inding the perfect piece of lab equipment to buy can be quite the task. These 10 tips will help you make the decision between purchasing new or used and help you know what to look for with each option.

Buying lab equipment is a lot like buying a car—there are many different makes and models to choose from and a variety of vendors available as well. You also have the option of choosing to purchase new equipment or saving some money by purchasing used. While buying used does have some potential risks, knowing what to look for and what questions to ask can help you manage these risks. Here are 10 things that every lab manager should consider before purchasing lab equipment.

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1. Identify what equipment you need.

When you go to purchase a new vehicle, one of the first things you have to consider is whether you need a car, truck or SUV. Similarly, you need to know exactly what your need is for when you begin to shop for lab equipment. Consider whether there is a specific brand or model that you need as well as what features are essential for your lab’s research. Know what you want and your basic requirements before you begin to shop.

2. Find out what vendor options you have.

Lab equipment vendors range from the manufacturers and third-party suppliers to online auction sites. Buying from the manufacturer directly often means you are purchasing new equipment, which should include a warranty and service contract. The manufacturer may also sell discontinued, used or demo models at a reduced cost. A great benefit of purchasing directly from the manufacturer is that the company is most knowledgeable about their instruments and can provide the most information and support.

When considering third party vendors, there are sellers that offer used and new equipment and from a variety of different brands. This allows you to compare features and pricing of different instruments used for the same tasks within your lab. Third party vendors may also offer a warranty and service contract with purchase.

A third source of purchase for lab managers is online auction. While this can be risky because there usually is not warranty to accompany the equipment, it can get you a really great deal. One online auction site used for selling lab equipment is LabX.

3. Ask for demonstrations.

When you’re considering purchasing from a particular vendor, ask them to come give you a demonstration of the equipment. This gives you an opportunity to see the equipment in action and to see how it works. If one option is particularly harder to use than another, this will become evident during the demonstration. You wouldn’t buy a car without test driving it first—so be sure to test drive your lab equipment as well.

While equipment demos are common when buying new, you should also ask for one if thinking about purchasing used. This will increase your trust in the vendor since you will be able to see the equipment in action and know that it works. It can also allow you to find out if there are any quirks or special procedures needed to be taken to get the instrument to work. You want to know that it is functioning optimally before buying.

4. Negotiate between vendors.

Once you have received quotes from multiple vendors, you can use them to negotiate. You should never pay list price for a piece of lab equipment—but rather negotiate the same way you would if you were buying a car. If you receive a lower quote from one company, tell the other companies that you can get it for a better price from another retailer.

With both used a new equipment, you can use this method to negotiated pricing as well as longer warranties or better service contracts. It is common practice to obtain at least three competitive bids.

5. Ask about service contracts.

Service contracts are usually purchased as an optional add-on. Once warranties expire, there is still a chance that something could go wrong with your equipment—new or used. Instead of paying for a contractor to come fix your equipment when it malfunctions, if you have a service contract, you pay a monthly fee regardless of whether something goes wrong or not. Essentially, this can save you money if you have a lot of problems arise, but cost you money if nothing ends up malfunctioning. Therefore, obtaining a service contract is more beneficial when you buy used instruments.

When looking into service contracts, first you must consider if there is a warranty from the manufacturer and how long that is effective. Then, you must consider what the cost of a service contract will me and how long it will be for. Read all contracts before you sign them to make sure they say exactly what you discussed with the sales representative.

6. Read reviews and ask for referrals.

Once you’re ready to purchase a particular piece of equipment from a certain vendor, do research on both the equipment and vendor. Read reviews to see if other users have had any troubles with similar equipment. This can even help you decide if you should purchase a service contract. You should also see what feedback people are giving the company you plan to buy from—do their prior customers recommend them? Find out if they were prompt in addressing concerns and if they were reliable for other buyers.

You can also ask your colleagues for referrals on where to purchase equipment. Some institutions have contracts with suppliers that allow them to get equipment and supplies at a discounted rate. Ask around before you make your final decision.

7. Research the associated costs.

Would you buy a car without finding out what type of gas mileage it gets? Probably not. Make sure when you’re purchasing equipment you know what the consumables will cost to use the instrument each month. While purchasing used equipment can save money initially, if it is difficult to find supplies for it, it may end up costing more money in the long run so look into pricing of consumables.

Additionally, you can research what replacement parts cost for specific brands and models. This can help you decide between two different pieces of equipment if you are having a difficult time—having the ability to fix your instrument at a lower cost when something breaks can save you money even if it costs slightly more at purchase.

8. Find out what training is provided.

With any new equipment purchase, your lab team is going to need to learn how to use it. Some companies may provide online training tools, while other may simply provide instruction manuals. If you’re making a large purchase, sometimes manufacturers offer onsite training on the machine so you can learn how to use it from the experts.

The experience level of your staff with the type of equipment will help you determine your need for training programs. It is less likely to get a comprehensive training program when buying new and unheard of if buying through an auction so take this into consideration when choosing a vendor as well.

9. Ask about the history of the instrument.

While there is no Carfax for laboratory equipment, the best way to find out the track record of a particular instrument is to talk to the seller. When buying used, you want to know that there are no known problems associated with the equipment you plan to purchase. If you are purchasing it from the lab that actually used the equipment, ask to see the maintenance logs to ensure the instrument has been well-maintained before you decide to buy it.

10. Compare total costs of ownership.

When buying new, you will spend more money up front when you purchase a piece of equipment. You will likely not run into many problems that are not covered by a warranty during the first few years of use. However, if you buy used, you will spend less money up front, but may end up spending more money on replacement parts and labor, especially if you don’t have a service contract. Consider the total cost of ownership—how long will each piece last and how long will you need it for? Having a used piece of equipment for many years may end up costing as much as buying new.

Don’t forget to factor in the cost of consumables into the total ownership cost. Determine how much money you will likely spend over the next 5 or 10 years based on whether you buy new or used. The best thing you can do when you buy lab equipment is to evaluate the decision the same way you would if you were purchasing a new car. Lay out a list of pros and cons and map out your budget. What can you afford now and how much can you afford to spend down the line if you need to make repairs to your equipment? Buying new and buying used are both great options. The decision really comes down to what is available, what your needs are and how long you will be using the instrument for.

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Have you bought equipment recently? Let everyone know how your experience went and what factored into your decision.

Rebecca Talley
GoldBio Staff Writer

Rebecca is a medical student at the University of Missouri.
She previously worked as a lab technician while studying
biology at Truman State University. As an aspiring
reproductive endocrinologist with an interest in global
health, Rebecca has traveled across Central America on
medical mission trips. With a passion for the life sciences,
she enjoys writing for GoldBio.

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