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In the Shop

RSS By: Dan Anderson, Farm Journal

As a farm machinery mechanic and writer, Dan brings a hands-on approach that only a pro can muster. Along with his In the Shop blog, Dan writes a column by the same name as well as the Shop Series for Farm Journal magazine. Always providing practical information, he is a master at tackling technical topics and making them easy for all of our readers to understand. He and his wife, Becky, live near Bouton, Iowa.

Spend Money To Save Money?

May 17, 2009
Here's the dilemma: Several wheel lift cylinders on a 15-year-old planter were leaking badly enough to affect how well the planter raised and lowered. On disassembly, the mechanic found damaged seals due to pitting on their chromed shafts. The inside of the cylinder's bore was visibly worn, but not scored or scratched.

A new seal kit cost more than $100 per cylinder. Labor, including time spent removing, rebuilding and reinstalling each cylinder, was more than $200. So, $300 per cylinder to "fix" the leaky seals and put the planter back in the field.

But the pitted rams are going to work a real hardship on the new seals. Experience has taught that the cylinders will be leaking again within year or two. New chromed rams cost $150 each. Fixing the actual cause of the leaky seals--replacing the rams--brings the total per cylinder to $450. And that is if the "old" cylinder bores were used--undamaged, but several thousandths of an inch less than optimally tight around each cylinder's piston.

Brand new cylinders cost $550 each. The mechanic explained the cause of the leaks, compared various "fixes," and priced the options. The customer and the mechanic discussed what will happen when the new seals encounter the corroded spots on the chromed shafts, how well the new seals will "seat" in the worn cylinder bores, and other considerations. Including how many acres the customer plants each year, how long he intends to keep that planter, and how adverse he is to possible breakdowns related to those cylinders during future planting seasons.

The cheapest option was to spend $300 per cylinder to finish planting this spring. For $550 per cylinder (plus around $200 labor to remove the old cylinders and install the new ones) he would have brand new cylinders. The customer looked at the mechanic and asked, "What would you do if it was yours?"

At this point in my life, if I could possibly afford the extra money, I'd put on new cylinders. They're guaranteed for parts and labor for a year and I'm confident they'd operate trouble-free for at least another 15 years. But it wasn't my planter, and it wasn't my money.

What do you think the customer chose to do?

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