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Second hand commercial coffee machines – when buying online can be risky

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Dean Cartwright

18th Mar 2022

7 minutes for reading

Is it worth buying second hand commercial coffee machines online? People often come to us for an opinion on an ‘amazing deal’ they’ve seen online. I always tell them it will be a punt. Unless a specialist looks inside the machine for you, there is no way of telling.

Why pay extra for a coffee machine from Cartwright?

It’s a fair question.

People often ask us for quotes on second hand commercial coffee machines and are surprised when our prices turn out higher than what they’ve come across online – on marketplaces like eBay or on second hand catering equipment sites.

The reason we often charge more is because we are more than just middle men. We don’t just ‘sell on’ second hand machines to make a quick profit. We thoroughly check every machine before we let them leave our warehouse.

First, we look for limescale and boiler defects. Then we carry out a full service and certify the machine as safe and compliant.

In short, we look after our customers and give them peace of mind.

In this article, I will start by looking at one of the most common hidden dangers in second hand coffee machines: limescale

Limescale: the biggest killer of all coffee machines

You can’t see scale when buying second hand commercial coffee machines online. A machine may look shiny and appear beautiful on the outside. It might seem to be amazing value for money. But the reality is, unless the boiler has been protected by a water filter or a water softener, it could quite easily turn into a huge waste of money.

The other day, we took out a machine from Plymouth that was a year old. When I opened up the boiler, it looked as if it had built up scale over three years. The previous owners didn’t have a filter on the machine, so it really was quite thick.

Scale can cause all kinds of problems for your equipment. The boiler can handle a certain amount, but it’s your pipes and other parts that are more seriously affected when scale infests a machine. For example, the water flowing through the machine to the group heads travels through relatively small pipes. The solenoid valves are also very small in terms of what can pass through them. That all impacts on what’s coming out of the machine into the coffee.

With a scaled up machine, you might find that it won’t fill up properly because the probe can’t detect the water. Scale can cause corrosion. If there is a blanket of scale around the element, your boiler will be less efficient because the element will need to draw more current.

So, when buying second hand commercial coffee machines online, the first thing I would check is whether the machine has been protected by a water filter. Even then, bear in mind that the seller might not be honest. Besides, there are different types of water filter. You really need a scale guard rather than a filter that only treats the water from dirt and odours.

Next, look at where the coffee machine comes from. Machines that have been operated in hard water areas will be more susceptible to scale, but there can even be limescale hotspots in soft water areas. One example in Devon is Honiton. I’ve seen water coming out of coffee machines in Honiton that is almost as hard as water from the Thames. The Thames area is traditionally known as the hardest water area of the UK.

If you were to buy a second hand coffee machine from Cartwright Coffee, we will have already used a torch and a camera to check the boiler for scale during our service. Not only that; we’ve got the facilities to descale a coffee machine boiler. That could be two days’ worth of work, so we would take account of this cost when deciding on the sale price of the machine.

Of course, the price of de-scaling coffee machines with multiple boilers can soar. Some boilers will melt if you attempt to descale them, because the materials are not as high a grade. That is another factor to think about when buying second hand.

Boiler check, service and warranty

Another question to ask before you buy a second hand coffee machine is whether it has been regularly serviced. Again, the seller might not be truthful about that or have a full understanding of what’s required. Our engineers have been out to machines where the owners think they know what they’re doing but they don’t.

We will check the boiler for damage, because if the boiler has a hairline crack. it will need to be replaced. Boilers can range from £300 to £900 cost price. So, if an end user was to buy one, there would be another 30 or 40 per cent on top of that. With brands such as La Marzocco, Slayer, Sanremo, Simonelli, etc. you could be paying an absolute fortune.

Even for an entry level machine, you may have paid £500 and end up having to spend another £500 on a new boiler. And the damage may not be obvious. This is a worst case scenario, but what I’m saying is, if you buy cheap, you often end up buying twice. We take all that worry out of the equation.

While we’re checking and descaling a boiler, we will also swap any other worn parts. If the element is in poor condition, we will replace it. We can steam clean machines. We can change components and source parts for most machines. Electrical components in second hand machines are usually OK, because it would take someone to pour coffee on top of the machine to actually wipe out those parts, but we can replace these if necessary.

We will soon have the facility to spray paint suitable machines too.

Once installed at your premises, we would normally provide a warranty. Again, this is not something you can expect with an online second hand coffee machine purchase.

Safety, compliance and certification

Finally, please understand that not all second hand commercial coffee machines are safe!

We are one of the few businesses in Devon that provide pressure testing for boiler valves, so we will pressure test the valves of any second hand machine we are interested in to make sure they discharge at the correct pressure. If a valve fails to discharge, we will replace it with a new valve, which we will also test.

It is crucial you understand the importance of pressure testing. Our engineers visited a premises in Devon where the valve had been sealed with lead. Their boiler was effectively a bomb.

We will also check panels for screws and replace any missing ones. We will check the machine guards. This acts as an extra safeguard should a boiler blow up, because the machine is more likely to take the impact and staff will be protected from bits of metal flying everywhere.

We will also check the following:

  • The anti-vac valve. This is a valve that allows the machine to release air when heating up and prevents a vacuum forming when it’s cooling down.
  • Water level. If there’s a sight glass fitted, we will check the water level, so we will know that the machine is filling correctly.
  • Main pressure control
  • Does the machine have dry heat protection?
  • Condition of pipework. We will replace any corroded pipes.

This is all to make sure that the machines that leave us are safe and compliant.

When our safety checks are complete, we sign everything off and provide the customer with a certificate. A second certificate is then sent out by Espress Test, who govern us.

We can also provide an enhanced electrical test – like an upgraded PAT test.

If you ever need to call your insurance company in, you can hand them proof that the machine has been independently certified as safe.

Now you can see why people often pay a little bit extra when purchasing a second hand coffee machine from Cartwright Coffee. In fact, it might be more accurate to call the second hand machines we supply ‘pre-loved’ due to the real care and attention we give them before passing them on.

To find out what machines we currently have in stock, please get in touch via our contact form.

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