Used Espresso Machine
In this article, you will understand what are the questions to ask to examine a used espresso machine. This will give you a better idea if you got yourself a good deal or is better off buying a new machine.
This mainly works for Bezzera machines which we retail on our main website: www.finecoffeecompany.com
It should more or less work with the same genre of espresso machines from other brands like Rocket, VBM, Lelit, La Marzocco, ECM, etc.
Will it work for other coffee machines like Delonghi, Krups, Breville, etc? These machines don’t have any boilers but many of the points below are applicable.
Check for limescale issues
Limescale is definitely one of the worst issues to have in any type of coffee machine. As explained in our article on the importance of water softening, which is a must-read for every coffee machine owner. They are cancer to the coffee makers and they spread. If the machine is clogged with limescale, it will be a very problematic or even dangerous machine to have in the long run.
First check with the user on what kind of water has been used with the used coffee machine.
Is it filtered water? If yes, does the filter soften the water? Pay attention that most filters don’t soften the water or have very limited capacity to contain limescale. Some water filters, particularly those that filter by reverse osmosis, often remineralise the water to a very hard condition. Alkaline water is usually hard water. Those would make matters worse. In specific, it’s magnesium and calcium that you will want to avoid. For Bezzera machines, we use water softener cartridges, they must be replaced regularly.
Was the machine using distilled water? Distilled water will not produce limescale, but they are highly corrosive unless the user has remineralised it with some baking soda or potassium bicarbonate. If the machine has been using such corrosive water, toxin metal such as lead could be leached out from the brass. Brass is a common material used in fittings as it has excellent heat conductivity and strength.
If the user did not use any water softeners, you may want to ask when was the machine last descaled. Descaling removes most of the limescale in the machine but it’s highly unlikely that the process would remove the limescale totally.
If the limescale flakes off the wall after descaling and floats around the machine, it can easily cause issues with the valves. It is also not uncommon for components to fail after descaling. As such, you would prefer that the seller descaled the machine and tested that it’s working before buying over than to descale on your own.
Be aware that descaling is a corrosive process and like using distilled water, it could cause toxin metal to leach from the brass, once it starts coming out, it’s hard to stop.
If the seller has been conscious of reducing limescale from the machine. The machine should be less problematic and requires fewer fix in the event something failed.
If the machine wasn’t descaled and has never used any water softeners. Limescale could be onset on many parts of the machine and can be very problematic. Doing repairs on such machines will be the most expensive as it’s likely that more than one section has to be serviced or replaced. Fixing limescale issue could easily cost you anywhere from 10% to 40% of the machine.
Ask if the machine has any electrical issues
Coffee machines could use a lot of energy during the heating process and if the power supply is not stable, it could sustain electrical damage to the components. Some homes simply have poor wiring or grounding and stress their appliances a lot.
If the machine has a power trip issue or can’t switch on, then that can be a risky purchase. As the seller would not be able to answer if the other functions of the machine are working or require other fixes.
Often, a power surge could produce chain damage to multiple components. Some components like the heating element and the regulator aka mainboard, are particularly costly to fix. The component itself could cost 10% to 20% of the machine.
Normally power trip issues are centred around the heating element and replacing it and some ancillary should fix the issue, but that could set you back around 20% to 30% of the machine.
Components like LED lights, relays and lights are not expensive to fix but they normally fail together with other components from chain damages.
If the machine has very complicated features, repairs can easily climb above $1000 easily, that’s why at https://www.finecoffeecompany.com, we prefer to retail brands and models that are highly serviceable like Japanese cars and more reliable.
Find out if the machine has any pressure issues
For professional espresso machines, there should be a gauge showing the brewing pressure. If the machine has no gauge to show you any value, it’s hard to tell if the pump is still working. We will suggest avoiding machines that have no brew pressure gauge as you are literally buying blind without knowing what’s the condition.
Pumps often don’t fail totally, they could exert a very low pressure and could still produce crema in the espressos. So it’s inaccurate to judge if the pump is working by looking at whether it can make an espresso.
Ask the user what is the highest pressure it can exert with a blind filter.
If the pump can hold steadily at least 9 bars, it should be fine. If the pressure is fluctuating, it’s either a problem with built up limescale or the pump.
Most coffee machines in the market use a vibration pump, and they have a duty cycle ranging from 1:1 to 2:1. A 2:1 means that the pump can work a maximum of 2 minutes at one go, followed by 1 minute of cool down.
The typical lifespan for an Italian-made vibration pump is about 5 to 7 years. So if you are looking at a machine that is around 5 years and above, and is using a vibration pump, you may need to be prepared that the pump has to be replaced. The average cost of replacing a prosumer vibration pump is approximately SGD200/USD140 to SGD300/USD210.
Some machines use a rotary pump which is the same kind of pump used in the bigger cafe machines, they are designed for heavy-duty with practically no duty limit. They tend to be less susceptible to limescale issue affecting the brew pressure, so they are definitely much more durable. The cost to replace a rotary pump can cost 4x more but they rarely fail.
Ask if the used expresso machine has any leaks.
Be it a water or gas leak, check where’s the leak and how serious is it.
It will be good if the user can show you a video of the issue which you can forward to the service centre to have a better understanding if it’s a big concern. Half the time, the issues are minor and are cheap to fix.
Leakage around the steam wand and grouphead, are usually small issues from worn gaskets.
Some minor drips from the exhaust or water dripping from the wands while heating up is usually nothing to worry about and are common.
The worst kind of leak is from corrosion when the boiler starts to pit. This is uncommon for machines below a decade old unless the user has something corrosive in the water line, like descaler, distilled water, etc.
Ask if the machine has any unusual issues.
It’s better to also ask directly if the machine has any functionality issues. Getting a video or some photos will be useful. You could probably forward the details to the service centre and ask if the problem is major. Sometimes the issue is nothing and could easily be fixed by the user.
The following function tests are applicable to machines with an internal boiler:
- Heating – able to heat and stabilise the temperature.
- Water automatic refill – able to refill the boiler after water has been purged from the boiler. Note that single boiler usually has no automatic refill function.
- Brew pressure test – able to pressurise and retain a minimum 9 bars of pressure using a blind filter
- Group and wand leak test. Has no leaks during brew pressure tests and no leaks when the wands are activated.
- Has no continuous gas leaks from the top of the boiler after the machine heat and stabilised the temperature.
Hope the information has been useful to let you make an informed decision on buying a used expresso machine.
Do note that there sometimes issues could be associated with another, causing very complicated issues. The guide above should only serve as a reference and should not be taken as a definitive guide on the actual condition of the machine and its expected cost to repair.
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