Beware of the "Deal"
The thought of saving money is one we all share as potential business owners. Reducing the overall amount of capital required to start your business is also a shared ideal. The first place many people look to save money is with the equipment used to operate the business. Now I don't know about you, but the way I look at it, starting a business with a used espresso machine is similar to driving across America in a 1974 Pinto, "you might make it, you might not". In this months column I will tackle the sticky issue of why you should or should not purchase a used espresso machine.
First let me say that what I'm about to share with you comes from several years of seeing the unfortunate instance of a persons dreams crashing around them, in front of me. Not a pretty sight, but one that does occur. The information provided is not intended to sway you one way or the other but to simply provide facts required to make a qualified decision when purchasing a used espresso machine.
Used restaurant equipment abounds. Many people will purchase an item simply based on how it looks. The shinier the better, but this is where the trouble lies. Espresso equipment can be a bit deceiving, what may look great on the outside could be a disaster inside. Do your homework when giving consideration to the purchase of used espresso equipment. Make sure that any equipment comes with some kind of warranty. Ask the vendor if they have a buyer remorse policy or is the sale, as is.
First and foremost, find out how old the machine is and get a little bit of history on it. Then check to see if you can find a distributor and or parts provider for that particular brand. There are many brands of machines out there. Some machines are more popular than others in particular regions and parts may be easy to find in those areas, but possibly elusive in yours. It is imperative that you can maintain the machine with a readily available source of parts and pieces. It does you no good to purchase a machine for which you cannot get parts.
The worst machines always seem to be the ones that are sitting in a garage somewhere and "were used only a few times a day" or "for a couple of months, about a year ago". Don't fool yourself; there are many things to go wrong with these machines. Water is the main source of trouble. Many times espresso equipment is put into storage without regard to draining the water out of the boiler and from the group valves and tubing. When equipment is put into storage or simply not used for sometime, water can create damage that cannot be seen. Water is corrosive and it can create internal damage that you will not be aware of until the machine is hooked up to power and water. Scale build up inside the boiler can cause trouble in the form of plugged tubing and site glasses, flow meters that malfunction, and automatic water fill control unit failures. Take a peek inside the machine. If you see corrosion on the outside of fittings attached to the boiler, imagine what the inside might look like.
Additionally, if a machine is stored in an area where it could freeze, it will, and when this happens it will split heat exchangers and other various components. The worst part of this is that you will not be aware of until the machine is hooked to water and power, many times after you have already paid. It is not uncommon to have a machine that has frozen to require more work than it is worth. Make sure it works before you buy it.
Many times people will buy a machine only to find that many parts and pieces are missing. The most common "missing part is the external water pump. Many machines are manufactured with internal pumps, but many are also manufactured with external pumps. An external pump is an easy piece to miss and is also the most costly part to replace. The trouble is that many times the water pump is located under the machine in a cabinet. When the machine is removed from service it is often left behind. If you are unsure as to whether you have an external pump or an internal pump, take a look. An internal pump machine will have a small electrical motor with a brass pump head attached to it inside your espresso machine. If you look inside and see no pump, you have an external. Another telltale sign is the presence of an additional power cord leaving the machine. If you have two cords, one of them goes to a pump.
The next most common missing part is the portafilters. This can be a problem. On a traditional espresso machine, try and make coffee without portafilters, I dare ya. I have seen people buy machines and the past owner has said "I lost the portafilters, but they only cost a couple of bucks". That may be true for some machines but not for all. Make sure you get the portafilters when you buy the machine.
I have looked at machines that people have purchased for little money only to find that that's what they were worth "little money". Disappointing? Yes. Frustrating? Yes. When you are buying used it is your responsibility to ensure that all the pieces are there. If the machine you choose is missing a few parts. You can usually get replacements from your local service company or parts provider. It will also be to your advantage to have any espresso equipment you may be considering checked out by a qualified espresso machine repair technician. This is truly the only way to insure that what you purchase is worth the price you pay for it. There's an old saying that goes something like " You get what you pay for". Make sure that what you get is an espresso machine that will take you down the long road to espresso success.