Tech is expensive: the latest and greatest laptops cost thousands of dollars, cell phones can easily be upwards of $500, and a good printer could run you a few hundred bucks. Even software is expensive. Buying second-hand is always an option, but is it a good idea?
Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of buying pre-owned tech.
This is clearly the biggest factor in the decision process. Second-hand tech is significantly cheaper — a new HTC One M8 on Amazon will run you about $400, while a used one can be had for $290. That’s just over a 25% drop in cost. Some laptops will sell for half of their original price (though Apple products have a notoriously high resale value). It’s not hard to imagine saving several thousand dollars over the course of a few years, depending on how much you buy.
Con: No Warranties
Most manufacturers require proof of the original purchase of their equipment for you to make a warranty claim. Some companies will allow the transfer of a warranty to a second party, but it can be quite a hassle.
When buying second-hand, take a close look at the condition of the item that you’re buying to make sure that it doesn’t look like it’s going to fail in the near future. Buying second-hand from a retailer will likely get you a limited warranty, which could figure into your decision-making process.
Pro: You Probably Don’t Need a New One
For most people, getting the latest and greatest tech isn’t a necessity. If you use your computer for sending emails, reading blogs, checking Facebook, and watching Netflix, you don’t need the newest powerhouse; a mid-range computer from any time in the past five years should do just fine.
The same goes for cameras and phones; for the average photographer, a few more megapixels won’t make much difference, so a used camera will be just fine. And if you just use your iPhone 6 to play Angry Birds and update Twitter, an iPhone 4 is probably going to serve you just as well.
Con: It’s Hard to Check Everything
You can be really careful and go through a checklist of things that you should think about before you buy a new phone, computer, camera, or other piece of tech, and cover the obvious things — the screen works, the buttons function fine, the case looks good, and so on — but it’s really hard to think of everything. The battery might be on its last legs. Important data could be corrupted. The device could be stolen. If you miss something big, you could be looking at buying a new device anyway.
Pro: Good for the Environment
Consumer culture is taking a huge toll on the environment in the form of electronic waste—millions of phones, computers, cameras, printers, routers, modems, and other pieces of electronic equipment get thrown away every year, and each has the potential to release harmful chemicals into the environment.
Buying a used device keeps it out of the dump for a while longer and doesn’t put a new device into circulation.
Con: Unknown Lifespan
When you buy a new device, you don’t know how long it will last, but you can have some reasonable expectations. You should be able to get three or four years of heavy use out of a laptop without much of a problem, and at least two or three from your phone.
When you buy used, you don’t know what kind of wear and tear the device has gone through (especially for highly portable things like laptops and phones), meaning it could last several more years or a couple days. There’s just no way to know.
Weighing Advantages and Disadvantages
With these things in mind, you can make an informed decision about whether or not you should buy used tech. Take into account why you need a new device, what you’re going to be using it for, whether you need the latest and greatest, and how much you’re willing to pay for the product. Many times, you’ll find that buying used is worth the slight risk of getting a bad deal.
An important factor to consider is where you’re buying the tech. A reselling company will likely have put the device through tests to make sure that it works well and might even offer you a warranty on the item. Sites like eBay and Amazon allow users to rate merchants so that you have an idea if there have been any bad experiences in the past (Craigslist doesn’t). Buying from someone you know is often a great idea, as you can easily get in touch with them if something goes wrong.
Will It Save Money in the Long Run?
This, of course, is the question. Unfortunately, the answer often depends on the specific circumstances surrounding what you’re buying.
A desktop computer isn’t likely to be dropped and damaged, whereas a laptop can take a lot of hits being toted around in a backpack. Smart home equipment is still relatively new, and there’s no way to tell what sort of lifespan one of these devices should have. Printers are notoriously finicky, and could malfunction or die at any moment.
However, saving several hundred to several thousand dollars over the course of a couple years can make a huge difference in your budget. And if you’re saving up for something big, making a couple second-hand purchases could save you enough money to make that big purchase. There’s always a slight risk when you’re buying used gear, but if you carefully think about your needs, wants, and financial situation, you can make a smart decision.
Also, one final note: if buying a used item directly from its current owner feels a little too risky, consider buying an item refurbished by a manufacturer. They test each item to make sure that it’s in selling condition and offer limited warranties. You’ll pay more than if you buy used, but still quite a bit less than if you buy new.
Have you bought used tech in the past? What was your experience? Would you recommend it to others?