Guide to Buying Used Ham Radio Equipment

- some essential hints and tips on how to buy used ham radio or amateur radio equipment looking at some of the advantages and disadvantages and the points to watch.

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Today there is a considerable amount of ham radio equipment available. This ham radio equipment offers very good value, and today it is generally very reliable. While buying equipment new has many advantages, it be more costly than buying used ham radio equipment. By buying used ham radio equipment considerable cost savings can be made. While there are advantages to buying used ham radio equipment, there are also some pitfalls and it is necessary to be very careful not to buy an item that may have faults in it and one that may negate any savings that can be made.

Although the second hand sales advertisements are not as extensive as they used to be, there is still a good selection of used ham radio equipment available. Looking at the advertisements at the back of many ham radio magazines, or in the used ham radio equipment lists of many dealers, a huge variety of all sorts of equipment can be seen. Transmitters, receivers, HF transceivers, VHF / UHF handhelds, SWR meters and much more ham radio equipment can be seen.

Define what is needed

When buying any equipment, whether ham radio equipment, or anything else, it helps to know exactly what is wanted. Some thought beforehand defining what is needed always helps. Points to consider for a transceiver may include, bands to be covered, power output, modes of operation - FM, SSB, digimodes, etc., receiver filter requirements, general facilities needed, size, possibility of portable of mobile operation . . . .

Having identified the type or types of ham radio equipment that may fill the requirement, it is possible to look at reviews in the magazines, and see whether the reviews were favourable. In addition to this there may also be reviews on the Internet, or there may be a friend who knows what the particular item of ham radio equipment is like. In this way it is possible to find out as much as possible about the equipment before settling on a particular item or items.

New or used ham radio equipment

One of the first considerations when buying ham radio equipment is whether to buy new or second hand. It is obviously much nicer to buy something new, but the financial realities sometimes mean that the cost of new equipment cannot be justified. Also the lower cost of used ham radio equipment means that with a given budget much better equipment can be bought than if it were purchased new.

As a result, used ham radio equipment can offer an ideal solution, but there are a number of pitfalls:

  • The used ham radio equipment is likely to be outside the manufacturers warranty period
  • If bought through a private sale, no guarantees will be offered.
  • The used ham radio equipment will be older than if bought new and may not be as "up to date" and may not have as many facilities.
  • The used ham radio equipment will be older than any bought new and not be as reliable.
  • The equipment may not have been treated well as a result may not be as reliable.
  • The used ham radio equipment may have been modified, and the modifications may not have been done well.

This is not a full list of the risks of buying used ham radio equipment. However it gives an idea of the points to look out for. However it is not all bad news. Some very good bargains are available, and most people are very satisfied with the equipment they buy. However a foreknowledge of some of the problems is to be fore-armed. If aware of the problems, they can usually be avoided.

Dealer or private sale

Another important choice that has to be made when buying used ham radio equipment is whether to buy through a private sale, i.e. from an individual, or from a dealer. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. A summary of them is shown below:

Advantages and disadvantages of a private sale


  • The price may be cheaper as the private individual does not have profits and sales taxes to incorporate into the price
  • The private individual may be just keen to sell the used ham radio equipment and save the trouble of selling it through a dealer.
  • The private seller may be known and will offer known equipment


  • If the seller is unknown his level of honesty may not be known
  • The reliability of the used ham radio equipment may not be known
  • No sales warranty will be offered

Advantages and disadvantages of buying from a dealer


  • The condition of the used ham radio equipment is likely to be high as the dealer has a reputation to maintain and will not want poor quality equipment
  • It is likely the used ham radio equipment will have some form of warranty (but check this rather than assuming it).
  • The dealer may have a range of equipment from which to choose.


  • The price is likely to be higher as the dealer will need to incorporate profit and sales taxes.

It is not always a simple choice to make. Sometimes it is better to use a recognised dealer, but against this costs are likely to be higher, whereas there are some bargains to be bought through private sales, although the level of risk is higher.

Points to watch

There are a number of key points that can be looked at to give the used ham radio equipment a check-over. The points naturally depend upon the type of equipment, its age and the technologies used. Also th points given are not a totllay exhaustive list, but give an indication of the points that may be considered.

  • Check the controls operate correctly:   When trying the equipment out ensure that all the controls operate correctly all the switches work properly. Switch operation and drift often give a good indication about the overall condition of the equipment. If the switches do not operate very well then it is a sign that it has been well used and there could be other problems. Particularly with older equipment ensure that the bandswitch does not cause problems with drift. Try tuning the equipment into a a station with the BFO on and see what happens when the switch is touched, or switched to one band and then back again.
  • Check for drift:   Drift of the local oscillator is also very important. It is not very common on the new synthesized rigs but it is fairly common on some of the older equipment. Obviously a certain amount is acceptable on very old items which only have a single conversion. However on equipment which is not so old and has two or more frequency conversions with a crystal controlled first conversion should have very little drift indeed. Unfortunately it can be quite difficult to cure and very annoying during long periods of operation.
  • Check for general appearance:   If the used ham radio equipment looks well cared for then the chances are that the owner has been careful. Even so take into consideration the fact that it may well have been cleaned up ready to sell. However if this has been done then there are usually some visible signs. If it has been cleaned then it does not mean that it is not a good buy, but this has to be taken into account when assessing its real condition.

When buying used ham radio equipment, remember that servicing is another very important factor. However reliable equipment is these days there is always the possibility that something will go wrong at one time or another. When the equipment is new it can always be returned to the dealer, but for older equipment it is often a different matter. For example there are still a lot of the pieces of equipment on the market which were manufactured fifteen or more years ago. Many of them are now no longer supported by their dealers and distributors, and often it can be a matter of do it yourself, particularly with the much older items. For valve equipment it should be remembered that even though most valves are still available that they are becoming increasingly more expensive.

Check out the Electronics Notes: Essential Ham Radio List.


Buying used ham radio equipment can offer a very good alternative to buying equipment new. It can provide a route to obtain much better value for money. While there are pitfalls, these can often be avoided with care, although even buying used ham radio equipment through a dealer can give some significant benefits with additional safeguards, but at additional cost.

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