Should You Buy Second-Hand Tech? The Pros and the Cons

Dann Albright 10-08-2015

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.

Pro: Cost


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 Apple Tax: Why Do Macs Hold Their Resale Value? You've probably heard it before: Macs may cost more, but they hold their value. Is this true, and if so why? Read More ). 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 How To Check New & Used Devices For Problems Using Simple Tips & Software Are you thinking of purchasing a new or used smartphone or computer? While you absolutely must test used electronics, even brand new smartphones and computers can suffer from defects that you may not notice until... Read More 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 Buying A Used Digital SLR? Wait! 3 Things To Look Out For Buying a used digital SLR is a great way to save some money, but you should be aware of the risks involved in doing so. Read More 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 Thinking of Buying a Used Smartphone? 6 Things To Consider Don't want to be stuck with a long-term carrier contract or simply can't afford to fork out the full price of a brand new smartphone? Whatever your reasons, the following are a few things that... Read More 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 How Can I Tell If My New (Used) Smartphone Is Stolen? Read More . 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 Thou Shalt Consume: The Story of Consumer Electronics [Feature] Every year, exhibitions around the world present new high tech devices; expensive toys that come with many promises. They aim to make our lives easier, more fun, super connected, and of course they are status... Read More —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 Hard Drives, SSDs, Flash Drives: How Long Will Your Storage Media Last? How long will hard drives, SSDs, flash drives continue to work, and how long will they store your data if you use them for archiving? Read More , 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 5 Insider Secrets Of Buying Used Electronics Used electronics can be an amazing deal. You can also end up screwed, though, which is why it's important to know what to look for when buying used electronics. Read More 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 Buying a Refurbished Mac? 10 Things You Need to Know Looking to buy a refurbished Mac? Here are several important points you should know about the process. Read More . 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?

Image credits: Finances, Person stacking Euro coins; Stethoscope on laptop keyboard; Decision; Little girl and pile coin via Shutterstock.

Related topics: Buying Tips, Save Money, Technology.

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  1. Anonymous
    August 11, 2015 at 5:53 pm

    I bought a "new old model" which was not that much below the latest in capability, but at a clearance price that was better than I've seen them for USED

    • Dann Albright
      August 13, 2015 at 1:08 pm

      Yeah, if you look in the right place at the right time, you can often get a new device for a steal. Just depends on how much you're willing to look around before buying!

  2. Anonymous
    August 11, 2015 at 1:52 pm

    Refurbished for me, every time possible. I choose my computers, devices and peripherals for reliability, so one refurbished by a reputable seller will last as long as it needs to last (given that lifetimes are short in the electronics world anyway). Ex demo models are best, but corporate models are often excellent because they've either been dished out to employees who haven't used them much (or at all) or have been bought as reserves and swap-ins and only lightly (or never) used.

    I never buy the latest if I can possibly avoid it because you're often just paying to be a guinea pig. Once the initial problems have been sorted out and the bugs/glitches/manufacturing oddities overcome and the real user experiences are in (not just the original gushings and over-excitement from early adopters caught up in the shiny-shiny rush) it's far easier to make a reasoned judgement and decide whether or not something is going to be genuinely useful. By that time, prices are beginning to fall and, a little time after that, second-hand and refurbished versions start to appear.

    If I am using a device which is about to become obsolete (a newer version released or a competitor device has captured the market) I frequently buy a second one - and these are often new. Did you know that you can haggle, even in big name stores, and get them to reduce the price? Just ask to speak to a manager and point out to them that the model is now out of date and soon they're not going to be able to sell them at all, and ask for a reduction. Be prepared to walk away if you don't think it's enough - but you'll be surprised at how often it is.

    Touchiing wood here, but I've never had any problems with refurbished devices - and I've had some amazing bargains. Sometimes these have been unwanted presents (my 4 GB Echo Livescribe, completely with a separate set of notebooks, refills, case, etc. was given to a student at the beginning of her university course and, two years on, was still all unopened when she sold it to me at around a quarter of the price of the Livescribe alone), sometimes people just can't get on with something, sometimes their circumstances have changed.

    eBay and Amazon sellers can't afford to get a bad name and most go out of their way to get a good one, so these two are a great source of second-hand or refurbished equipment. I don't buy new unless it's absolutely unavoidable.

    • Dann Albright
      August 13, 2015 at 1:07 pm

      Refurbished is a great option—it's passed inspection by the company who made it (or another professional who does this for a living), it's sold with a warranty, and returns are accepted when things don't work out. There's really not much to lose in buying refurbished, and I think a lot more people should probably take advantage of it.

      I do buy the latest model of some things if I'm looking for max performance, though I rarely buy the first of a NEW thing. For example, the latest in a reputable line of computers is fine, but a totally new version of the iPod would make me nervous.

      It all depends on how you value price, performance, risk, and having the latest thing. Sounds like you've found a good balance!

  3. Anonymous
    August 11, 2015 at 1:36 pm

    As with every purchase - research before buying is highly advisable.
    In older days lot of my 'primary' tech was second-hand - smartphones (well, ONE did died...7 years later), PC, pocket HDD, printer. But since i researched i was lucky - in fact luckier than with some brand new and just released devices whose reliability was still unknown in the time.
    Nowadays - according to common knowledge - manufacturers perfected shortening device lifespan, esp. in devices with mechanical moving parts - so i would never buy second-hand low|mid level printer/MFU for.ex. - anyway it's cost of ownership is created more by cartridge prices than that of unit.
    And of course it's wiser to choose former top-of-the-line equipment that had benefit of being better built than 'budget' models - in my experience it was safer than buying non-brand/local brand chinese devices.
    But buying without some return policy/ability to check is risky.

    • Dann Albright
      August 13, 2015 at 1:03 pm

      Yes, the quality of the item that you're buying makes a big difference in the overall "worth it" equation. If it's something that's cheap in the first place, you're really taking a chance on how long it will last. But if it's a higher-quality item, and it's not too old, you can confidently expect to get a few more years out of it, and that could tip the scales in favor of buying secondhand equipment.

  4. Anonymous
    August 11, 2015 at 3:38 am

    Maybe Dann Albright's experience is different to mine...

    I have found that the market for second hand electronics of any sort, let alone information technology, has collapsed over the past few years. Once upon a time, it was possible to sell stuff at about half what it cost new to buy, but not now.

    Thanks to the current ubiquity of cheap consumer electronics, those days are gone forever. I find that most of the second hand computers I get have been simply given away, usually by friends/acquaintances upgrading to new gear. The older stuff is often unsellable when advertised, or is worth so little that it's hardly worth the bother.

    That said, I welcome those gifts with open arms, because such hardware is very useful to experiment with. I credit my current knowledge and usage of several linux distros simply because someone has given me free hardware that is still very useful, but isn't the current flavour or fashion.

    • Dann Albright
      August 13, 2015 at 1:02 pm

      You make a very good point here; second-hand tech is getting harder to come by. It's definitely still out there if you look for it, but the proliferation of cheaper options has made it less and less useful to buy used, unless you're strapped for cash and need to save as much as possible.

      And if you can get stuff for free, that's awesome—I don't have many techie friends, so I haven't had this experience, though I do keep an eye out on the free section of Craigslist.

      Thanks for reading!

  5. Anonymous
    August 10, 2015 at 10:43 pm

    This article has highlighted reasons why I have not yet purchased used tech equipment: concerns about reliability and remaining life of the item.

    When I buy a scanner or printer, I expect it to last several years (so far, they all have). I also tend to buy the cheapest ones that the quality brands make, so there would be little reason for me to want to save $40 on an HP laser printer, when the new one (that I am sure will last me several years) will only cost me $110. Amazon has a used copy of my printer that is a year old, for $70 including shipping. I'm taking the seller's word for it, that it is only a year old; also, that nothing is wrong with it. To me, it's just not worth the small savings.

    If I were to buy used equipment (and I'm not talking about a garage sale here, something for $5), I'd probably get it on amazon, where I can at least return it to the seller if it is DOA.

    • Dann Albright
      August 13, 2015 at 1:00 pm

      Yes, buying from Amazon or another company that allows you to return purchases is definitely a good idea if you're concerned about getting a dud device.

      Also, while it's great that you can afford to pay $110 instead of $70, that's a savings of over 35%, and that makes a big difference to a lot of people. If it's a question of spending $70 or not getting a printer, knowing the best way to go about buying used tech is going to be helpful.

      Thanks for your comment!

      • Anonymous
        August 13, 2015 at 1:42 pm

        I absolutely see that for some, the jump from $70 to $110 would be a dealbreaker. In that case, rather than buying a used printer with an unknown number of years and miles on it, I would instead get a BestBuy/Target credit card and pay it off in monthly installments. The interest on $40 (the difference between what you can pay now and the new price) wouldn't kill me, but it would ensure that I would get maximum value and years out of this "new" printer I'm getting. I would much prefer that to buying used tech.