12 minute read

Listen to the podcast of this article “Secondhand Equipment

While buying equipment new has many advantages, it will 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.

Today, specifically due to Covid, the second-hand sales advertisements are quite extensive and there is a good selection of used ham radio equipment available. Looking at the advertisements on the SARL Website or the PARC Website 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.

New or used ham radio equipment

One of the first considerations when buying ham radio equipment is whether to buy new or second hand/used. 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. It is not all bad news. Some very good bargains are available, and most people are very satisfied with the equipment they buy. A foreknowledge of some of the problems is to be fore-armed. If aware of the problems, they can usually be avoided.

Define what is needed

When buying any equipment, whether ham radio equipment, or anything else, it helps to know exactly what you want. Some thought beforehand defining what is needed always helps. If you are unsure, identify another HAM, and this person is defined as an “ELMER” in ham parlance to advise you. This ELMER will provide you with the best advice of the equipment which will suit your need.

Points to consider for a transceiver may include, bands to be covered, power output, modes of operation - FM, SSB, digimodes, etc., receiver filter requirements for example when doing CW, 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 advisable to look at reviews on EHam.net, and see whether the reviews were favourable. In addition to this there may also be reviews on the Internet via YouTube, 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.

How to determine price

You can go to QRZ.com and select Swapmeet. You will have to register with QRZ.com. You will need to have a call sign. Also here you will see what a similar radio’s price is and multiply by 12 to obtain the value in rand terms.

You can use e-Bay as a guide. Here you will see what a similar radio’s price is and multiply by 12 to obtain the value in rand terms.

You can use the SARL’s Guide to Buying and Selling used radio equipment price guide http://www.sarl.org.za/Radios.asp However this is no longer up to date as it is not being updated regularly. It however gives you a price guide.

You can use the various Swap Shop websites such as the SARL and PARC Swap Shop Websites to see what the going prices are.

Be aware of Transport Costs.

Ask other Amateur Radio Operators to provide their opinion and their thoughts. Ask, Ask, Ask…

Buying the Item and some cautionary notes

If you see an advert and really want the item, do not get buyers delight/excitement and buy it on a whim, but rather tell the person you are very interested but need some time to investigate the equipment more and that he must just give you first option. Tell him when you will get back to him in a specific time frame. A good seller will allow this. It will also give you time to make up your mind properly as to whether this piece of equipment is right for your needs or not.

If the Seller says Voetstoots, you are taking a chance as there are no comebacks. In essence, if it does not work then you sit with a device which may only be good for parts.

If the Seller says it works ask him if you can return it if it does not work. His reply will be a good indication of his Bona Fides.

Also ask around about the Bona Fides of the Seller. Is he trustworthy, does he inflate prices? A good guide is to take the eBay selling price in Dollars and multiply it by 12. That should be a good guide to the price in Rand terms.

Nuances in the Seller’s voice and demeanor will also give you an idea, if he is bona fide with the equipment or not. That is, is he being honest about the condition of the equipment. Certain sellers will say you are most welcome to try the equipment at his shack or he can do an on-air test with you. Of course, he must be trustworthy enough to use the actual equipment and not a substituted piece of equipment, if you are doing an on-air test. You can ask him for a WhatsApp video as proof.

Be aware of people responding to your ”Wanted” adverts. There are a lot of Criminals trying to pray on you. Make sure the Seller is someone you know or someone another person knows. Word of mouth is the best reference.

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.

When possible, see the used equipment before buying and, if possible, try it out on the air. Some of my best purchasing experiences have been with friends or radio club members where I have been able to visit in person and try the equipment on the air before purchasing.

It was also encouraging when I saw how these sellers took care of the rest of their gear. This type of personal connection is however not always possible.

The next best thing is often shopping at an Amateur Radio Flea Market. Overseas they call it a HAMFEST. Flea markets in Gauteng normally take place monthly during non Covid times. To be aware of when they take place, listen to the News Broadcasts every Sunday Morning or look at the events section on the SARL Website. There are a few in Gauteng, namely:

  • West Rand Club Flea Market (WRARC)
  • Johannesburg Club Flea Market (JARC)
  • Pretoria Club Flea market (PARC)
  • East rand Club Flea Market (ERARC)
  • Kempton Park Club Flea Market (KARTS)

Dealing in person with a seller can be reassuring, and good sellers should be willing to provide you with their name and contact information. Just be aware, unless stated in writing there are usually no buyer warranties, so a quick demo before buying can be invaluable if there are facilities available at the Flea Market. 

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, the points given are not a totally 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 band-switch allows you to switch between bands.

  • 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.

Questions to ask when buying a used radio:  

  • Are you the first owner and if not how many owners before you?
  • Has anybody worked on the radio and if so Who? Check if it has been by a reputable repair technician.
  • Check the cosmetic condition of the Radio (Rust/Chips/Scratches). Note the older the radio the more wear and tear it will have.
  • Refer to the AWASA Website: [http://www.awasa.org.za/downloads/file/43-grading-radios-for-sale]http://www.awasa.org.za/downloads/file/43-grading-radios-for-sale(http://www.awasa.org.za/downloads/file/43-grading-radios-for-sale){:target=”blank”}”namely, Grading Radios for Sale.
  • Refer to the AWASA website: http://www.awasa.org.za/downloads/file/20-awa-equipment-assessment-sheet-docx” namely, ASSESSMENT SHEET RECEIVER/TRANSMITTER/TRANCEIVER. It will give you a good idea of what to look for. Once again if it is too technical for you, ask an ELMER to assist you. Knowledgeable Hams will always assist you.
  • Ask “Is there anything you think I should know about the radio?”
  • When buying a used radio, having all the original handbooks, packaging and accessories greatly increases its value. Whenever you buy a new or used radio, always save all packing, instruction books, software, and accessories, even if you are not going to use them—they may be extremely important to the next owner should you decide to sell again. Plus, having additional accessories to bundle with the radio can make a very attractive package for potential buyers in the future. Accessories might include an external speaker, desk microphone, internal filters, audio interface, etc.


Some people are pretty well set on price and others have flexibility. Knowing the value of an item can be helpful in knowing if there is wiggle room. If you aren’t sure, you can always ask the seller if he would entertain a potentially insulting offer. People are usually curious enough to listen.

Shopping for used equipment can be a challenging and rewarding aspect in its own right. Like catching rare DX, it takes patience and a bit of skill.


When buying used ham radio equipment, remember that servicing is another very important factor and you should identify a good repair technician. There are only a few willing to assist and normally they specialize in specific manufacturers of equipment. Be patient as they are extremely busy.

There are also various Groups.io groups, such as Kenwood, Yaesu, Icom, Hallicrafters and many more. I recommend you join the group applicable to your radio, as there is normally very valuable information provided on these groups. They have very knowledgeable people on these groups and they answer your queries or questions.

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/tube equipment it should be remembered that even though most valves are still available that they are becoming increasingly more expensive especially power amplifier valves/tubes.

Summary (Final Word)

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.