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USED EXERCISE EQUIPMENT CAN GIVE THE WALLET A REST

SHARE USED EXERCISE EQUIPMENT CAN GIVE THE WALLET A REST

You don't have to comb the classifieds or wait for yard sales to get exercise equipment on the cheap.

Fitting out a home gym can be expensive, with a top-brand, interactive ski simulator topping $600 and a high-tech stair stepper running as much as $3,000.But independent dealers as well as a national franchise with 476 stores, Play It Again Sports, let you capitalize on somebody else's cast-off calf bench - or exercise bike or stair stepper - by selling the stuff at 25 percent to 50 percent off the retail price.

Discounts depend on the store, the condition of the equipment and, above all, the appeal of the piece new.

Generally, stair steppers, weight benches, treadmills, ski simulators and anything by NordicTrack bring a higher price - if you can get to the store fast enough to snap one up.

As for market duds, Play It Again Sports in Chicago says rowing machines are in current disfavor.

Play It Again Sports usually sells equipment for half of retail, but mint-condition pieces might run more.

At Big Fitness, an independent store in Providence, R.I., you'd get 25 percent off the retail price for a StairMaster 4000 P.T. or any of the NordicTrack cross-country skiers - perennial hot sellers.

A less-in-demand Lifecycle might sell for as low as $500, says owner Chris Soucie, one-fourth the $1,995 retail price.

Savings are greater if you buy equipment as is, but Gregg Hartley of the Fitness Products Council, a sporting-goods industry group, says to be careful with fixer-uppers.

"The potential for improper installation and maintenance is high," he says, which puts you at risk.

Hartley recommends getting a copy of your equipment's manual from the store or manufacturer to ensure proper assembly.

If the stepper springs a sprocket the minute you get it home, you may have some recourse. Some stores, including Big Fitness in Providence and the Sports Exchange in Dallas, give a 30-day or longer warranty.

Play It Again Sports passes along the manufacturer's warranty if it's available and may offer to get a part for you if something breaks within 30 days.

For used-equipment dealers, check under "Sporting Goods" in the Yellow Pages.