Buyer Beware: Pitfalls of Purchasing Pre-Owned Tech

Buyer Beware: Pitfalls of Purchasing Pre-Owned Tech

Jason Yang
Jun 27, 2011

Caveat emptor - let the buyer beware. Buying used items can often be a scary proposition, and when it comes to tech the risks can be very high. The saying goes that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. We help you navigate your way through the world of buying used tech, keeping your head above water and your hard earned cash going towards a good secondhand buy.

Online marketplaces like eBay and Craigslist make it easy to hawk or even recycle/donate your used wares. As a buyer though you rarely get the chance to see an item in person before handing over your cash. (In)accurate descriptions and conditions can be a matter of clever phrasing, and there's always the risk of buying stolen property.

Oftentimes problems that the seller may or may not be intentionally keeping secret aren't always immediately obvious. They may not even be evident at all until you've handed over your cash and issues creep up hours, days, or even months later. Big ticket items such as televisions are difficult to properly test thoroughly through and through, and if they do crop up later are usually very expensive to repair. The risk is generally very high.

You'll also have to be willing to put up with some potential nicks and dings - all the kind of wear and tear you'd be putting into it yourself if you bought it new, but that's the cost of saving a few bucks when buying used. "Gently worn in" and "normal wear" are caution keywords to look out for, indicating the buyer is aware of some damage but doesn't want to disclaim full extent without totally lying. "Like new" is what you're chasing, and you can sometimes hit the pre-owned jackpot with some used items really looking like it just came out of the box.

Beware sob stories and "I'm selling it for a friend" - why isn't the friend just selling it for themselves in the first place? Keep in mind that if your purchase was originally stolen properly, it can be confiscated and returned to the original owner, likely without any kind of monetary reimbursement to you whatsoever. You'll also need to be careful about whether you may be in the clear of any wrongdoing, depending on whether you knew it was stolen property. Also consider extra protection and warranties a credit card often provides when buying legitimately through a retailer.

We've previously asked what you would refuse to buy used, and provide you with our own insights on what we would and wouldn't buy used.

Movies and Video Games: Go For It!

If the pricing is good (and it's not an illegal copy), we generally say go for it. Movies and video game discs aren't precious and if you don't mind someone having viewed or played it before, you can save quite a lot of money buying used. Be careful though with scratches or other damage to discs that may not be evident on the surface but cause skipping or are unplayable once you've got the disc in your player or game console. Retail stores that sell used movies and games may be a little bit more expensive than the open market but often come with guarantees that your purchase works as intended. Feedback and rating systems help keep the seller honest when buying from eBay, but sites like Craigslist or street vendors often don't carry any guarantees. As long as the discs are in working condition though, at a fraction of the price of new games you're really not getting any different of an experience than if you bought new, other than the pleasure of ripping the plastic wrap or security measure off of the packaging.

Computers: Now and Then

The thing about buying used computers and parts is that their new counterparts are often so darn cheap. Sites such as offer such a wide range of fairly priced gear that buying new doesn't break the bank, and comes with a warranty to boot. If something isn't working they can ship you out a replacement, but buying used if it breaks you're stuck. That being said we have bought used computers before - mostly in the form of Apple products. As gorgeous and magical as they are, Apple products are quite expensive brand new. We scored ourselves a nice Power Macs and an original iPad once the new ones came out. So while we don't specifically seek out used computers and parts since new stuff isn't terribly expensive to begin with, once in a while there are some good deals to be had out there and we have no problem pouncing on 'em.

Televisions: Stay Away!

So many things can go wrong with buying a used TV that we highly recommend against it. Consider all the possible things that could be wrong with a used TV that are hard to test - dead pixels, non-working inputs, electronic ghosts causing quirky behavior. Consider the logistics as well - transporting a large screen TV without packaging can cause damage to the unit, and there's often nothing you can do about it then. New TV prices are amazingly affordable, especially once a new generation replaces the previous. New TVs carry a full manufacturer warranty, so if there's something wrong with it you can get it fixed or replaced at no cost. You also have someone to call for help if you need it, and all of that extra piece of mind for a high tech and fairly fragile piece of equipment is well worth the extra cost of buying new.

GPS, Cameras, MP3 Players: Might As Well Buy New
As with televisions, many smaller electronics aren't all that expensive to begin with so it's not always worth the potential troubles and issues of buying them used.

Watches: Not a Chance!

We're scared enough as it is that retail stores might not be carrying the real thing, so imagine our distrust of anyone selling a used premium watch online or in a pawn shop somewhere. Of course true watch connoisseurs laugh at our hesitation but we readily admit we're no experts. If anyone's spending thousands on a luxury watch, shouldn't they be damn sure it's a Rolex and not a Bolex?

And You?
Are you concerned about buying used tech, and what would/wouldn't you buy pre-owned?

(Images: Flickr members //" target="_blank">Joelk75and ianmunroe licensed for use under Creative Commons)

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