In its relatively short lifespan, horizontal directional drilling has gone from boom to bust and is now making its way back up again. The used equipment market for drill rigs has followed this cycle. Although the overseas market is absorbing a large portion, there are still used units available. So, how do you know if purchasing a used drill rig is a good idea for your operation?
"Used units can be a good fit for a contractor who does an occasional bore," says Klane Kirby, Astec Underground. "Typically, the used buyer is someone who does very few bores a year and can't justify a new purchase."
Previously owned drill rigs can also be a good fit for startup contractors with limited funds. "You're able to get in at a lower cost with a used system," notes Richard Levings at The Ditch Witch organization. "But some of that depends on if you have the ability to purchase used support equipment.
"If you need a certain size unit and you don't have the funds to purchase a totally new system, then you will have to look at used components within the system, which include trucks, trailers, vacuum excavators, etc.," he continues. "The piece of equipment that is purchased used depends on which piece is available, and affordable."
By affordable, Levings means you need to evaluate the true costs of the used equipment. "You don't want to have to turn around and spend a large sum of money to repair it or bring it up to working condition," he explains. "You need to evaluate which piece of that system is the least risk. If you have limited funds and spend all your money on that system, you don't have any cash to cash flow the business or make repairs you didn't foresee."
What to watch for when buying used
If you're considering purchasing a used directional drill, evaluate the following areas.
Hours ? The average life of a drill rig is about 5,000 hours before major components will start to wear out. "Don't buy a drill with 4,000 hours and expect it to run like new," says Levings. "Major components will begin to wear out at that level. Usually, contractors are starting to trade in machines at those hours because maintenance costs are beginning to rise. But be aware, you can see some drills at 2,500 hours that are completely worn out."
Drill pipe ? Drill rod is an expensive item to replace. In the case of a mid-size drill, replacement pipe could cost $15,000, says Kirby.
Yet, buying used drill pipe can be risky. It only takes one really bad bore to ruin drill pipe, and the damage isn't always visible. For example, if a new string of drill pipe is severely over bent, it may not show up as a permanent bend, but it will severely weaken the pipe and shorten its life. "Drill pipe is something you need to be leery of buying used, regardless of its age," Levings states.
Look at the thread condition. Measure the outside diameter of the drill pipe and compare it to a new joint. Look for scores and check to see if it's straight.
"You may want to just replace the drill stem and not take a chance on it," says Kirby. "You could lose a lot of money down the hole if you have faulty drill pipe."
Breakout system (hydraulic wrenches/vises) ? Make sure the breakout system isn't worn out or loose. When you activate it, it should provide a firm, tight fit. "You don't want any play in it," says Marv Klein, Vermeer. "If it's loose, it's time to replace it."
Drill rack ? On older designs with a chain drive system, look for chain wear and check the tension. For newer models equipped with a rack and pinion system, look for wear in the rack gear or pinion gear.
Operator station ? Make sure the controls move properly and aren't loose or sloppy. Check to see that the operator gauges are in working order. "If they're broken, you won't have the tools to properly operate the drill," says Klein.
Undercarriage and tracks ? The entire drill rig can be immobilized if the undercarriage system isn't working properly or is in bad condition, says Klein. It's also one of the most expensive components to repair.