AR-15: cheap vs. expensive

by Erik  

If you are new to the AR-15 rifle scene or shop around for one you may ask yourself one question. What factors dictate such a wide range in price? The cheapest models can be had for right around $600. While a high-end or competition grade rifle usually starts around $2000 and depending on the optics upwards of $10,000. I will try to provide a concise explanation of the difference between cheap and expensive. Think of the difference between a Honda Civic and Ferrari F50. Both are cars, and both will get you from point A to point B. The Ferrari is built with more expensive materials and will obviously go faster, but if you aren't a trained race car driver you won't reap the full benefit of the F50.

The same is true regarding the AR. If you have never fired one before you probably won't appreciate the fully loaded $3000+ rifle. So what features/specs contribute to high-end ARs? There are several main components which drive the cost up:

  • Barrel
  • Hand guard (quad rail)
  • Stock/grip
  • Bolt carrier group
  • Iron sights
  • Trigger
  • Luxury features

The aspects regarding the barrel are significant. There are many different types of barrels and they are also made from different materials.Your run of the mill standard M4 barrel with chrome lining is found on nearly all low to medium end AR-15s. High end AR-15sbasic_AR-15_rifle may have a different barrel profile which means the barrel is thicker. They also may be cold hammer forged (CHF) which is a more expensive process of creating a barrel which makes it more durable and extends barrel life.

Match barrels on the other hand, are just as expensive bu will not have chrome lining present. They are often made from stainless steel. The rifling inside the barrel is more pronounced and designed to be more accurate. It is not uncommon for a CHF or match barrel to cost double or even triple what a standard AR-15 barrel would cost.

Hand guards, often called quad rails, are found on all high end rifles. The main purpose is accuracy as they are fastened very securely to the rest of the rifle. Most of them are "free floating rails" meaning they do not actually touch the barrel. This helps reduce the heat felt by the shooters hand and also provides a way to mount accessories such as lights, lasers, etc. Cheap ARs will have standard or modified plastic hand guards that snap in place, usually making direct contact with the barrel.

The stocks and grip also come in many flavors. Some high end stocks provide multiple points of adjustment, little to no wobble, and can hold accessories like batteries or sling mounts. Grips also vary in features as some have storage inside the grip for ammo or an extra bolt. Some also come with replaceable back straps to change the size of the grip.

Cheap AR-15s will come with a parkerized or phosphate bolt carrier group. mid-range_AR-15_rifleThere is nothing wrong with it and for all intensive purposes they perform great. However, high-end ARs will usually come with a chrome, nickel boron, or a light weight bolt carrier group. These are generally used for competition or longer shooting between cleanings and usually run between $150-250.

All AR-15s should come with a set of front and rear sights. Most of the cheap AR-15s will have the standard triangle type front sight with a fixed or plastic folding rear sight. In contrast, high end ARs will come with all metal front and rear flip up sights. While it may not sound like a big deal, these high end iron sight combos can run between $200-300.

Triggers are arguable as important as the barrel when it comes to accuracy. high-end_AR-15_rifleThe stock trigger that comes in most of the cheap or even mid-range ARs are terrible. A true match trigger will significantly improve accuracy for a experienced shooter. Most aftermarket match triggers cost between $200-300.

Luxury features are things such as adjustable gas blocks, custom colors, and muzzle devices that can also add to the costs but again are usually geared towards competition or use with suppressors. Some will also allow the use of registered auto sears or lightning links to provide fully automatic fire.

If you are new to AR-15s a cheap model is still a good buy. Nearly all the $600 rifles are still mil-spec and will get your feet wet with the platform. It will also provide a baseline to gun upgrade and learn on. If by chance you don't like it or think it's too expensive to feed (ammo), you aren't out a ton of money.

1 comment

Comment from: Old man pete [Visitor]
Old man pete

Thanks for the education. Very enlightening.

06/08/14 @ 19:51