Last year was characterized by the ongoing tight supply of good-quality, late-model used equipment, resulting in a strong pricing environment and intense competition, said Ritchie Bros. CEO Peter Blake in a recent statement.

Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers reported a record $3.7 billion in gross proceeds last year. The Vancouver, B.C.-based auction company is off to a strong start in 2012 with its largest-ever heavy-equipment auction, held Feb. 13-18 in Orlando, Fla., where more than 10,000 lots sold. The haul included 375 wheel loaders and 350 hydraulic excavators for a record $203 million in gross auction proceeds.

Online auctioneer IronPlanet also is booming, generating a record $50 million in gross sales during its first auction this year in Polk City, Fla., drawing 42,000 attendees Feb. 21-24. These results follow $568 million in 2011 sales—the most in company history—with 40% of lots drawing international bids.

The result of these transactions is a leaner domestic equipment fleet, according to experts.

"Used equipment prices are at their highest levels since first half of 2008," De Maria explains. "Fleets have shrunk, and now utilization is going up. Renting can be a good solution, especially in an uncertain environment."