Buying a used Rancilio Silvia

Recommendations for buyers and upgraders from the site's members.
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#1: Post by iZappa »

I currently scanning my country for a used Rancilio Silvia machine. And today I found an incredible offer for a used on for about 235$ or 193Euro. That's way cheaper than I can get even with discount at work (700$). This means of course that the machine is of great interest for me.

I have contacted the seller but is waiting for a response. I know nothing of how this machine has been treated, if it works or in which state it is being sold. I'm an experienced barista working with the Marzocco Linea 2 group but since I'm quiting my work I need a machine for home use. My question is for those who are experienced with the Rancilio Silvia and especially have technically knowledge of how it works.

Which questions should I ask the seller? And what should I look out for?

I have asked the following
- How old it is
- For what purpose it has been used (home use/office or commercially)
- If it has any faults
- Is the thermostat working properly
an so on

I also would appreciate any thought of what to look for when I see the machine myself. Obviously how well it has been cleaned over the years, but maybe I should check the steam system.

Many question here. But I'd appreciate some tips.

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#2: Post by HB »

If the machine heats up to brew / steam temperature and water flows, it's hard to say no to Silvia at 235 USD. Silvia is a simple machine as you can see from this parts diagram, so should something need fixing, you can probably handle it yourself. Below are the things I would look for, starting from the pump and moving towards the group:
  • Make an espresso.

    If you are feeling lucky and the owner doesn't mind, try making a few shots. Temperature management with Silvia is a pain, but you shouldn't have any trouble dialing in the grind given your regular gear at work (I offer some hints and links in my Rancilio Silvia Flash Review). Producing even a modestly decent shot would rule out any serious problems. If the owner isn't willing, then move to the things to check that follow.
  • Check the pump with and without resistance.

    The chart below shows the flow rate for a typical Ulka pump (e.g., EP5). Silvia has no gicleur, so the flow rate should be around 650mls with no resistance. To check under load, ideally use a portafilter pressure gauge (the La Marzocco's will fit, though it is tight), or insert a portafilter with blind basket and measure the outflow from the second (shorter) tube that drains into the tank. That's the overflow tube for the over-pressure valve (OPV) and it should open in the 8-11 bar range (the setting varies a lot from Silvia to Silvia). Anywhere in 100-300ml / minute range is technically "normal". If you see no flow, the expansion valve is stuck shut or the pump isn't reaching enough pressure. If you see a much greater flow, the spring in the OPV has gotten tired over the years.
  • Check the brew and steam temperature.

    Allow the machine to warm up preferably for a half-hour or more, then draw water from the boiler at the top of the heating element cycle (when the light has just turned off). Using a thermometer and Styrofoam cup as explained in My Espresso is Cold! you should be able to measure at least 190F from the group. Flick on the steam switch and wait a few minutes. If it produces steam, you're off to the next item.
  • Check the group cleanliness.

    Sorry, this should be the first thing. If you can't remove the dispersion screen screw, it's likely the owner hasn't maintained the machine well. If you're lucky, it will unscrew easily and you've gotten a very good deal. Assuming the pump and boiler check out, it's still a deal after a good cleaning.
  • The great unknown - scale.

    If your region has soft water, this may be unnecessary. Horror stories about scale buildup abound, but if the flow rates are good, chances are the buildup isn't too bad. I can't think of a non-intrusive way of checking Silvia for scale. It would be good news if the owner could explain their maintenance regime (e.g., "I use CleanCaf (or similar descaler / cleaner) once a month to remove scale from the boiler.").
Be aware that the heating element is welded to the boiler, which adds considerable cost to an otherwise inexpensive repair. Even so, at the price you quoted, you can afford to spend some repair money and still come out way ahead. Of course that begs the question... how are you going to get along with Silvia at home when you use a two-group Linea at work? :wink:

(image courtesy of Ulka S.p.A.)
Dan Kehn

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iZappa (original poster)

#3: Post by iZappa (original poster) »

HB wrote: Of course that begs the question... how are you going to get along with Silvia at home when you use a two-group Linea at work? :wink:
Thanks for many good tips to look out for when buying a used machine. I had been thinking of most of your points, but the pump issue was of great help

Why a Silvia, when I use a Linea at work? Ahh, I'd love to see a Linea 1 group on my kitchen bench, but the price tag at 7000$ stops me. And friends on the Norwegian Barista team has one at home so I can get first hand tip when I need them. And last but not least, it produces good coffee if you know how to handle it ;-)