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Yep, ...I’d second what John says...I run a pair of Z4000’s currently.....if or when they croak, the ZW’s will be dusted off, and re-employed with TVS, and whatever modern circuit protection can be adapted......not going to be a lot of hope when the main electronics portions poop out.....I’m not on doomsday patrol, I just have back ups to deploy just in-case...😉

Pat

@Norton posted:

You want one made after 2002 or so. The first few years starting in 1998 had a different board which if it fails has no replacement.

Not sure when they started using the newer board, maybe earlier than 2002 but definitely avoid any from the 1990s.

There's no spares for any version of the board used in the Z-4000, at least that's what MTH tells me.

Duplicating such a board should not be too difficult.

50,000 comedians out of work, and you're trying to be funny!

You can't actually be serious, clearly you haven't looked at the Z-4000 main circuit board.  Let's say you actually get the board laid out and matching the stock board, what are you going to do for the code in the microprocessor controller?  You figure it's "not to difficult" to duplicate that as well?  And your qualifications for making these bold statements are?   My qualifications for refuting them are a very long career as an electrical engineer and having developed many microprocessor based products.

I suspect you should refer to the last line in my signature unless you think you have the skills to pull this off by yourself!

Nothing bets the old Lionel ZW's.  They power everything with no issues and they last, some are 75 years old.  There easy to service and parts are still available.

Just add circuit protection in the form of fast blowing fuses or TVS's.  And you can get them for under $200.00.  I have 6 on my layout and they all preform just fine.

Nothing wrong with the ZWL's ether.   

I'm not knocking the Z-4000's, there good devices, but with the company going out of business, lack of parts and support I would be reluctant to spend more then $100.00 for one. At that price you could still sell off parts and make your money back.

Last edited by NYC 428

The Z-4000 is an excellent transformer, and my only reason for reluctance is the fast that there is no support or parts available.  If you can't find a generic part to replace something, not to mention tracking down the bad component, you have an expensive doorstop.  I always liked the fact that MTH went the extra mile to synthesize a sine wave output, quite impressive actually.

I wouldn't be too worried about them, For the most part they are great and reliable transformer. There are sooo many of them out there that finding a good used Z4000 is pretty easy to do anymore.  Much like the Postwar ZW, these things will be around at Shows and Auctions for a very long time, and when treated properly they should last a lifetime or more. Much unlike the postwar  ZW, they are not as simple to repair yourself and sometimes not repairable at all.

My dad has a 1998 model that was part of the first production run that he bought new.  Excellent transformer used a lot in the last 22 years and works perfectly. Tried a ZW-L when they first came out but didn't like how the chopped sine wave made the postwar engine buzz and growl, so it went down the road and the Z4000 stayed.

To me it’s all about the company going out of business.
Last year my wife needed a new car. She had a sedan and would have liked to have replaced it with another sedan. However major automotive manufacturing companies are discontinuing several sedan models. That was enough to dissuade me from buying any of their current models that were going to be discontinued. I buy cars for the long-haul (like train transformers), and reliability and serviceability are major issues for me.

Alan

After reading several comments posted after mine I would say that I would not hesitate to buy a tested used one at a good price.  I'm really talking about buying a new one at MSRP with a warrantee longer than the company's life.  The MSRP on all items is adjusted to cover future warrantee service.  In actuality, it probably does not add that much to a Z-4000 since they are so reliable.  But, with all that said, I don't like to buy pre-orphaned products.

Alan

Last edited by ajzend

One other thing to be aware of is that the early 039 serial number units have 165 VA output per handle whereas the later units have 180 VA per handle. Another factor that would favor a later unit. Having said that I have two of the first run and one later, and not one of them has caused any major issue. One toasted its cooling fan, which is super easy to replace, and its a generic computer cooling fan. Another toasted its adjustable pot which controls the voltage output. Again a  very easy fix with a generic jobber pot. Otherwise rock solid. I will run them without a worry until they (or I) fail, then worry about replacements.

Rod

Another thing I forgot; early Z4K's did not have handle tensioner springs whereas later units did. Not sure when they were made standard. Without the tensioners the handles can get floppy over time, and not stay where you set them. The tensioners are easy to add and MTH used to sell kits. Each kit had a hefty spring and a big adjustable setscrew to tighten up the spring. They insert from the bottom. I am not sure where or if you can still buy the tensioner kits. The kit is PN IE-0000048 and cost about 2 bucks several years  ago. MTH may still have them. Cheap fix for a pesky problem.

Rod

@Rod Stewart posted:

Another thing I forgot; early Z4K's did not have handle tensioner springs whereas later units did. Not sure when they were made standard. Without the tensioners the handles can get floppy over time, and not stay where you set them. The tensioners are easy to add and MTH used to sell kits. Each kit had a hefty spring and a big adjustable setscrew to tighten up the spring. They insert from the bottom. I am not sure where or if you can still buy the tensioner kits. The kit is PN IE-0000048 and cost about 2 bucks several years  ago. MTH may still have them. Cheap fix for a pesky problem.

Rod

Rod, if push comes to shove, an eraser chopped off a pencil can stand in for the “nub” used to add the resistance needed for the handles....I’ve fixed one of mine that way and it works fine....AMOF, it was the great Marty that made the suggestion as it was only a few days from the holidays one year....it’s still in there.....minor stuff like that we’ll be able to work around, but when the brass tax falls, it’s game over.....like I had mentioned earlier on, these are probably the best there’s been, but with no parts, & no support, there won’t be anything we can do......and out will come the ZW’s ......look at the bright side, if and when the 4000’s start dropping, ZW’s will start to climb back up in price.....the past couple years, I’ve seen ZW’s at train shows at giveaway prices.....crazy!......looks like the ol’ ZW has finally hit the bottom, and might climb back up....

Pat

My advice is simple.  Both Z4000 and ZW-L are about the same price per watt capability.  The Z4000 is an orphan product, for reasons mentioned above,  and the ZW-L is still supported.  Unless you are an E.E. or similar professional who likes to tinker with reasonably complex electronics, the ZW-L is a better bet for most consumers.

ZWs are now reasonably priced, but you're dealing with a product that is approaching three-quarters of a century old. Unless you really know what you are doing assessing a ZW and the add-ons needed to make them safe for trains and humans, best to go with a modern product.  I own one but it's more for nostalgia and aesthetics, and wouldn't use it for trains personally. Just accessories or lighting.  Or display .

Last edited by Landsteiner

Call me an unrealistic optimist, but it is possible that some enterprising EE could obtain technical and/or licensing data from MTH regarding the Z4K's, and provide support and parts for all those thousands of product out there. The engineering specs and schematics must exist at MTH and however complex, they should be able to be reproduced with a reasonable startup capitalization. "Glass half full!"  :-)

Last edited by Tinplate Art

Would doing some preventative maintenance make sense? Put in a new fan and springs? Sounds like for a few bucks you can help your odds.

I’ve never had to open mine up. Is this easy to do? Is there a service bulletin on the springs?

It would be a good idea to remove the top every few years and blow the dust out. Depending on your environment and operating hours they can build a lot. There are 7 screws that have to be removed at the bottom to do that. You need a long 3mm allen wrench to remove them.

Pete

@Norton posted:

It would be a good idea to remove the top every few years and blow the dust out. Depending on your environment and operating hours they can build a lot. There are 7 screws that have to be removed at the bottom to do that. You need a long 3mm allen wrench to remove them.

Pete

Perfect thanks. I haven’t opened it since I bought it around 2000. So I’m sure there’s plenty of dust to get out. 💨 The handle is starting to feel loose and I’ll replace the fan. Then cross my fingers. 🤞

The piece of Information you didn’t share was the price.  For me it is risk reward.  While the unit is well known to be reliable the ability to repair in the future is low.  So if you can get one for say under $100 or so then probably worth the risk, if they want several hundred then I would pass.

if I spent $100 on it and got say 4-5 years of good service out of it I would say I got my monies worth.  Anything beyond that is just gravy.

Prices for used Z4Ks are still pretty high from what I've seen. Bottom line, it's a used electronic device with no warranty and potentially no replacement parts available, so the price should reflect that; I wouldn't pay much more than $150 for a used Z4K in working condition, especially considering the news we received about MTH this year.

I consider this to be the proverbial "shot across the bow".  Think about it.  The "big" transformers used to have 3 choices..ZW and ZW-L (Lionel), Z-4000 (MTH) and AH601 (MRC).  Now we are down to 1 with warranty and factory support.  Don't think for a second that the remaining supplier hasn't examined their pricing strategy.  This has created an opening in the market, albeit a small one....that will grow over time.

Refurbishing old ZW's is a cottage industry and the Z-4000 is too complicated to make a viable business case.  The old ROW (Right of Way Industries) example comes to mind.  What made the Z-4000 complicated is the software to control the disparate operating systems...being a "universal control" has a price and now we will pay for it.

Having all the scale detail and whiz-bang realism in sounds just doesn't fly if one can't power it.

@Norton posted:

Those using the argument against buying a Z4000 due to unavailability of parts, do you realize you can't get parts for 5 year old Lionchief engines or two year old Legacy engines and both of those are likely to fail sooner than a Z4000. Best hope is for a third party to come along with replacements.

Pete

Couldn't have said that better Pete. Anyone who has ever operated with a Z4K transformer knows their worth and operability. Give me two Z4K's any day to one ZW-L, for about the same money. The fact that the Z4K still sells for 75% or more of msrp on the used market speaks to it's lasting value. Sure, future support is unknown and may quite possibly be non-existent. But if there is enough demand, someone will set up shop to service them, main board notwithstanding. I am pretty sure that my three Z4K's will outlast me, and if not I would purchase a good used one without a second thought. Think about it; any of us will cheerfully pay $400 plus for a new iphone, ipad, or Apple watch, and Apple pretty much guarantees you that it will be obsolete in 2-3 years!

Just my opinion of course, and for anyone who is nervous about owning a Z4K, go your own way, and I hope it works out!

Rod

I think the most likely outcome of buying a Z4K is that it will give good service for a good many years into the future with reasonable care. If I wanted one, I would go ahead and get it. While it could happen that a Z4k purchased today would quit and leave the purchaser having to go buy a new ZWL or something else, it is not likely, in my judgement.

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