How to inspect a used rough-terrain crane

Greg Whitaker offers his top tips on how to spot an RT lifter in good condition

RT cranes are plentiful in the GCC, but that's not to say that they're all in perfect condition.
RT cranes are plentiful in the GCC, but that's not to say that they're all in perfect condition.


Newspaper Gulf News once famously declared that Dubai was home to half of the world’s working tower cranes. This was not remotely true; a slightly more scientific count by the Wall Street Journal concluded that the real number was closer to 3%. Even so, one fact that cannot be denied is that there are a lot of lifting machines packed into this comparatively small area.

Of the many and various cranes out there, the rough-terrain mobile crane is always a popular choice for a plant manager’s fleet. Sturdy and able to go anywhere, these machines have an exceptionally long service life. Examples built in the 1970s can still be found working each and every day in the desert heat.

Bear in mind, however, that a long service life doesn’t mean these units are indestructible. Indeed, if an RT crane is offered for sale locally, it pays to regard it with a healthy amount of suspicion. Contractors rarely part with these lifters without good reason.

Before you set out to inspect a unit, make sure that you are accompanied by somebody who knows how to operate one. Even without a load, a crane can quickly become unbalanced and overturn. Starting from the outside, check the outriggers. They should all be present (you’d be surprised how often this isn’t the case) and free of stress fractures.

On the machine itself, you should expect a reasonable amount of wear and tear, but look out for any indications that it’s spent time on its side. Beware of recently repainted sections and hastily beaten-out panel covers.

The chances are that the engine has run for thousands of hours, so make the usual checks and listen for unusual knocks or clatters. As a road-going vehicle, don’t forget to check that the exhaust is in reasonable condition, not to mention the tyres, brakes, and lights.

On top of the crane, you’ll find the winch motors. Look out for oil leaks, particularly from the lines that feed them. Also, inspect the cable to ensure it’s not too frayed.

Look at both the main boom and the jib. Beware of stressed metal, weld-line cracks, and other signs of impact damage. Look inside the retractable boom sections to see whether the wear pads are in good condition.

The hook block should look healthy; the sheaves inside its structure must be free from wear and should move without difficulty. Check the pin assemblies and the boom cylinders for cracks. You’ll probably want to move the boom up and down a few times so that you (or your operator) can get a feel for the machine.

As a final note, because rough-terrain cranes are so popular in the Middle East, the service, spare parts, and backup for all of the major manufacturers are second to none. With this in mind, if you find a premium model in decent condition, don’t be shy about making an offer.

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PMV Middle East - September 2020

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