Reef Tanks On A Budget (Part 9): New vs. Used Equipment

Reef Tanks On A Budget (Part 9): New vs. Used Equipment

In the 9th installment of this multipart series, Reef Tanks on a Budget (Part 9): New vs. Used Equipment, we will go over the pros and cons of buying new and used equipment. Additionally, we’ll review the do’s and don’ts of purchasing used equipment.

Editor’s Note: If you haven’t already, please give Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 a read first:

When getting into this hobby, the numerous options and pricing can be rather overwhelming at first. One of the first questions you’ll ask is: should I purchase new or used equipment? While the market for used items usually bears a variety of appealing options and affordable pricing, it’s not always clear which purchases will be safe or not. In this article, we review what you can safely shop used and what to consider while doing so.

Equipment vs. Used

Before making a purchasing decision, here are some of the pros and cons to consider:

Pros of New Equipment:

  • Unlimited Options: Of course, when buying new equipment, thanks to retailers and shipping, you have every piece of equipment in the hobby at your fingertips.
  • Low Risk: The chance of purchasing an item that doesn’t work is low. In the event there is a problem, most manufacturers and retailers will swap out the defective product for a new one. If a product doesn’t meet your expectations or standards, it is usually possible to exchange it or return it for a refund.
  • Covered by Manufacturer’s Warranty: If something goes wrong in the future, you are generally covered by a manufacturer’s warranty. Manufacturer’s warranties will vary from product to product. However, most high-priced items come with a 1+ year warranty.

Cons of New Equipment:

  • Price: Buying new doesn’t have many risks, but the price tag is usually significantly higher than used equipment.
  • Buy Each Item Individually: Typically, there won’t be package deals available when purchasing new items. While you can sometimes catch sales, most manufacturers and retailers sell each item individually.

Used Equipment

Pros of Used Equipment:

  • Price: Pricing can be a lot cheaper than new equipment, especially for items with a hefty price tag.
  • Package Deals: When buying used, always look for package deals. Sometimes hobbyists might upgrade or break down their tank, and they may want to get rid of older equipment while doing so.
  • Buying Items with a Good History: Companies upgrade or change their items continuously. Many people think it is always best to have the newest model, but that isn’t always the case. By purchasing used, you have the opportunity to get earlier models that sometimes have a better history of working long term or having fewer issues.

Cons of Used Equipment:

  • Limited Options: Only a limited number of options are usually available.
  • No Manufacturer’s Warranty: If something goes wrong, you are on your own.

Items that CAN be Safely Purchased Used

Some of the more basic items, like stands and canopies, are safe to purchase used with a physical inspection. Other items, such as lights for example, you’ll want to test first to ensure they work correctly. However, dosing pumps, tanks, sumps and some other items will require additional checks before purchase. Here’s what to keep an eye on:

Tank & Sump:

  • Seals: While a visual check will tell you if the seals are falling apart or dry rotted, it is always a good idea to ask for proof it holds water. You will want to make sure it hasn’t been sitting dry for too long. Replacing the seals on a tank is time-consuming and challenging. To successfully do this, you have to remove every piece of old silicone and thoroughly clean the tank before replacing the silicone.
  • Chemical-free: You should only purchase a tank or sump previously used as a reef tank. Otherwise, you have to worry about chemicals like copper affecting your tank. No matter how hard you clean it, the seals absorb and hold chemicals like copper. These can be deadly to corals and inverts!

Dosing Pump:

If buying used equipment, it is best to test and closely monitor a dosing pump beforehand. First, check that the previous owner didn’t use it for chemicals that are not reef safe. Second, you should test each pump head to ensure the dosing pump is accurate along with the right amount of chemicals in your tank.

Used Equipment to Consider:

  • Tank*
  • Stand
  • Canopy
  • Sump*
  • Lights
  • Skimmer
  • Return Pump
  • Powerheads
  • Dosing Pump*

* Should have previously been used as a reef tank

Items that Should NOT be Purchased Used

Other items are best purchased new. Test kits and testing equipment, like probes (especially pH probes), are not worth the risk of buying used. Since you are using these tests to ensure the balance in your tank and solve any issues, the risk of cross-contamination or expired products is not worth the minimal profit you might benefit from buying used.

For this same reason, you should probably shy away from chemicals, additives and any liquid-based items or equipment with liquid reagents. It is hard enough to make sure you don’t mix the wrong chemicals or add the wrong amount without worrying about what the previous owner did.

The sand bed is also something you should buy new as well. A sand bed holds many different bacteria, waste, algae and even critters. As such, moving it can cause all sorts of problems.

Used Equipment to Avoid:

  • Test Kits
  • Test Equipment
  • Sand Bed
  • Additives / Chemicals
  • Probes; especially pH
  • Equipment with Liquid Reagents

While it may be tempting to cut corners and save money in your reef, sometimes the risk outweighs the benefit! Remember, patience is vital. Sometimes when you cut corners in this hobby, it causes you a lot more problems and stress in the long run.

If you are looking for some new equipment for your tank, we invite you to check out our products at Do you have a question? We’d love to hear from you! Click here to get in touch with us.

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