HAM Radio 101 / Products & Product Reviews

The Age-Old Debate: New vs Used HAM Radio Equipment

To buy new or not to buy new, that is the question.

If Hamlet had been an amateur radio operator (with a name like Hamlet, why not?), maybe he would have asked something like this before shopping for a new rig.

There’s nothing like a shiny new radio in your shack. But there’s also something to be said for getting a bargain and saving money. Hams have a reputation for being frugal to the extreme.

Whatever path you choose, make your shopping list first. Consider the features you want and do some research. What radios do your Ham friends recommend? Check out reviews in amateur radio magazines or seek online reviews on sites such as eHam. Look for radios that have a solid record for reliability and good support from the manufacturer. Find out as much as possible about the equipment before settling on a particular item. 

Choices, Choices

If you’re willing and able to spend the money, buying new equipment is a no-brainer. You get the advantages of current technology, more features, tech support, and a warranty. There are no worries if it will work or not—you’re covered. And, of course, there are the bragging rights.

Why should you consider used equipment? The lower cost of used Ham Radio equipment means that with a limited budget, you get more bang for the buck. Good bargains are available, and most people are very satisfied with the used equipment they buy.

With used equipment, it’s “buyer beware,” so be realistic about your expectations. Radios will likely show some cosmetic imperfections and may be missing some accessories such as mounting brackets or manuals. Remember that used equipment may be out of warranty, and if you buy from an individual seller, you buy it as-is. Also understand that equipment could possibly have hidden issues that may lead to unexpected repairs later.

Now don’t let that scare you away from the used market. There are plenty of good rigs out there waiting to find their next home.

Dealer or Private Sale

If you buy used Ham Radio equipment, is it better to buy from an individual or from a dealer? Each has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Prices may be cheaper and more easily negotiable with an individual seller—they don’t have overhead or expenses included in the price. Since they owned it, they are familiar with the equipment and can answer specific questions. If it’s a local seller, you could arrange to take a peek at the merchandise and in some cases, try before you buy.

A disadvantage is that you can’t be 100 percent sure the seller is giving you an accurate and honest description of the radio—and he or she may or may not stand behind the sale. Though I’ve found the vast majority of Hams to be honest in transactions when purchasing radios, there are always a few bad apples out there.

If you buy from a Ham Radio dealer, there will likely be less risk. The condition of the used Ham Radio equipment is likely to be good since the dealer has a reputation to maintain. You can see the equipment firsthand and may be able to try it out. Most will have some form of warranty or a return policy—be sure to ask about the terms! The downside is that the price is likely to be higher than an individual seller since they have overhead and will charge sales taxes. Not every dealer trades in used equipment, so you may need to look around outside your area.

Another Option

Do you have champagne tastes but a beer budget? Shop for bargains on new equipment. Seek out promotional codes, coupons, rebates, package prices, free shipping, and other discounts. Don’t be afraid to ask a dealer if they will offer price matching or beat a competitor’s price.

Winter Sale Day at DX Engineering

If you have the self-discipline, wait for Black Friday or Cyber Monday to shop. Realize that good things can come to those who wait six months to a year after a radio hits the market. For example, the Icom 7610 price dropped nearly $1,000 (including the rebate) since its introduction in 2018.

Don’t forget sales and clearances. For example, DX Engineering has Sale Day events every January and August with discounts on open box, demo and overstocked gear.

Other Things to Consider

Though equipment is generally more reliable these days, there’s always a possibility that something will go wrong. New equipment can always be returned to the dealer, but service for older equipment may be a different story. There are still a lot of used radios on the market which were manufactured fifteen or more years ago. Some repair parts may be obsolete and no longer available, and older equipment may not be supported by the dealer or factory repair facility.

If you’re buying online, new or used, look closely at the pictures and descriptions. Don’t be shy about asking questions. Online sites like QRZ and eBay encourage sellers to post pictures—ask for more if there aren’t enough. If the used equipment looks well cared for, it suggests the owner has properly maintained it and may be as fussy as you are.

Also, consider a phone call with the buyer before you commit to the purchase—a short chat can answer additional questions and tell you a little about the dealer or seller. Check out private sellers by going to their QRZ page and Google their names or calls.

If you buy online, be sure to use secure payment methods. Never send cash through the mail—consider USPS money orders, or services like PayPal, Zelle, or Venmo for private sellers, credit or debit cards for dealers. All can provide some degree of protection for a buyer.

New or Used?

Buying new is preferable if you have the cash or find a good sale. Choosing used Ham Radio gear can give you more on a limited budget. If you decide to buy used, do some research to be sure you’re getting good equipment at a reasonable price.

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