FAQs About Buying a Used Hot Tub
Everyone who shops is always on the lookout for a good deal—people in the market for a hot tub are no different. Oftentimes, the spirit of deal-getting means examining the options available to you in the USED hot tub market. However, no one should go on the hunt for a used hot tub without being informed and knowing what they should be looking for. For those who are considering this option, we’ve answered some of the most frequently asked questions about buying a used hot tub. We’ll look at what major red flags you should look for, where to look, and how not to get hosed on a bad deal.
Where can I find a good used spa?
Not many dealers will bother with used spas, but for the ones that do, you’re likely to see large mark-ups in their value relative to what they were purchased for. Dealers will usually buy used hot tubs for cheap so that they give themselves room to spend money on needed repairs and the labor to get it in sellable condition. The benefit of buying through a dealer who has refurbished a unit, however, is that you’re getting a cheaper unit and there will likely be some kind of warranty attached.
The problem with buying through a dealer is that you might end up paying almost as much as you would for a new unit—something that is going to give you fewer problems over the long term. It’s up to you, but it’s something to keep in mind.
What about the local classifieds?
Whether it’s in the paper or online, local classified ads are a great option and valuable resource when looking to find a good hot tub unit. The trick is spotting a hot tub that has been well taken care of and is currently operational. These instances will require going out to visit the hot tub before making a purchase.
Is eBay a good option?
Unless you’re doing a local pick up, we generally wouldn’t recommend going through an online auction site like eBay. The two major issues that come along with this kind of purchase is that you won’t get to examine the unit before purchasing and shipping long distances is usually costly and will result in some major damage that will cost you any money you may have saved from buying used.
How much should I expect to pay?
Well, this is a tricky question. The cost of the hot tub will likely depend on a few factors: how old the unit is, how many extra bells and whistles it features, and what kind of condition it is in. The price that the seller paid for the hot tub really has little to do with its resale value so don’t let that dictate the price.
While an owner may want to sell his hot tub for half of what he paid for, they need to recognize that the original price came with a perfectly functioning unit that also was covered with a warranty. Oftentimes you can buy a brand new spa with similar features and have it delivered for less hassle than you’re likely to experience through an owner-to-owner sale.
What should I be looking for when I look at a used hot tub?
First of all, NEVER agree to purchase a hot tub before you get to examine it. Ideally, you should request that the owner fill it with water to prove that it runs properly and that it can reach the factory setting of 104° Fahrenheit (check this number on a floating thermometer—don’t just trust the topside panel). It’s really difficult to evaluate a hot tub if it’s not plugged in and functioning. Plan on making two trips: one to evaluate the hot tub and another to make the move (after it’s been disconnected, emptied, etc.) if you decide it’s a worthwhile purchase.
AVOID buying a hot tub that has been stored empty or hasn’t been run for a long time. An empty hot tub that has sat in the elements is likely to have all kinds of electrical and plumbing issues. They’re also ridiculously difficult to assess as far as value because the owner can’t guarantee to you that it runs and you might just end up spending a ton of money to try and repair a unit that may never be functional again.
Hot tubs that haven’t been used in some time have electrical components that corrode, bad connections, pump motor shafts that have rusted, and seals that have dried out. These usually means that it will be a leaky mess once it’s filled with water and turned on.
Hot tubs that were stored in freezing temperatures are also at risk for leaks. If not properly drained, up to six gallons of water can remain in a hot tub plumbing system that can result in cracks and fractures. Alternatively, hot tubs that have been uncovered and exposed to the sun can form cracks in the acrylic from the shell blistering. The understructure of fiberglass can become separated from the acrylic over time, damage that is rarely reversible.
In summation, you should really only consider hot tubs that have been recently used, ideally that are operational up until the sale. Before you go for an inspection, make sure the hot tub is filled and has run for 24 hours at the max factory setting temperature before deciding to make that purchase.
Is there anything else I should be aware of?
Yes! We recommend that you examine the ACRYLIC shell, checking for any major cracks or bubbling. Shells are very difficult to repair—almost impossibly so. If it’s only a small pin-hole or a minor fracture less than an inch long, you can usually fix that with a bottle of Fix-A-Leak. Other than that, it’s a good reason to walk away from a purchase.
The CABINET should also be looked at. If you notice rotting wood or damage where a critter or carpenter ants have had their way, it’s not an easy thing to repair. You’re most likely going to have it fall apart on you in transit. Hot tubs that are most likely to have a damaged cabinet are usually sunken into a deck, rest up against a wall, or are on a soil/uneven surface. Seeing where the hot tub has been set up is an important part of the evaluation. If it’s on an even surface (preferably a cement slab), you’re going to have far fewer problems in the long run. A hot tub that has been on an uneven surface for an extended period of time is likely to have warping issues that can result in cracking or equipment breakage once it is set up somewhere level.
While the hot tub is running, be sure to look INSIDE the access panel. Look for any leaks that may be happening around the pump. Large amounts of puddling could mean anything as minor as a shaft seal repair or something as major as a pump replacement. You should also LISTEN for any noises that may signify major equipment issues. Clicking is often an indicator of a defective relay contactor originating on the topside control panel. This is an expensive problem.
You should listen to the pump as it runs. There should be a steady (and low-pitched hum). If you can hear an unpleasant grinding or high-pitched whine, it’s going to cost you.
As the hot tub runs, look at the JETS and make sure they all function the way they’re supposed to. Have the owner push all the buttons on the topside control panel to prove functionality. If it seems like there’s poor water flow on one side, the hot tub may have a defective pump. Even if one jet isn’t running right, it can be a pricey fix.
Should I factor repairs into the price of a used hot tub?
YES! This is a really smart idea. The likelihood that you are going to get off scot-free in the repair department is very slim. Expect to put in another few hundred dollars to get everything set up and operational once it gets back to its final destination. This will also help you in your decision of whether or not buying used is worth it for you. You’ll also need to assume that it’ll cost some money to buy a chemical system and replace the filters, unless the one currently being used is in good condition.
Lastly, be SURE you purge your system before refilling it. All manner of nasty bacteria can linger inside the plumbing.
What about the cover?
Used hot tub covers are relatively simple to evaluate when making a purchase. The best thing you can do is pick up the cover and test its weight. If it seems inordinately heavy or you can feel water sloshing around, you’ll likely need a new one entirely which will run you anywhere from $300-$450, depending on quality. A water-logged hot tub cover does nothing for you and won’t maintain heat—something that will manifest itself on your electrical bill. You can also do a smell test on hot tub covers. A cover that smells rotten or moldy probably is. Factor that into your purchase.
Examine the vinyl casing on the hot tub cover. Look for cracking, fading, or other signs of disrepair. Hot tub covers need replacing less often when they’re in good condition and have been well-maintained. Someone who has taken good care of their hot tub cover has likely taken care of their hot tub.