 +VAT. If a genuine unit is key, expect to shell out more than £100!
In terms of holding air, the tyres fitted to this tractor are OK, but they’re worn and have significant cracks in the sidewalls, particularly the rears. There’s enough grip for general duties, but any significant work would see the rears struggling for traction and then there’s safety and inconvenience to consider.
If you’re interested in purchasing a tractor to use on the road and the tyres are in poor shape, replacing them is a must. A sidewall could give way and this is both dangerous and frustrating.
A conversation with Tom Card, proprietor of The British Rubber Co, revealed that there are several options for new tyres. The Massey Ferguson 165 could be specified with the following tyre combinations: 7.50-16 fronts with 14.9/13-28, 16.9/14-30, 12.4/11-32 or 12.4/11-36 rears, 6.00-19 fronts and 12.4/11-36 rears or 6.00-16 fronts with 12.4/11-32 rears.
The featured tractor has the 6.00-19 and 12.4/11-36 combination and The British Rubber Co offers choices to suit all budgets. I asked Tom to provide three price points, much like you would find for car tyres – budget, mid-range and premium – and he told me that prices range as follows, although they’re changing all the time as raw material and shipping costs fluctuate.
A set of MRL tyres will set you back £516 +VAT, while opting for mid-range Cultor tyres will see the price increase to £624 +VAT. If you opt for Goodyear ‘diamond pattern’ tyres, three-rib fronts are available in 6.00-19 form, but 12.4/11-36 rears are not. Tom said that many customers choose the 13.6/12-36 option, and assured me that they will fit the original rim. A set of these premium tyres will hit your wallet for £826 +VAT.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the main aim was to consider the likely costs involved in getting the tractor back to its ‘as new’ state but, as with any ‘blind’ or impulse purchase, there will inevitably be mechanical issues that need addressing immediately or shortly after purchasing it.
Running this tractor revealed that everything worked as intended – it started reasonably well, didn’t emit excessive smoke, ticked over sweetly (albeit with an audible ‘grumble’ from the bowels of the engine), drove in all gears and lifted a plough without any undue stress or noise. That was a bonus!
On the downside, the engine oil pressure was non-existent, the brake pedals were seized and there was significant wear in the linkage. Given that the tractor had only completed 5,326 hours, this was a little disappointing, but the overall condition of it suggested that maintenance hadn’t been high on the previous owner’s (or owners’) priority list.
With additional use, it’s likely that other problems would manifest themselves, but to get to that stage the colossal leak (read waterfall) from the fuel tank tap would need rectifying for between £5 and £20 +VAT, and I priced an oil pump in the belief that the noise from the bottom-end, plus the low oil pressure, could point to a worn oil pump (see table).
The low oil pressure could, of course, be due to several things, so it would be a case of checking the easy things first. With the dipstick reading ‘full’, oil of the incorrect viscosity, a blocked filter (also likely given the tractor’s appearance), a defective oil pressure gauge or excessive engine wear could be the cause of the problem; that’s the chance that you take when buying unseen and/or buying a tractor well below the market value.
So, is it worth buying a cheap tractor, or will you ultimately end up spending more than you would if you’d bought one at market value? There are so many variables to consider, and the example provided by this Massey Ferguson 165 only scratches the surface of what you could face if you’re tempted to buy a machine like this.
Working on the proviso that it’s mechanically ‘sound’, and will function as intended, leaving a cosmetic refresh to get it back to ‘as-new’ specification, as well as a service and new tyres on the to-do list, the cheapest items on our list of parts will mean that the total price for the project, including the £1,000 purchase price, replacement fuel tap and minimum £55 fee for registering the tractor with the DVLA, reaches approximately £3,200 (including VAT).
Purchasing the most expensive parts, predominantly genuine, sees the total increase to about £4,400 (including VAT). Given that the Tractor Mart price guide, which takes into account recent auction prices, has seen a tractor in this condition reach £3,500, the purchase price of £1,000 seems like good value.
It’s never going to be good enough to command the highest price for originality, seen in band three of the Tractor Mart coding system (which records the value of a top-quality, original MF 165 at £10,000), and as it’s not an older restoration (where the top recent price was £5,300), judging its market value following a sympathetic rejuvenation is difficult.
The reality is that, unless you’re able to find a good, used cladding kit for the cab, that matches the patina of the tractor, it would be a hybrid of new and used parts – perfectly usable and as it left Banner Lane, but neither original nor restored. The value of such a tractor is a point for debate.
Overall then, if you’re buying a tractor that you intend to freshen up to factory spec, buying a cheap example may not make financial sense. If its bad points are purely cosmetic, you stand a chance of saving money over buying a better example but, if there are serious mechanical issues to deal with, the likelihood is that you’re better off paying more for a decent example in the first place.
All of this is dependent on how much you pay for the tractor, your intentions for it and your ability to undertake any refurbishment work yourself. The aim of this exercise was to make you aware of the potential costs associated with buying such a tractor and whatever you decide to do in relation to your future purchases, I wish you good luck!
* Thanks to Alpha Batteries, The British Rubber Co., Chandlers (Farm Equipment) Ltd., Emmark (UK) Ltd., Morris Lubricants, Pocock Tractor Supplies, Richard Sherratt and Thomas Andrews for their help in producing this feature.
Massey Ferguson 165 MkII parts prices
|Part||Part no. (where known)||Used (or budget*)||Replacement
|Cab cladding (without bonnet ducting)||N/A||N/A||£600+||N/A|
|Bonnet flap fastener||885365M91||£15
|Chin panel (‘pan’)||1886316M1||£30
|Mudguard (left)||1885023M95||£500 (pair)
|Battery panel (left)||1883374M1||£75
|Battery panel (right)||1883373M1||N/A||£18.57||£127.92|
|6.00-19 tyres||N/A||£48 +VAT
|12.4/11-36 tyres||N/A||£210 +VAT
|Fuel tank tap||898580M91||£10
|Engine oil filter (paper type)||1882916M91||N/A||£4.50||£10.79|
|Engine oil filter (screw-on type)||1447048M2||N/A||£5.00||£11.03|
|Inner air filter||1887575M91||N/A||£4.50||£41.86|
|Outer air filter||880271M1||N/A||£8.00||£20.14|
Ultra Plus commercial battery
Lucas Premium commercial battery
Bosch commercial battery
|Engine oil**||3931033M3 (5 litres)
3933062M2 (20 litres)
|N/A||1x 25l @£111.26 + 3x 5l @£30.85 = £203.81
|2x 20l @£49.69 = £99.38
|Rear end oil***|
|Spring suspension seat ‘covering’||N/A||N/A||£160 (delivered)
Note: Epicyclic hub/lift shaft lubricant and anti-freeze not included.
All prices plus VAT, except batteries, seat cover and used original parts.
* Budget, mid-range and premium options (not used, replacement and genuine parts).
** 16 pints (9.09 litres) of 10W-30 ‘Super Universal’ (AGCO or Morris Agrimax STOU 15W-30).
*** 52 pints (29.5 litres) of 10W-30 ‘Super Universal’ (AGCO or Morris Agrimax STOU 15W-30).
IA = Internet Auction.
N/A = Not applicable
NLA = No longer available
Tel: 01706 356356
The British Rubber Co.
Baildon, West Yorkshire
Tel: 01274 585427
Cab Parts Interiors Ltd.
Tel: 01873 811631
Chandlers (Farm Equipment) Ltd.
Tel: 01476 590077
MF main dealer
Emmark (UK) Ltd.
Pudsey, West Yorkshire
0113 255 2344
Engine & tractor parts
MF Tractor Breaking & Spares
Bretton, West Yorkshire
Tel: 01924 252129
Used MF tractor parts
Pocock Tractor Supplies
Berwick St. John, Dorset
Tel: 01747 828272
Tel: 01743 232200
Used tractors & parts
Preston Gubbals, Shropshire
Tel: 07971 290371
Office hours only
MF Spring suspension seat cover
Tel: 01726 883195
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