The AR 15 is often jokingly called the “Lego gun” for a reason. It’s possible to go and buy one from a licensed seller then replace every component of the upper receiver to the point that it isn’t recognizable as the firearm you initially purchased. Of course, since the various components of the upper can do so much to change your experience that it gives rise to an important question: is it worth it to buy a cheap AR and just upgrade the upper?
Cost Saving Measures
When we talk about a cheap AR, we’re referring to the general category of firearms that are typically deemed entry-level or economy. It’s the subset of AR 15s that are made with a few modifications to help the manufacturer and the buyer save some money. This may mean things like selling it without a forward assist plunger and dust cover and using less-durable materials, or it may mean quality assurance inspections aren’t quite as thorough. When it comes down to it, even the lower-quality ARs still have to pass certain quality measures, so choosing a cheaper AR will at least meet basic safety and function requirements. The difference, generally, is longevity. And, since many of the longevity issues can be solved by replacing components on the upper, choosing an economy model may seem worth it so you can just focus on choosing the best AR accessories and swapping a few parts.
Learn To Be Discerning
One of the biggest issues with buying a cheaper AR is figuring out exactly which cost-saving measures were used. A manufacturer that makes a full range of low- to high-end ARs is probably going to be a better investment in the long-term because they will still use quality materials in the places that it matters most, like the barrel and bolt. A company that focuses only on inexpensive options may skimp on quality all-around, so you’ll need to pay closer attention to the materials and finishes for every component. Otherwise, you may end up upgrading so many components that the savings aren’t worth it.
So, if you’re looking to purchase an inexpensive AR and upgrade the upper, you’ll want to be discerning about the ways in which a manufacturer cuts costs. You’ll want to pay attention to how well the upper and lower mate, the bolt action, and gas tube and rail alignment (when applicable) since these are aspects that can have a major impact on the overall function and durability. You won’t need to worry so much about things like a too-stiff or rattling buttstock or any other components you plan on replacing with custom AR parts. Yes, each part affects the function of your AR as a whole, but some components are more integral than others. And, as you’ve probably seen, some parts are less expensive to replace with custom AR parts than others.
When you’re looking at different build options, ask the dealer about actually taking out and taking apart a given setup. Pay close attention to how well everything aligns and how snug the attachments are. Some of the easier and less expensive changes to make include replacing the buttstock, the handguard/rail, magazine, and sight. These are things that, as a whole, will improve your experience, but don’t necessarily impact the longevity of your AR as a whole. On the other hand, if the bolt action isn’t great or the gas tube alignment is a bit loose, you could be looking at an ongoing issue with finding components that fit properly.
Once you’ve found a setup you think will work, sit down and do a bit of math. Look at what you’ll save by getting that less-expensive option, then do the math and see what your additional expenses will be to replace any parts you intend to swap out. Then get to customizing! Explore Bootleg, Inc. online for the best AR accessories and custom AR parts for the upper receiver.