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Treadmill Doctor’s 11 Tips for Buying a Home Treadmill or Elliptical


1. Remember when you are buying a home treadmill or elliptical, that in most instances a specialty dealer will have more ability to work with you on price than a mass market store.  Usually at Sears, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Sports Authority, Academy Sports, etc., you have to wait on a coupon, sale, or closeout if you want a discount.

2. When buying exercise equipment, make sure to consider where you will put the machine before you buy it.  If you are locating the equipment in a garage, porch or other area that is not climate controlled, expect problems.  Since most models use lubricants that can freeze or lose their ability to properly lubricate at very high heat or extreme cold, you can run into problems on both extremes.  Other problems you will experience in an open area is dust and dirt…these are the #1 reason for failure, not to mention corrosion and other problems associated with areas that have high humidity.  Additionally, arid climates quickly evaporate some belt lubricants for treadmills and joint lubricants for ellipticals.

3. Be sure to buy machines that are built sturdily enough to handle the workload that you want to give them.  Usually the higher the original list price, the better the engineering, the better quality of components, the better overall machine you will get for your money.  Conversely, if your budget is tight, don't buy more of a machine than you need.  Our grandmother had a cheap $500 treadmill that received very light use every weekday.  Since it was lubricated and cleaned, it didn’t have a single problem in over 15 years.

4. For treadmills- We are starting to temper our view on orthopedic belts.  With that said, we still don't recommend them because 1) a good pair of running shoes provide more cushioning (try Hoka One One if you want a great cushioned shoe) 2) they hold in heat which shortens belt life, motor life, and electronics life 3) the increased weight of the belt shortens bearing life in the rollers.  We have tempered our view somewhat because the manufacturers of these belts have thinned them a bit which makes them weigh less and the backings have become much more friction-free on many models which has lessened the stress the belt places on the system.  The best way for the average person to see the effect of the belt is stand on the treadmill without any power to the machine and manually walk the belt to see how much friction it has and then compare it with a treadmill with a regular belt.

5. Do your research and get several price quotes from several different stores.  Typically, the more you deal with the various companies, the better deals they will come up with such as discounts, free accessories, financing specials, etc.

6. Walk carefully when buying over the internet.  Some companies, like Landice will void your warranty if it is not installed by a dealer and some have restrictions on delivery distances from an authorized dealer.  As more factories face the reality of the internet, this is becoming less of a problem.  If in doubt, contact the factory.  Another issue related to internet buying is delivery.  Many of us in the business know how difficult it is to ship a single treadmill or elliptical without having it damaged so deal with a company that has been doing it a long time and has already learned how to do it.  Another issue to keep in mind is what you are going to do if you don’t like the machine.  Most companies accept returns but the cost to ship the treadmill or elliptical back to the factory can easily cost hundreds of dollars so it is quite an expensive trial test if the machine is returned.  I’ve seen a few that cost far over $500. Also curbside delivery literally means what it says…the trucking company will sit it on the curb and it’s your problem to get it into the house so either purchase inside delivery or have help ready.  Another issue is service…some have good service networks and others don’t but remember that you probably won’t get the type of personalized service you should expect from a local dealer.  The best in the internet business in our opinion are Icon- makers of the Epic, Gold's Gym, Healthrider, Image, NordicTrack, Proform, Reebok, Smooth and Weslo brands, Johnson- makers of Horizon, Matrix, Merit, Tempo, and Vision brands, Lifespan, Precor, Sole, Star Trac, and True (listed in alphabetical order, not in any order of preference).

7. Do take care of your treadmill or elliptical.  Whether they require quite a bit or little maintenance, keeping the treadmill or elliptical clean and the walking belt lubricated on the treadmill can be the difference between either having a great machine or having a money pit.  Refer to our Treadmill or Elliptical Care Pamphlet for maintenance instructions.

8. If you are considering used machines, really do your homework, then do it again.  We do rebuilding jobs for local health clubs all the time and do this work occasionally for people who are buying health club models for the home but to do it right costs quite a bit and if someone is telling you they have a used or rebuilt at an amazing price, you typically aren't getting the entire story. Listen carefully- buyer beware!

9. Since buying a treadmill or elliptical is a huge investment for most people, choose your dealer and factory carefully.  As with any product, a brand new company may not be around in a few years and parts can be very specific to machines and spares may not be available if the factory isn’t around.  Some established companies have reputations of poor service and poor product support. A dealer for a reputation for high quality and personalized service is necessary for some people.  Other people feel confident in servicing their own equipment, so figure out which one you are and buy accordingly.  If you know one end of a wrench from the other, you might want to save a few dollars with an internet, warehouse club, or department store purchase.  Others may need to pay for the full-service price you should get from a local dealer but if you pay the higher price, demand the higher service level.  Many of the internet shippers are now offering an additional installation service to try to mimic the style of personalized installation you get from a local small specialty store.

10. Treadmills and ellipticals are different than many other home appliances.  Remember, we rate a treadmill average if it has a breakdown only once every 5 years…that’s average!  Extended warranties can make sense if the manufacturer has a short warranty and if you get it from a reputable extended warranty company.  Remember the dealer is typically not the warranty provider and many have gone out of business over the years and others are hard to deal with.  For instance, UTS (Icon’s warranty company) is one of the best on the market.  If you get an Icon machine, buy the UTS warranty…it will be well worth it.  UTS’s number is 800-677-3838.  Also, Sears has a good extended warranty program and typically pays for itself if you use the machine.  On the other hand, we have had problems with the company called N.E.W. and many others have gone out of business so do your research on your warranty company if you have never heard of them.  We now also have our own extended service program now too so it is available for any purchase you make up to 90 days past the date of purchase.

11. A great final tip is if you want to save a bit of money.  Since treadmills and ellipticals are becoming more commoditized, they are getting better and better while the prices are dropping.  The machines being made today in the $1000 range are much better than the $1500 machines made 10 years ago.  If you need to save a few bucks and your doctor says it is OK, use a few degrees of incline always when you use your machine.  If the machine is well maintained and if you use a bit of incline (on the treadmill), you can get by with a bit less of a machine than you might need otherwise.  The incline allows gravity to take over quite a bit of the workload from the drive system.  We are able to measure this by using a simple AC/DC ammeter.  The amp load (thus the load on the electrical system) is reduced when using even a degree or two of incline.  A treadmill used with just a slight incline will last much longer than a comparably cared for treadmill that is used at level.  Plus, if you are going green, you use fewer amps and that translates into less electricity.  If you keep it clean and keep the walking belt well lubricated, that keeps the amp load lower too.