Navigating the Pre-Owned Crane Market: Types, Ages, and Capacities in High Demand

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By Mike Larson
 
Demand for used, or “pre-owned” cranes in North America has been strong at least since COVID-19 upended worldwide supply chains in 2020.
 
COVID, the shale revolution, and other factors also spawned what geopolitical expert Peter Zeihan calls “the greatest reindustrialization process in U.S. history.”
 
Zeihan says that the U.S. is building factories, refineries, roads, and other industrial infrastructure faster than it did even during World War II.
 
You’d expect that activity, along with other construction work, to help drive demand for cranes, both new and used.
 
But to find out the state of the used-crane market, including trends and some tips for potential buyers and sellers of used cranes, Crane Hot Line recently talked to five experts.
 
They are, alphabetically:
 
State of the Market
Most of our experts said the market for used cranes remains strong, but some noted a slight softening recently.
 
Maxim’s Tobón said, “Demand remains high and supply low, particularly for used cranes. I see that trend continuing this year.”
 
Coastline Equipment’s Goodale noted, “There continues to be demand for quality pre-owned equipment. The market is remaining consistent.”
 
Crane Dude’s Agarwal said, “The North American market for units less than 10 years old is strong for certain models. They are still catching premium money, but not as much as in the spring of last year.” 
 
Quality Crane & Equipment’s Landres said that overall demand is strong, especially for all-terrain cranes, truck cranes, and boom trucks. “I expect a slight cooling off compared to 2022 and 2023, as delivery times for new cranes are improving.”
 
And Select Crane’s Mackenzie noted, “We’ve seen a slight softening in demand that started in the fourth quarter of last year. Potential buyers are still inquiring, but we have seen some decrease in activity.”
 
Market Drivers
What is determining the level of activity in used-crane sales?
 
The largest positive drivers of used-crane sales that most of our experts mentioned were lots of construction work that keeps demand for cranes high as well as the higher cost and relatively long lead times for new cranes.
 
Besides those factors, Crane Dude’s Agarwal is seeing new small-business start-ups in crane rental, tree care, HVAC, sign work, and general contracting. “They buy used equipment from 20-USt boom trucks to 300-USt all-terrain cranes,” he said.
 
Select Crane’s Mackenzie added that the slight softening he sees in demand for cranes in general is caused by higher interest rates to borrow money and by the uncertainty of 2024 being presidential election year. 
 
Most-Popular Types, Sizes
Every one of the experts we consulted mentioned all-terrain cranes as being in high demand, though in different capacity ranges.
 
Many also cited boom trucks as ranking high on customers’ shopping lists.
 
And, not surprisingly, most said that newer units are more in demand than older ones.
 
Crane Dude’s Agarwal cites demand for three-axle cranes with capacities of about 60 USt, four-axle units in the 90- to 110-USt range, and five-axle models with capacities from 165 to 275 USt. 
 
Coastline Equipment’s Goodale said he sees strong demand for all rough-terrain cranes, industrial cranes, and boom trucks.
 
Quality Crane’s Landres noted 175-USt all-terrain cranes and boom trucks with capacities of 45 USt or more as being the cranes his customers ask for most.
 
Select Crane’s Mackenzie said boom trucks with capacities of 40 or more USt are popular, along with all-terrain cranes in the 75- to 120-USt range, and ATs with capacities of 400 USt or more.
 
Maxim’s Tobon said his customers are looking for boom trucks of all capacities, all-terrain cranes with capacities from 150 to 400 USt, and 300-USt capacity crawler cranes.
 
Domestic vs International
Only Maxim’s Tobón mentioned currently selling a significant amount of used cranes overseas. “I see growing international demand for cranes with EPA Tier 3 engines, which were manufactured before 2012 and do not need DEF (diesel exhaust fluid),” he said.
 
Crane Dude’s Agarwal said that most cranes that are 10 or fewer years old are sold within the U.S. and Canada, and that some that are more than 10 years old are sold to buyers in Mexico. 
 
He notes that Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East are showing little demand for used equipment from North America. “Those areas have been buying aggressively from other countries, where used American- and German-made cranes are cheaper,” he said. “Customers in those three markets are also buying lots of Chinese-made cranes.”
 
Quality Cranes’ Landres said that during the 2000s and early 2010s, most of his company’s sales went to the export market, but now about 90% are in North America.
 
Select Crane’s Mackenzie added that during the past year unfavorable currency exchange rates, scarcity of older, less expensive, cranes, and rising freight costs have hindered sales to overseas customers.
 
Tips for Buyers and Sellers
Based on decades of experience, the experts offered some tips to help make the process smoother for customers.
 
Crane Dude’s Agarwal says that in today’s market buyers should not hesitate when they find what they’re looking for. 
 
“If you find a crane you like, you must hurry,” he says. “Another like it may not be available for months, or even a year.”
 
Coastline Equipment’s Goodale notes that serious buyers should pre-qualify for financing to make things go faster and more smoothly. “Be specific about your needs, and know the application you’re going to use the equipment for,” he says.
 
Quality Cranes’ Landres suggests that buyers research thoroughly before making a purchase. “Ask a lot of questions, and ask for lots of photos before traveling to inspect a crane,” he says. “Research its history, review a list of completed repairs, then perform a detailed inspection. Besides just looking at the equipment, check out its environment to confirm that it was operated professionally and maintained expertly.”
 
Select Crane’s Mackenzie suggests that buyers and sellers be sure to keep all ownership paperwork, even if registration isn’t needed in their state. “When they go to sell, the customer may be in a state that does require it, and if they don’t have it, it may hold up the sale,” he says.
 
Maxim’s Tobón emphasized that it’s important for a buyer to know and be comfortable with the seller.
 
Also, says Tobon, a buyer must be sure to perform due diligence before making a purchase. “Check out the crane’s ownership history, be sure the seller is the legal owner, ask to see inspection records, and insist on an inspection,” he said. 
 
Relationships are Vital
To a person, the experts we spoke with said that trust and good relationships are vital to the used-crane business.
 
Said Agarwal, buying from a single seller is all about relationship. “In fact, customers sometimes even ask us to buy a crane from auction and then sell it to them because of the support we can provide with everything from finance and insurance to after-sale used parts.”
 
Likewise, Goodale said that a connection with the seller, along with service and support, are key reasons used-equipment buyers choose to do business with companies like Coastline.
 
Landres noted that when a customer buys directly from a seller, as opposed to at auction, they feel more confident about investing time and money into a thorough inspection and review of the crane’s history because they are sure that the machine will be sold to them if they want it.
 
Said Tobón, “I find that buyers want to have a good relationship with the seller, so they buy from a company they know.”
 
Mackenzie says that trust and solid relationships with buyers are essential, then adds, “Select Crane proudly represents some manufacturers, but about 75% of the cranes we purchase for inventory are used machines. I’ve always liked the used market because it can offer customers a quality crane at a lower price.” 



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