Female scientist works at a computer

Navigating the Pre-Owned Lab Equipment Marketplace

Tips and tricks for finding quality alternatives to new equipment for your lab

Katie Ellsworth

When you need new equipment in your lab, it is important to remember that “new” can also mean new-to-you. While there are certainly situations where brand new equipment is the way to go, there are many cases where pre-owned equipment is an excellent option. If you are looking to free up funds for a different part of your budget or don’t need the extra features in the latest version of the equipment, turning to the pre-owned marketplace can help. In addition to saving you a significant amount of money, purchasing pre-owned equipment can have the added benefit of lowering your environmental impact. Whether you are searching for a specific make and model or something more general, the equipment you need is likely out there if you know where to look.

The pre-owned lab equipment marketplace includes a variety of ways to find and purchase equipment. Some manufacturers resell their own used equipment but there are also dedicated reselling companies, including ones that focus on specific types of lab equipment. Pre-owned lab equipment can also be found on general reselling sites like eBay, as well as on specialized marketplace platforms like LabX, which allow for reselling of equipment by companies and individuals.

Beginning your search

When starting your search for pre-owned lab equipment, it is important to check multiple sources so you can get a good idea of what is available. If you only search on one platform you risk missing out on better deals elsewhere. A quick web search for “used x for sale” provides an excellent starting point, and from there you can begin to refine your search.

If you know exactly what brand or model of equipment you are looking for, searching is straightforward, but if you have yet to narrow down what you need you can cast a broader net. In this case it is a good idea to start with a list of needs and wants for functionality and features. Knowing the exact specifications of what you need the equipment to do will allow you to quickly assess which available pieces have potential and warrant further investigation.

Once you have begun your preliminary search, there are a few things you will need to take stock of:

  • Are there a lot of listings for this equipment, or is it relatively rare? If there are not many listings it will limit your selection and could mean that pre-owned is not a good option for that particular equipment.
  • Are prices generally listed or will you need to request quotes to determine the price range? Getting a feel for what the price range is will allow you to assess if a price is exceptionally low or high, which can help you eliminate subpar equipment and vendors.
  • What are the relative ages of the listed equipment? You cannot directly compare the price of different items if they haven’t been used for similar amounts of time, so make sure you are taking equipment age into account.

Once you have assessed the general state of the market for the lab equipment you are looking for, you can narrow down your search results to a handful of items with the potential to meet your needs.

Used versus refurbished

Not all pre-owned equipment is of equal quality. During your search you will likely come across the terms used and refurbished describing pre-owned equipment, and it is important to know the difference. 

Equipment being sold simply as used means exactly that: the equipment has been used before. This can mean anything from “used a few times before we realized we needed a different model” to “used for over a decade in a teaching lab,” so the quality of a used piece of equipment can vary widely. While the definition of used can extend to a piece of equipment that is only usable as parts, many used instruments are still perfectly functional. In fact, most used equipment being sold is listed as being in working order, but their reliability depends greatly on the seller of the equipment.

Refurbished lab equipment, on the other hand, indicates a consistent higher standard of quality. Refurbished items have been cleaned, tuned, and tested by the seller to ensure that everything is in working order. Many sellers of refurbished equipment will also replace the smaller parts that wear out quickly and redo calibrations to manufacturer standards. Refurbished equipment has been used before, but buying refurbished provides a guarantee that the equipment is ready to use and trustworthy. Refurbished equipment sellers also frequently provide a warranty for their refurbished items, adding an extra level of security to your purchase.

Assessing vendors and equipment quality

Once you have identified which listings have potential to work for your lab, there are a few other things you should assess before making a purchase.

First, you should assess the reputability of the vendors. One of the quickest ways to do this is to look for reviews. If they are a dedicated reseller, they should have a reputation within the community as being reliable and easy to work with. If the seller is an individual, many sites that host sales will also have a review function or a seller rating that is available to check. An additional way that a vendor can demonstrate their quality is through service guarantees or warranties. If the seller lists a warranty with purchase, a guarantee of satisfaction, or offers further assistance with the equipment after purchasing, they are clearly willing to stand by the sales they make and the equipment they provide.

Another key indicator of vendor quality is the amount of information they provide about the equipment for sale. The more details, the better. At minimum, you should be able to obtain pictures of the equipment, its year of manufacture, make, model, and serial number. Further information to ask for includes the date of last service, origin of the equipment, and history of use. A good vendor will be able to answer any of these questions even if the information isn’t provided up front on the listing, or will be able to provide a good reason for why some information isn’t available.

When you are satisfied that the vendors seem trustworthy, it is time to assess the equipment that is still in the running for purchase: 

  • Compare the information provided on the listings and reach out to get any further clarification needed. 
  • Consider the age of the equipment, the amount of use, and whether or not it has been refurbished when comparing prices. 
  • Factor in how long you would like to be able to use the equipment in your lab, i.e., if it will be a staple piece of equipment or if you will need to upgrade again in a few years. 
  • If all the equipment options meet your needs, assess any additional features that are available.

If you still have multiple purchase options after making all of these considerations, you can try to negotiate prices between vendors to get the best deal for your lab.

After making the purchase

After you have successfully purchased pre-owned equipment for your lab, you should leave a review (if possible) to help others who are looking to make their own purchases. Try to maintain a relationship with the vendor so you can get assistance if the equipment has problems down the line, and so you have a promising first stop next time you are looking to purchase pre-owned equipment.

Once you are more comfortable with navigating the world of used lab equipment, you may even consider listing some of your lab’s unneeded equipment for sale. If you decide to sell equipment, be the kind of vendor you would want to buy from.

Top Image:
iStock, Marco VDM