Five Things You Should Not Buy Used

Buying secondhand goods is a great way to save money. Unfortunately, some products come with a little added risk when you buy them used. Either the products themselves don’t age particularly well, or they might contain hidden problems that rarely present themselves during the initial inspection.

Just about everything on this list has been either purchased by me or close friends of mine at one point or another. Each purchase has resulted in less than satisfactory user experiences. While new products can certainly arrive defective, warranties and protection plans are rarely transferable. If you buy something used from the wrong person and it breaks on you a week later, you might be out of luck.

Here are five things you should avoid buying used. Keep in mind while reading this list that I’m not including factory refurbished items. A camera or vacuum cleaner sold directly from a certified dealer after being refurbished by the factory can still be a good deal. It all comes down to warranty and whether or not the item itself has been inspected and approved by a certified technician.

Laptops

Five Things You Should Not Buy UsedI’m going to state first and foremost that refurbished goods should not be considered in this category. The process of factory refurbishing is generally pretty thorough from most major manufacturers out there. HP, Lenovo, Dell, and Apple have great refurbishing processes.

The laptops I’m referring to are the ones you buy at thrift stores, pawn shops, off eBay, and through Craigslist. Used laptops sold by individual sellers are a risky bargain. Sure, you might save some serious cash, but you never know what kind of abuse that portable computer has endured over its lifespan. Laptops by nature are difficult to repair and even more difficult to protect than desktop machines. A slight jarring or drop can cause a number of issues that may not present themselves right away.

Bottom line: Buy used laptops at your own peril. If you do, don’t trust any mission critical functions to them.

Vacuum Cleaners

Vacuum cleaners are terrible products to buy used. You never know what someone has subjected this machine to, and it may or may not be something you’d want to bring into your home. The vacuum cleaner is one of those household appliances that can be incredibly difficult to troubleshoot and even harder to fix.

A broken seal can be difficult to spot on initial inspection and a poor vacuum isn’t always easy to spot. Bottom line: You may be wasting your money on a used vacuum more often than not. People don’t get rid of their vacuum cleaners if they’re running well. They upgrade because what they have doesn’t work very well.

DSLR Cameras

A few test shots don’t tell the whole story of a high-end camera. Hot pixels, sensor scratches, and other problems can present themselves and drive you crazy once they do. Buying used cameras online isn’t recommended. You never know if the previous owner decided that they would try to clean the sensor with a cotton ball (a bad idea) or a cotton shirt (a VERY bad idea). Unless the camera is factory refurbished or rectified, you’re probably best avoiding buying one secondhand.

As with any item on this list, there are exceptions. Sometimes, you can get a great deal on a camera that someone has taken very good care of. The problem with buying used, especially online, is you never know exactly what happened to the device during its life time.

Homemade Desktop Computers

I typically try to avoid desktop computers that were assembled by someone and are being sold on Craigslist or eBay. Sure, these systems may have been assembled with love. The previous owner may have built the ultimate gaming machine with all the bells and whistles. The fact is, you never know if this person forgot something important and easily overlooked such as thermal paste on the heat sink. Some components work better with others, and computer enthusiasts often mix RAM and other components with motherboards that aren’t optimized for the product.

Pre-assembled machines from a brand you know and trust is a good thing. Not only do you typically get a restore disc that includes all the drivers you need, but also specific support updates that can help the machine run as it is intended. You generally know that the components are a match, and can depend on the product to work. Of course, there are exceptions.

Hard Drives

When we sent the question out to Twitter asking what tech product our community members would never recommend anyone buy used, the first and most popular suggestion was a hard drive. Ckeboss, a member of the LockerGnome community, tweeted: “Hard drives store your important data. They are also prone to failure because of their mechanical nature.”

Never ever EVER EVER EVER buy hard drives used. Yes, you read that right. I’m calling out everyone who ever sold a hard drive that didn’t quite work for them and passed it off as something great that they just didn’t have use for. Hard drives are cheap new, and there’s no reasonable excuse for further cheaping out on this one vital system component. Your motherboard, processor, GPU, and RAM can be replaced very easily. Hard drives are a different situation.

Buying a used hard drive is like buying a record with deep gouges on the surface. Sure, it might still play, but I wouldn’t trust it to stand the test of time as the needle catches and drags across various pits and dips on the old record.

You should assume that every used hard drive has been dropped. If someone’s selling an open box on eBay, it probably was. Even the slightest amount of abuse on the part of the original owner can significantly reduce the lifespan of a drive. Is that a risk you’re willing to take with your valuable data?

Anyone who has bought enough hard drives will tell you that there are enough problems in the world with new hard drives to throw the monkey wrench in the operation of a used one.

On the other hand, there are plenty of things that you should buy used.

Article Written by

Ryan Matthew Pierson has worked as a broadcaster, writer, and producer for media outlets ranging from local radio stations to internationally syndicated programs. His experience includes every aspect of media production. He has over a decade of experience in terrestrial radio, Internet multimedia, and commercial video production.

  • http://www.avijeets.com Avijeet Sachdev

    This article should be “Five things you should be careful buying used.” 

    • http://twitter.com/MattRyan Matt Ryan

      Good eye. You might see that change.

  • http://www.avijeets.com Avijeet Sachdev

    This article should be “Five things you should be careful buying used.” 

  • Shane Killian

    I say, don’t buy used batteries for your laptop, phone, UPS, or whatever. As with the other things in this list, you don’t know what it’s been through, and you may find you have a battery that won’t hold a charge for very long, which is bad if it’s something like a UPS that you’re relying on in a pinch.

    • http://twitter.com/MattRyan Matt Ryan

      Any absolutely vital component should fall under this rule. The power supply of a computer, if bad, can actually destroy every other component it attaches to. I’ve had new systems ship with bad power supplies twice, and each time it cost me a lot of money.

      I’ve also sold used batteries in cases where the laptop itself died shortly after purchasing an extended battery for it. While I wouldn’t advise buying them aftermarket from anyone other than a licensed dealer, I certainly had no problem selling them.

  • Kevin Michael

    All electronics have upgraded…We all can have new product every 3months…Some phone handsets have worked out….

  • http://twitter.com/Kurisu_Yamato Chris Eldridge

    Actually, I did buy a “slightly used” External HDD on ebay back in
    2008… that machine has 2.5 years running life on it and STILL
    functions fine to this day (it has, however, been retired, so it is now
    just in my storage area awaiting new life)

    The owner stated he had only had it running a few hours a day, and SMART
    stats on the drive, when I recieved it, sure enough matched his
    statements.

    The guy was an honest seller, at a time when I did not have much money.  now, however… I would not buy such new.

    the HDD rule also applies to the aforementioned laptop situation. Worst, and most likely thing to fail would be the HDD. :

    • http://twitter.com/MattRyan Matt Ryan

      I’m glad you had a good experience. The HDD issue is still one I’m very cautious of. If I ever buy a used computer (and I have), it’s typically from an aftermarket electronics store that does some refurbishing themselves which includes a new HDD and processor. Trusting the average Joe to be honest… that’s another story. Good thing it worked out in your case.

  • Bentodman93

    I would add projectors to that list as they are usually at the end of their lamp life and might not have been kept in a clean environment and had the filters cleaned often.

    • http://twitter.com/MattRyan Matt Ryan

      Good one.

  • http://www.MagicTrax.net Magic Trax

    You should also add cell phones. The phone may be in perfect working condition, but the ESN could have been flagged for various reasons, and because of that the cell provider(s) won’t let you activate the phone. 

  • Michael LaCreta

    Hard Drives are not cheap now the floods in Thailand took care of that.

  • Michael LaCreta

    Hard Drives are not cheap now the floods in Thailand took care of that.

  • http://www.jp52.com/ jp52

    Some kind of old cameras are very rare, so they are valuable and deserving your buy.
    Don’t you think so ?

    • http://my.opera.com/geekgirlfri/blog/ Melinda P

      Unless I’m mistaken, DSLR cameras are all digital – not the antique film cameras that you sound as though you mean.

    • http://my.opera.com/geekgirlfri/blog/ Melinda P

      Unless I’m mistaken, DSLR cameras are all digital – not the antique film cameras that you sound as though you mean.

    • http://twitter.com/MattRyan Matt Ryan

      Rare cameras are one thing, but I’m talking more about the kind of camera you take out in the field with you. I love antique rifles, but I wouldn’t take one to the range.

  • http://twitter.com/nickcicero Nick Cicero

    I would also add electronic music gear (keyboards etc)

  • KaPOWitsCHRIS

    I disagree about dSLRs. Mine is second hand. It’s perfect.

  • Anonymous

    I disagree about dSLRs. Mine is second hand. It’s perfect.

    • Yeoncheol CHOO

      I am so confused. Someone said it is not that good, and others said it was perfect. Now I am considering which one I have to choose new or old as my first DSLR. I really need to study about those things.  :D

      • http://twitter.com/Ruderuud Rudy You ma BigiPola

        There is an option in some DSLR to see the shutter count. Some manufactures, like Nikon, have never had a mileage (shutter count) limitation.