Many new restaurant owners have strict budgets that force serious consideration of used equipment. This isn’t all bad: because so many restaurants fail in their first few years of operation, there is a great deal of high-quality, lightly-used, well-maintained equipment available on the market. Do keep in mind, however, that there is an inherent risk to purchasing used equipment. If you are willing to hire a certified technician to inspect the used equipment before purchasing, that is of course the best option for minimizing the risk of purchasing ‘dud’ or problematic equipment. Most new owners will not, however.
If you’re considering used equipment, be aware of the following:
New equipment is generally more efficient.
From both an energy-saving and a productivity standpoint, older equipment tends to be less efficient than newer equipment due to regular wear and tear. Thus, the ‘sticker’ productivity or energy-efficiency might not match the ‘actual’ productivity or energy-efficiency of the used equipment being offered. Depending on the supplier, there may be a limited-time guarantee which can limit the potential risk. Keep in mind, however, that the productivity and energy-efficiency loss may not affect you as a buyer - because you’re purchasing used equipment (and thus cheaper equipment), you might be able to fit higher-quality equipment into your budget. As a result, even with some expected loss of efficiency, you can make up that efficiency loss with better equipment.
Used equipment may not come with an applicable warranty.
New equipment usually comes with a warranty on parts and labor that gives you peace of mind - if the equipment breaks, the company may send a technician to repair your equipment, may reimburse you for the repair, or may replace the equipment altogether. With used equipment, however, there may not be an applicable warranty attached to the equipment. If you do not ensure that the used equipment is in good working order, and if you do not take proper care of your equipment, it is possible that the eventual repair and maintenance costs of your used equipment will outstrip the initial savings. As a buyer, you may not want the specter of broken equipment without a warranty hanging over your head, and that’s perfectly reasonable; in that case, it may be best for you to look solely at new equipment.
You should favor gas equipment over electric equipment, all else being equal.
Unless you have a particular reason to desire electric over gas (for example, perhaps you don’t have an available gas line in your kitchen), it is sound practice to favor gas equipment when purchasing used. Gas equipment tends to have fewer moving parts than equivalent electric equipment, which means fewer possibilities for breaking down in the long-term. They are also easier and cheaper to repair. With used equipment, of course, the benefits of this simpler design bear fruit - used gas equipment is often in better condition. To ensure that the equipment is working at peak efficiency, some buyers hire a gas technician to test the equipment before purchasing.
Make sure the equipment is not ‘too’ old, as the realities of the market favor the buyer in this regard.
Because most restaurants fail in the first few years of operation, the used equipment market is a buyer’s market. There should be plenty of equipment available that is only lightly-used and relatively new, so try to avoid being suckered into buying equipment that has been in use for five or more years (the older the equipment, the greater the risk of wear and tear, breakage, and efficiency loss). Older equipment should always be looked at with a particularly critical eye. It has not only been exposed to more wear and tear, but it is simply outdated - newer models offer more features, better efficiency, and higher productivity.
Beware of used fryers.
In a commercial kitchen, it is especially important that your fryers are in good working order as they present a serious safety risk. The combination of grease and open flames can cause dangerous kitchen fires, and if the fryer has too much wear and tear (specifically, if the steel has started to rust), then this risk increases greatly. Thus, used fryers should generally be avoided unless you can guarantee upon inspection that the fryer has not worn out enough to present a safety hazard.
Take special care to test used refrigeration equipment to ensure proper function.
Refrigeration equipment that is not working properly can cost you hundreds, or even thousands, in spoilt perishables. As a general rule, when buying a used refrigeration unit, you should probably have a certified technician inspect the unit to ensure that it is working properly. Alternatively, you can check the refrigerator unit temperatures yourself and test the seal on the door gaskets with a piece of paper (check to see if the paper is ‘grasped’ by the door edge - if so, then it is tight enough).
As an alternative, keep on the lookout for cosmetically damaged equipment.
Used equipment is not the only road to a cheaper buy. Cosmetically damaged equipment that is in perfect working condition can be bought at a discount too! Speak with your supplier or to the manufacturer about the possibility of purchasing a discounted, cosmetically damaged piece of equipment. So long as you do not run an open-kitchen, cosmetically damaged equipment is a reasonable alternative to used equipment.