How to Buy or Sell a Used Treadmill Desk
Experts estimate there are hundreds of thousands of treadmill desks in the wild today, and most certainly there are well over 100,000 commercially produced office treadmill bases that have been sold since 2007. The rest? DIY-hacked running treadmills paired with either a commercially-produced, adjustable-height desk or some kind of home-built raised desk surface.
But with all the new, state-of-the-art treadmill desks available today featuring all-digital consoles, whisper-quiet motors and far better ergonomics, there’s a lot of upgrading going on. The upshot is that it isn’t all that easy to get rid of an early model treadmill desk, much less get any value out of it. So we’ve put together this list of tips “How to Sell A Used Treadmill Desk” on how to optimize the residual value of your original setup in order to reduce the cost of upgrading.
And for those looking to get into their first treadmill desk without breaking the bank, see our buyer tips below “How to Safely Buy a Used Treadmill Desk” for a complete run-though on how to test a second-hand treadmill desk before putting your money down.
The Inherent Resale Value Challenge
You may have paid $2,000 for your LifeSpan TR1200-DT7 when you bought it new, but converting that investment back into cash poses a few obvious challenges. First, there’s straight line depreciation. Accountants’ opinions may vary but most CPAs we’ve asked say they would normally depreciate such a purchase over three years. Three years is equal to the length of the motor warranty, and similar to what most companies’ accountants would use for depreciating a $2,000 computer, so this seems like a reasonable term to use for our example. So if the treadmill desk is two years old there may be only $667 of book value left on it.
The second issue is that warranty coverage doesn’t transfer from the first owner to the second, so selling a treadmill desk, by definition, means that the new owner must bear the full cost of any repairs. Just like buying a used car, buyers will be leery of any blemishes or damage to the unit that might make them wonder if it has been maintained well. And unlike common auto maintenance tasks like oil changes, there’s virtually never a maintenance record for treadmill maintenance tasks like lubrication, much less a mileage log.
The third issue is finding a customer within a reasonable proximity, who has the right vehicle and assistance to haul such a large and heavy object out of your home or office and into theirs. After all, some of these treadmill desk setups can weigh upwards of 350 lbs. Alternatively the buyer could hire a treadmill shop crew to pick up the unit, check it out for proper operation (maybe clean and lubricate it while they’re at it), and deliver it to you – but that’ll most likely cost a few hundred dollars. And if the crew reports back with some issue they found with the operation of the unit the buyer will still be charged for the two-man trip. Shipping a treadmill desk across country using a blanket-wrap moving company is a very expensive proposition, so in most cases used treadmill desks are only advertised locally.
Lastly, there seem to always be people listing their older treadmill desks for free on Craigslist, to anyone who is willing to come pick it up. This creates some downward pressure on the resale value of older units like Steelcase Walkstations, Tread Desk, and LifeSpan treadmill desks.
Your Best Option
If the stars align and you’re lucky enough to find a nearby willing buyer (perhaps through Craigslist, eBay, NextDoor, or even an ad posted at the local supermarket or fitness center) – with the capability of picking up the treadmill – or willingness to pay treadmill movers to do it – that’s terrific. But if you can’t locate a buyer after a couple of weeks, here are a few other options to consider:
- Your best bet is to find a local non-profit to accept your treadmill desk as a donation. This can be a neighborhood school, church, library, Boys & Girls Club or YMCA, for example. They’ll be more likely to have volunteer muscle and a vehicle for picking up the unit. You can typically establish a much higher value for an item you’re donating, and you’ll be able to get a receipt from the organization that will establish the documented basis for your tax deduction. We’re not experts on used equipment appraisals but we’ve observed that non-profits are usually easy to convince that your liberal valuation is reasonable and acceptable. As always, consult your tax adviser for the specifics how such an option may fit into your tax strategy.
- Many localities these days offer annual or semi-annual free recycling events where you can drop off appliances and consumer electronics. Call ahead to make sure they’ll accept your item, but this will be the least expensive way to get rid of a used treadmill desk. You’ll have to get it there, and you won’t get a tax deduction, but at least you won’t have to pay a dumping fee. And if you tell them that it’s a functional unit they may find a new home for it somewhere.
- Post it on FreeCycle.org.
- Contact local free electronics recycling programs that may exist in your city (Google it), and see if they can handle a treadmill desk, and perhaps are able to pick up.
- Scan Where to Donate Your Stuff: 101 Places Your Clutter Can Do Good for more good ideas on organizations you might be able to donate to.
A Treadmill Desk is Nothing More Than a Treadmill Base and an Adjustable-Height Desk
Since we’ve already covered the desk component in our primer on How to Buy or Sell a Used Standing Desk we’ll refer you there for everything you need to know about how to check out a second-hand standing desk like a pro. We’re going to focus here on the treadmill base itself…
The first thing you need to know about a big-ticket item like a treadmill is that the warranty will not transfer between owners, so you want to make sure that the treadmill is in perfect working order. Given the high price of out-of-warranty replacement parts and the fact that you’d be facing a diagnostic visit plus a return visit (when the parts come in) in order to repair a treadmill, you could buy a new walking base for about the same money as a single repair.
Treadmills fall into two major categories: home grade and commercial grade. Home grade treadmills are generally designed with a 50-hour MTBF (Mean Time Between Failure) and inexpensive DC motors because the manufacturers know that 85% of the time they’ll wind up in your garage or attic after 50 hours of use. Don’t be fooled by horsepower ratings or other specs that manufacturers use to manipulate consumers into thinking their dinky treadmill is better than their competitors’—you can learn more about that with our in-depth discussion on Do Treadmill Desk Weight Ratings Really Matter? If the unit you’re looking at cost under $1,500 new, it’s almost certainly a home-grade unit.
Suffice to say, a consumer treadmill geared for running speeds will likely die within months, if not weeks, if walking slowly on it for long periods of time. That’s like driving in 5th gear through a 35 mph zone… your car’s engine isn’t going to like that for very long. Consumer-grade office treadmills that are commonly found in a walking workstation setup include the Steelcase Walkstation, TreadDesk, Exerpeutic and the Rebel Desk.
Technically we would include the Lifespan TR800 and TR-1200 in this category although they do last longer than the other aforementioned units (but internally are identical to their running treadmills, just software-governed to a top speed of 4 mph); but we’ve had plenty of customers report premature death of these units, especially in shared environments where they’re getting more than a couple of hours a day of use, and/or the occasional very heavy user.
Commercial grade treadmills are bulletproof. They usually have either appropriately-geared, quite silent and energy-efficient DC motors with very high low-end torque (like the iMovR ThermoTread GT) or a brauny, albeit loud and energy inefficient AC motor (like the Lifespan TR5000). When it comes to treadmill bases you be very confident about lasting a really, really long time, it’s really down to these two as far as treadmills marketed specifically to the office user.
The Lifespan and iMovR units cost about $500 and $650 more than the home-grade treadmill bases, respectively, but keep in mind that that unlike cardio treadmill buyers, treadmill desk users almost never go back to a sedentary or even a standing workstation. Treadmill desking becomes a part of your lifestyle/workstyle pretty quickly, if not obsessively, so you want to make sure you buy something that’s going to be trouble-free and long-lived.
That said, there are other options for used treadmills that can endure the punishment of slow-walking, requiring the belt to drag along your dead weight while overcoming friction with the deck. Specifically, any true walking treadmill, crossover treadmill or rehab treadmill that has a top speed of no more than 5 mph, or any cardio running treadmill built with an AC motor (i.e. real gym equipment, so expect an original price tag of $6K+) will last you a whole lot longer than a cheaply-produced, home-grade running treadmills. And bear in mind these will generally be noisier and less energy-efficient than DC-motor-equipped treadmill.
Also, if you’re planning to use this treadmill desk in a commercial office setting rather than in your home office you’ll want to be sure you’ve read through our entire primer on What Legal Departments Need to Know About Treadmill Desks before bringing your new treadmill desk into the building. This is not one of those situations where “forgiveness is easier to get than permission”; it’s almost always best to clear it with legal in advance.
How to Thoroughly Evaluate a Used Treadmill
You can’t know everything about how a treadmill has been used (or abused) in the past, but you can at least see if it’s operating correctly, which we’re going to spell out below.
Wear and tear on a treadmill is accretive. Overheated motors will slowly burn the insulation coating off the wires in their electromagnetic cores, and eventually short out the motor—the most common reason for a motor to fail. Unfortunately there’s no way to take a motor apart and inspect the microns of insulation coating on the windings. A motor replacement, however, as we mentioned above… well, you might as well buy a brand new treadmill, you’d be ahead of the game.
The underside of the walking belt will wear down over time, and stretch out, and eventually need to be replaced. The heaviest part of most treadmills, the walking deck, will have thousands of micro-fractures from sheering stresses that will eventually generate so much friction that the deck will need to be replaced. As a rule of thumb you’re only going to go through the expense of a belt and deck replacement on a costly commercial-grade treadmill that has many years of life remaining on the frame. These are usually done at the same time since the greatest cost component is the labor involved in disassembling and reassembling the entire treadmill.
The good news is that if the treadmill was used exclusively for walking, not running, it probably has relatively low miles on it and plenty of life left in the belt and deck. The G forces from running are relatively murderous to belts and decks.
The best way to check out a treadmill is to ask the seller if you could come over with your laptop and use it for an hour or two. If they won’t let you do this just be aware that you’re taking a fair risk on its proper operation. For example, if you smell burning insulation from the motor housing after an hour or two of walking at 1 – 2 mph that motor has already been partially fried and it could die within a day, or maybe a year, but soon enough.
You’re also going to look for hints of belt hesitation or slipping with each footstep. Run the treadmill through its paces at 0.5, 1.0, 1.5 and 2.0 mph. Take it up to 2.5 mph if it’ll go that high (some models won’t) but that’s the fastest you’re ever going to use it. You’re looking for good belt tracking (i.e. that it remains centered), smooth and quiet belt and motor operation, and no squeaking.
If the frame squeaks as you walk on the treadmill it could just be a matter of leveling the feet on all four corners—which is a must when you move it to your own office—but if it has been used in an unlevel condition like this for a long period of time chances are the deck has had excessive sheer stresses and may need replacement.
In some cases the decks are double-sided and flippable, but you’ll still need to get a tech out to do the work… even if you’re a DIY hound dog this isn’t the sort of thing you want to do without proper training or you’ll never get the treadmill working right again.
Down to the simple stuff now, you want to check that all the buttons on the control console do what they’re supposed to do.
If the treadmill does check out properly then be sure to follow our checklist for preparing the space before moving it into your office, What to Expect When You’re Expecting Your First Treadmill Desk.
If after all this you decide to skip the potential risks and moving hassles and just go for a new treadmill desk workstation be sure to check out the most comprehensive and expert reviews you’ll find anywhere on the internet, with our Best Treadmill Desk Reviews.
Also be sure to check out all our reviews and helpful advice on optimizing your experience. And note that some treadmill desk makers offer a “conquest rebate” when you switch to their brand. For example, iMovR offers a $150 conquest rebate on any new Treadmill Desk. (They also offer conquest rebates on their standing desks and standing desk converters).
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