By: +David Herron; Date: March 21, 2019
The benefit of buying a refurbished computer or other gadget
I've been buying refurbished computers and cellphones and other gadgets for several years. The computer I'm typing this with is a 2012 MacBook Pro that I refurbished and upgraded on my own, and with it I do high-end software development (in 2019) and manage my business. In our household we have several refurbished computers, our cell phones are refurbished, and I repair as many things as possible.
In other words the four year old (or older) computer or cell phone is an excellent choice in most cases.
The manufacturers want us to buy their latest offering. But is that because they have our best interest in heart? No. They want to get rich selling stuff to the public. They have shareholders demanding ever-increasing sales and profits. The manufacturers do not care if we go bankrupt buying the latest computer or whatever.
That's an economic harm inflicted on us all. To make it worse is the environmental disaster, since we're encouraged to throw away perfectly good devices.
How to be safe buying refurbished computers or other gadgets
The manufacturers want us to believe an old gadget is prone to break, and you'll be stuck paying for huge repair bills. The stereotype might be of someone selling their old computer because it broke in a bad way. They post it on eBay, after cleaning off some grime, hoping to pass the problems off to a rube. Therefore you're much safer buying a new computer, according to the manufacturers, because not only does it have the latest features, the manufacturer makes sure it's working right and everything is in good shape.
Here in the real world freshly manufactured products sometimes have serious problems. The manufacturer might have sold you a lemon or they might have made serious design flaws.
For example the Apple's flexgate problem is due to an Apple design flaw causing the display to stop working after awhile. The issue was a ribbon cable connecting the display to the logic board, which broke after normal use, and entailed replacing a $600 display. Apple may have quietly fixed the problem in the 2018 MacBook Pro. It means anybody who bought a 2015-2017 MacBook Pro got screwed by Apple.
In other words it can be safer to let other people buy the latest and greatest, watch to see which products have problems, and buying the ones which do not have problems.
Maybe it's better to buy older computers and other gadgets. Instead of spending $1000 on the latest iPhone, after a couple years it goes for half price. The key is buying from reputable sources, but what does that mean?
What does "Refurbished" mean?
A refurbished computer generally means the system was:
- Returned by a customer and cannot be resold as new
- Failed to meet the original manufacturer’s quality test and was rebuilt
- Came from a canceled order
Further, a Refurbisher will often do some or all of these things:
- Like-New Condition. Good quality sellers of refurbished items repair everything that’s damaged, then test the item to make sure it’s working properly. This means that when you buy a refurbished product, it should both look and run like new.
- Warranties. Many refurbished products come with a warranty, though the warranty period depends on who did the refurbishing. When an original manufacturer refurbishes and resells a product, the warranty is likely to be at least a full year. Products refurbished by a 3rd party usually have shorter warranties of 30 to 90 days.
- Support. In many cases, an original manufacturer refurbished product gives access to the same tech support you’d get with a new product. If you have any problems with your new equipment, you can call the manufacturer for help. Check the offer carefully for support arrangements
Look for certified refurbishers
Every manufacturer has a process for certified refurbished products. They may be certifying 3rd party shops to perform refurbishing services, or the manufacturer may be doing the refurbishment themselves.
A certified 3rd party refurbisher will have taken training from the manufacturer, is using manufacturer-approved techniques and parts, and so forth. The refurbisher may have a second line of business repairing computers for customers.
To learn about a few of these programs:
- Microsoft Authorized Refurbisher: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/refurbishedpcs/
- Apple Authorized Service Provider Program https://support.apple.com/en-lamr/aasp-program Note that Apple does not certify 3rd party refurbishers, and the only way to buy a certified-by-Apple refurbished Apple product is through Apple's refurbished products store (https://www.apple.com/shop/refurbished)
- Certified Electronics Recyclers https://www.epa.gov/smm-electronics/certified-electronics-recyclers
- Certified Refurbished Amazon Devices https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=200875270
Most manufacturers probably work like Apple, and rather than certify 3rd party refurbishers they do the refurbishing work themselves. In the case of Microsoft, the primary service offered by a Microsoft Authorized Refurbisher is providing a Windows license along with the refurbished computer.
As you look around for refurbished products you'll find them sold by all kinds of stores or eBay sellers. They'll claim it's refurbished, but how do you know? The list above is incomplete and the results of a few moments on DuckDuckGo looking for certification programs. Instead most of the findings were for places to buy refurbished products, rather than for certification programs.
What we need is to know the phrase for each manufacturer identifying which companies are certified refurbishers. A useful search phrase is "become certified PRODUCT-OR-MANUFACTURER refurbisher". Instead of "certified" the word may be "authorized", but in any case this should result in the certification program or else lists of stores selling refurbished products.
Look for warranty and repair support
The primary advantage of buying a brand new device is manufacturer warranty and service support. In theory it is the manufacturer who is best positioned to repair devices, since the manufacturer needs a happy customer base.
As we said earlier, a seller offering warranty and service support is a good sign. You might also look around for postings about whether seller X offers good quality products, or is a sham.
Since eBay is a good place to find refurbished products, the eBay seller profile gives a sense of the sellers reputation.