Buying a Gray

buying a gray

Posted by: “Darin Stormer” cstormer2@juno.com darinstormer

Wed Apr 11, 2012 9:11 am (PDT)



Here is a document I started several years ago and never finished I thought I would put it out here and see what people think. 
Darin Stormer

After years of dealing in the Japanese gray market tractors I have decided to write down a few things that I have learned through my experiences with them. We call them “gray market tractors” because they were designed for use in Japan, mainly as tiller tractors for the rice patties. These small tractors have been produced in large numbers in Japan for years, becoming popular in the seventies. Importers have been bringing them into the US to a fill a void as the domestic tractor companies simply did not sell many small tractors in the seventies and eighties. Used tractor buyers looking for a small tractor just did not have much to choose from. Japanese companies like Yanmar and Mitsubishi sold tractors here in the eighties, but stopped when the domestic makers contracted with them to manufacture tractors for our market and sold them under the domestic brand names. This market at the time was relatively small, and the tractors were not sold in great numbers. In the nineties the appetite for small t 
A few words on tractor model numbers. On most of the Japanese import tractors the first two digits represent PTO horse power (D1500 = 15 pto hp). I will generalize a little here and try to explain the chronological order the tractor models numbers took. The earliest tractors model numbers normally ended in 00. Mitsubishi models like D1500, D 1600, Yanmar model like YM1500, YM1700, and Shibaura model SD1500 etc. Most of these tractors had 2 cylinder engines. The next generation saw the 00 configuration change to model numbers like D1850, D1550, for Mitsubishi, YM 1610, YM 1601 in the Yanmar line and SD1843 SD 1803 placed on Shibaura tractors. These model numbers gave way in the early eighties to numbers like MT1801, MT 2201 in the Mitsubishi line, YM 2020, YM1820 in the Yanmar line. In the mid to late eighties model numbers went to two digits MT 23, MT 18 for Mitsubishi line, F18 F20 for Yanmar, D23 D26 for Shibaura tractors. In the late eighties and early nineties we saw the two digit numbers go to three, m 
Now let’s talk about horse power. Japanese gray market tractors horse power is rated at the PTO. Most domestic tractors manufacturers rated horse power at the flywheel. This is why when you see a grey market tractor advertised for sale, the advertised hp will be larger than what we just discussed about the model number indication of horse power. This was done so that consumers could make a fair comparison between domestic and the import gray market tractors. PTO horse power is a much better way of rating a tractor as many implements are sized according to how much power they require. Flywheel horse power just indicates how much power the engine will produce and does not take into account the power lost in the drive train of the tractor. The Japanese Gray market tractors seem to be rated very conservatively where the domestic tractors tend to be a little optimistic. 

Style changes were also employed along the way. The compact tractors up until about the mid eighties had the gears shifters mounted between your legs as you sat on the tractor, and had a raised gear case as well. This design made it difficult to get on and off of the tractor especially the small tractors. The manufacturers started to switch over to a flat deck design in the mid eighties. This design moved the shifters to either the fenders or the column. The raised gear case was also eliminated making a flat deck that was much easier to get on and off of. 

There has been much discussion about safety equipment when it comes to the import tractors. The fact is that most of these tractors are 15 to 20 years old when they are imported. As a comparison when the domestic tractors were built in the eighties they did not have this safety equipment either, safety equipment like roll over protection, PTO guards, and seat belts. These items should not be taken lightly many people have been killed and maimed from lack of safety equipment. There are distributors selling ROPS, guards, and seat belts for the import tractors, and they are a good idea. The one design that cannot be changed is that on domestic tractors when you pull back on the throttle the tractor will slow down, it is the opposite on the gray market tractors. This is the only real difference when you compare the early Japanese compact tractors with the early domestic compact tractors. 

There are a lot of these used tractors advertised as rebuilt and factory rebuilt. There is no such thing as a manufacturer rebuilding one of these tractors. There are many companies “rebuilding” them. I put rebuilding in quotation marks as this is a very subjective term. Rebuild the engine? Transmission? Drive train? Or just put a real nice paint job on it. I have seen a great number of these tractors that were “rebuilt” in a third country and sold here. These tractors have there hour meters returned to 0. I have seen more than one dealer sell them as new, yes a 20 year old tractor sold as new. I prefer to sell used tractors in original condition with honest wear that customers can see, and get a feel for how the tractor was used, and cared for. My analogy is this, would you rather purchase a clean used car with original paint and miles, or a rebuilt repainted car that is most likely covering up damage that is now hiding under new paint. My suggestion is that if you are going to purchase 
Parts are on everyone’s mind when purchasing a used tractor. The fact is that parts dry up for most all tractors domestic or import. Aftermarket suppliers’ start manufacturing parts for popular or large run tractors, but limited models can be hard to get parts for as the manufacturers are only responsible to produce parts for about 10 years. Body parts are the first thing to go as model year changes make them obsolete. Drive train parts are a different story as they usually transcend body changes and carry through many models. So mechanical parts tend to get used on many different models and are available much longer. Local rebuilders can repair things like water pumps, starters, alternators, and radiators. Lets face it these tractor are popular because they are inexpensive. At this writing a Yanmar Ym1500 in excellent condition is worth about 2500.00 given labor rates and parts costs it would cost 2500.00 to rebuild the engine. My point here is that if you are going to purchase an inexpensive tractor stop 
Tractor hours are another tool customers use to evaluate a tractor. I noted earlier that there are rebuilders that return the hour meter to zero. My opinion is that customers put too much weight on the hour meter. A tractor may show low hours but had its hour meter cable broken for years so it does not show true hours. A well maintained tractor engine should run 5000 + hours. My sister has a Mitsubishi manufactured Case tractor that is approaching 10,000 hrs it has been used on her farm 2-3 hours a day for 15 plus years. This tractor has had very little in mechanical problems. She changes oil every 50 hrs and greases it at that time. Homeowners use there tractors on average about 50 hrs a year. Even at the low end of the longevity scale thats a 100 year life spans. My point here is that most tractors do not get worn from use, but neglected, and worn out from poor maintenance. Don’t worry about high hours normally the owner of tractors using them frequently also service them frequently. This is another reaso 
Now lets get down to what people really want to know “what’s the tractor worth”.

I get this question on a daily basis customer’s call and ask about a tractor they are looking at. The next question is can you tell me what it is worth, my standard answer is no. First I would not try to price a tractor that I cannot see. Given that most of the tractors are 15

+ years old, they could be in showroom condition or ready for the scrap yard. Another consideration is location, depending upon what part of the country you are in will have an influence on price. If there are numerous tractor dealers competition will soften the price, but if you are in a location with few dealers and not a lot of inventory, the price could be considerably higher. The idea here is to know your market. Look in the classifieds, at dealers, and other market places to see what is out there for sale. As a last resort look on the internet, I say as a last resort because again the location is going to change what the tractor is worth. If you are looking at say a Yanmar YM2000 for sale compare it with what is on the market in that hp range. If you are comparing it to a domestic brand the gray market tractor should be about 25% less in price.

I will now touch on specific tractor brands. Yanmar tractors are the most prolific Japanese import tractor. Yanmar and John Deere struck a deal in the eighties where Yanmar tractors were sold under the JD name and continued until around 2006.in the later years John Deere mainly just used the Yanmar engine in there tractors. Yanmar now sells tractors in the US again, in a deal with Cub Cadet; these tractors now also carry the Yanmar name as well as the Cub Cadet brand. Yanmar produced tractors from 11 to 50 + hp. The first tractors used a 2 cylinder engine. This engine was tough and Yanmar built there reputation on it. The engine was a very simple design. The smaller models did not even have a water pump, using convection to circulate the coolant. This engine is characterized by loud knocking and heavy vibrations. They were dubbed the Yanmar hammer. The next series of tractors from Yanmar featured 3 and 4 cylinder engines. This series also saw the introduction of the power shift transmission. This transmissi 
Mitsubishi formed an alliance with case in the eighties to produce tractors under the case brand name. They also provided engines for Cub Cadet. Mitsubishi tractors were also sold under the Satoh and Kumia name brands. They were for the most part identical to the Mitsubishi models with just a name change. Like the Yanmar line, Mitsubishi started with 2 cylinder engines in models like the D1500. D1600 etc. Larger models like the D2500 had four cylinder engines. All of these models were very basic no frills tractors. The next generation what I call the “50 series” all had 4 cylinder engines with the exception of the D1450 and D1550 they were three cylinder model. These engines were much smoother and quieter running than the 2 cylinder models. Mitsubishi was unique in that they produced a 4 cylinder engine all the way down to a 16 hp tractor. These 4 cylinder engines carried over to the next generation models the MT series. Like the Yanmar F series these models were a flat deck design moving the shif 
All of the Japanese tractor manufacturers followed about he same incarnation of technology, so I won’t go any farther with explaining them here. I will list the other tractor brands and who they affiliated themselves with over the years. Shibaura cut a deal with ford to produce tractors for them in the eighties, and still produce engines for the New Holland line. Hinomoto produced tractors for Massey Ferguson, but that relationship ended in the 90’s. Hinomoto was purchased by Toyosha and the tractor line was shut down. Hinomoto models were good tractors but with no factory support for over a decade parts are very tough to come by. I would not tell you not to buy one, just understand that it is going to be a disposable tractor, and the purchase price should reflect that. Iseki took over where Hinomoto left off producing tractors for Massey Ferguson and continue to do so even today. Kubota tractors are restricted from importation and cannot be sold here under there trade mark name. That said, some Kubota trac ____________