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What to Look for When Buying a Used Espresso Machine
September 14th 2018
The possibility of purchasing a higher-end espresso machine at a price that fits your budget is like winning the espresso lottery; however, buying used equipment does not come with out its risks. To minimize the potential for making a financial mistake, remember that as an espresso machine ages additional maintenance becomes necessary. At some point in the life of most machines, the cost of espresso repair will outweigh the cost of replacement. To avoid purchasing a machine that is ready for scrap, a visual examination of the group heads, boiler and research on parts availability will help you quickly learn if the espresso machine you are considering is more lemon than it is sublime.
As a business owner, having espresso parts readily available for your commercial espresso machine is imperative. Nothing drives a customer away more than an “Out of Order” sign that is up for any length of time. Begin your part research by contacting the machine’s espresso equipment manufacturer. Check with them directly to find out if they are making and will continue to make replacement parts for the model you are considering. Ask specifically about any electronics your machine may be dependent upon to operate. If the manufacturer has discontinued making any necessary parts particular to your model, my recommendation would be to continue searching for another espresso machine. Keep in mind, manufacturers typically do not sell parts directly to the general public and espresso service companies will usually only offer general maintenance items so doing your own comprehensive repair work is difficult. Check with your local service provider to verify that they are able to purchase original equipment manufacturer parts, or at the very least, after-market parts to be able to provide you the necessary services needed to maintain your machine. Most importantly, speaking to your service company and learning their attitudes and their willingness to support your machine is vital. You need to know that you can count on their concerted efforts if your espresso machine is not made by a manufacturer that they typically support or if they have a policy against working on equipment with no service records. Once you confirm that replacement parts and service are available, you’ll want to make a visual inspection of the machine’s group heads, boilers and other working components.
"At some point in the life of most machines, the cost of repair will outweigh the cost of replacement."
If possible, ask to have a professional service technician physically inspect and test the espresso unit. An espresso machine cannot be evaluated if it is not working. If the machine is not operational, have it repaired so that your technician can check that all components are working. An evaluation on an operational machine should take no more than ninety (90) minutes. Additional time may be required if the machine needs to be connected to plumbing and/or electrical. The cost to have a used espresso machine fully evaluated is worth the expense because it will expose needed repairs that you may not be willing to take on such as the replacement of group heads.
Over time, group heads can leak causing brewing inconsistencies and operating problems. Replacing group heads on some machines is expensive. For product consistency across all groups, all groups need to be replaced at the same time. If you are willing to consider taking this type of repair on, you’ll want to research the cost to repair or replace the groups to possibly negotiate the best price for an espresso machine. If you are unable to hire a professional for an evaluation, there are a few things you can check on your own but the following are not the only conditions that point to worn or damaged groups. If the portable filters (port-a-filters) are new and the gaskets are being shimmed, this indicates that the espresso machine's group heads are broken-down and ready to be replaced. You can also look if group head screws are the same in each group. Over-sized screws mean stripped threads. If the group heads looked to be in good condition, the last component of the machine to consider is the boiler(s).
As an espresso machine ages, boilers, especially copper ones, become fatigued and scaled. A fatigued boiler is a condition called, nothing lasts forever. Unfortunately, there is little way for you to tell if a machine’s boiler has reached its life expectancy except maybe by considering its age. Copper boilers over ten years old and that have been consistently used is enough information for most to pass on an espresso machine. Your other concern will be scale or minerals inside the boiler(s). To determine if an industrial espresso machine is holding excessive minerals is to remove the boiler cap or heating element so a visual inspection can be made. This will be an additional expense on top of the machine's basic evaluation. If a visual assessment cannot be made, poor heating and pressure testing results can indicate excessive minerals. Ask for the machine's service records or speak to the service company that has been performing its maintenance. One or the other should be able to offer insight regarding the type of water used with the machine in the past. Make note that just because a machine comes with a softener or a filter does not mean that it was actually working during the operating life of the machine. If you are willing to have the machine descaled, know that the process is labor intensive and must be done thoroughly which means it is costly. Espresso machines must be completely dismantled to remove all mineral deposits. Do not allow your espresso service company to leave scale inside your machine's tubing or other components. At some point, the mineral left lingering will eventually break loose. These minerals will travel through your espresso machine and clog lines as well as other components resulting in the additional expense of on-sight repair calls and equipment down time.
Purchasing a used espresso machine can be very risky but good deals happen every day. Remember, if you are considering a machine from a business that has gone out of business, the possibility that the owner maintained their espresso machine is low; so put aside additional money to meet repair and maintenance costs that were neglected. If you are considering a machine from a business who is upgrading and wants to get rid of their old espresso machine, you may be considering a machine past being viable enough for refurbishment. Take your time and enlist the help of your preferred espresso service company. Their experience and knowledge will be an invaluable resource for you. You can find a professional service company on the Espresso Service Directory at espressoservicedirectory.com. If you have comments about this article, send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d enjoy hearing from you.
written by Ruth Easley Executive Director
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