Good home treadmills aren’t cheap. When prices are super-low, quality is low too. In the long run, cheap treadmills can actually be relatively expensive to own per day because they break down so quickly. So how much should you spend? We recommend reserving a minimum of about $1,000 to get reasonable value and avoid disappointment. Most treadmill manufacturers offer financing so that monthly payments can be under $50 each. Even better for most shoppers is the $1,000-to-$2,000 treadmill price range, which features machines with better ergonomics, performance and/or electronics. People seeking even better combinations of comfort, performance and special features have appealing choices at $2000 and up.
Here are five shortcomings of cheap treadmills
Treadmill belt motors nowadays range from about 2.0 to 5.0 continuous horsepower or CHP. For walkers’ treadmills we recommend at least 2.5 CHP and for runners’ treadmills we recommend at least 3.0 CHP. Treadmills with lower capacity motors tend to cost less but are disappointing performers. A small motor is more likely pushed to work at top capacity. It can overheat and break down. Treadmills priced at $1,000 and up tend to have at least 2.5 CHP motors with lifelong guarantees.
Cheap wiring adds to the problem of a cheap treadmill motor. When a cheap motor works hard, it gains a lot of heat that cheap wiring can’t handle. One clue to the cheap wiring problem is an electrical smell when the treadmill belt speeds up. Another symptom of poor wiring is unreliable electronics, such as a flickering display screen. Often the consoles for cheap treadmills aren’t under any warranty at all, unlike those on higher quality units, and cost hundreds to replace.
The frames for most treadmills, including very cheap treadmills, are made of steel and have lifetime guarantees. But treadmills have lots of small parts that can’t be seen, and these can be made of metal or plastic. On cheap treadmills a common problem is that plastic gears are used for the power incline. Compared with metal gears these can wear down quickly and have noisy operation.
Treadmill belt quality is quite different among the treadmill price categories. One difference is belt thickness. On a very cheap treadmill the running belt is so thin that it can actually snap! On better treadmills the belts are thicker, and top treadmills have belts that are two-ply or four-ply.
Another downside of cheap treadmill belts is that maintenance is required regularly; cheap belts need to be lubricated at least every few months to run smoothly. Higher quality belts, in contrast, are made from superior materials that require no maintenance or very infrequent maintenance.
A third disadvantage of cheap treadmill belts is their operation. A good treadmill’s track doesn’t lag; it’s made of a low-friction material and its technology adjusts to the resistance of each step. The belt technology on lower quality treadmills isn’t as effective at adapting to the runner, so cheap treadmills can seem sluggish.
A treadmill track moves over rollers at the front and back of the deck. Across the treadmill industry the roller size range is from about 1.5 inches to 3.5 inches. Very cheap treadmills tend to have small rollers, and the smaller the rollers, the greater the wear on the track and motor. Cheap treadmill rollers might not be well-balanced and also tend to be made of substandard materials. For example, their end caps are commonly made of plastic that degrades with each workout.
Find the best treadmill for your budget! Read our part-by-part treadmill reviews for help finding a true value.