The Case for Refurbs

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Photo courtesy of laffy4k, via Flickr

There’s nothing like a gross-out news story to offer a little perspective. Last week, I might’ve complained that shipping was taking longer than expected. Now, I’m just glad that my gadgets don’t arrive covered in gum and vomit.

As The Consumerist reports, this was the sight that greeted a Dell Outlet customer when his refurbished laptop arrived with gum on the inside and a barf-like substance on the outside. What’s worse, Dell initially blamed FedEx.

Thankfully, the problem seems to be mostly sorted out, and the man will soon have a shiny, new, non-waste-covered laptop on the way. And, thankfully, the vast majority of refurbished laptops don’t have this problem, or any problems, really. We should be careful not to take the wrong lesson from this. Refurbs are still a smart choice. Read on to learn why. What Does “Refurbished” Mean, Anyway?

The term “refurbished” typically refers to electronics that have been damaged and returned, then repaired and re-sold by the manufacturer. But the definition is actually broader than that. Refurbs may never have been damaged to begin with. Some are simple returns and exchanges. Also, as in the case of Apple products, some refurbished electronics are outfitted with new cases and batteries, so they outwardly resemble their new counterparts. It varies by retailer and manufacturer, so be sure to check out the specific policies before you buy.

Another word you may come across is “re-certified.” This usually means that the laptop (or whatever) has been returned or repaired, then tested and granted some kind of warranty. However, all refurbished products have to be tested before they can be sold, too. Also, some refurbs have excellent warranties, while some re-certified products have awful ones. In general, “recertified” and “refurbished” can be used interchangeably. What matters most is that the product in question has a good warranty.

Why You Should Buy Refurbished

Laptops, like cars, are depreciable assets. This means that they can’t be considered an “investment,” because they lose value over time. To take the car example further, most cars lose 25% to 40% of their value within the first two years. However, a two-year-old car will have lost virtually none of its utility. This is why it’s best to let someone else buy new, pay that 40% extra, then sell to you.

The same reasoning applies to laptops and other expensive electronics. Very few of us require the newest, most powerful components, and those of us who do can usually stand to want the few weeks or months it takes for the first refurbished models to show up.

But we should be careful about buying electronics used. Laptops don’t have the same lifespan as cars. Refurbished is a better choice, because of that all-important warranty I keep talking about. In general, you should look for a warranty of at least a month or two, to make sure the product doesn’t have any obvious defects. Ideally, the warranty should extend beyond that. To once again use Apple as an example, their refurbs come with the same one-year warranty as their new products– yet another reason to buy refurbished.

Extended warranties, on the other hand, are another story. While most extended warranties are not worth it, it’s best to judge on a store-by-store basis.

Have your own experiences with refurbished electronics? Please share in the comments.

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  1. wisegal23

    2 years ago

    I bought a refurbished desktop from Tiger Direct…..was a Gateway…..was and still is working great, 2 years later. However, a few months later, I was planning a trip to Costa Rica and my friend wanted me to bring her a desktop with an OS in English, so I bought another Gateway, slimmer version of mine, for obvious reasons it fit better in my suitcase. This computer has died many times, mostly software deaths……and there is no recourse now for warranty…..I plan on bringing it back with me next trip…..so I think there is a bit of luck involved when buying refurbished.

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