One of the best ways to save money is to buy stuff used — whether we're talking computers smartphones, or even cars. Buying used comes with a bit of extra responsibility, though. Here are some guides on how to avoid getting screwed, no matter what you're buying.
We've shared a lot of tips for selling your old junk online, but what about when you're buying? That's a little trickier, since you not only want a good deal, but you also want a product that's working, reliable, and in good condition. Here are some of the guides and tips we've featured over the years on buying used stuff.
Computers And Computer Parts
If you don't need a top-of-the-line machine, buying a slightly older computer can be a great way to save money. But, you want to make sure it's still in good working condition — especially if it's a laptop, which can experience a lot of physical abuse.
First, figure out what you really need — then make sure you aren't better off buying new or refurbished. We recommend buying in person if you can, which allows you to check the product for damage, examine the screen for dead pixels and discoloration, as well as test out the ports, keyboard and other "moving" parts. Also make sure you're getting the included accessories — if you have to buy those yourself, your costs could go up significantly. See our guide to buying a used computer for more tips — and don't forget to run software diagnostics too. You don't want to buy a used computer only to find that it's hard drive is two weeks away from dying.
If you're a build-it-yourself kind of person, you can buy used computer parts online — but even more than with most used items, you'll want to be careful. Your best bet is to buy from hardware-focused sites with classified pages, like Hard Forum, AnandTech's classifieds, the Overclock.net Marketplace, or Reddit's /r/hardwareswap. You'll also want to check people's "reputation" on those sites to ensure you won't get screwed — and if you can, get a product that still has a valid warranty.
Smartphones, Tablets And Other Gadgets
Smartphones are tough to buy used because they go wherever you do — which means they're subjected to more physical rigour. That means you have to be extra careful to avoid buying a smartphone with damage — as well as avoiding a stolen phone (which, once reported, will not work properly).
Again, if you can, it's ideal to buy in person. If you use an online store, buy from sellers with a return policy. That way, you can ensure the phone you buy was accurately described and priced fairly. You'll want to make sure it charges properly, activates on your carrier of choice, test the headphone jack, and run a service code test. You can find extra information on all of these in our used smartphone buying guide.
Most of these rules apply to tablets, MP3 players, and other gadgets as well. However, if you're buying a smartphone — or a tablet with data service — you'll also need to take extra precautions against buying a stolen device. Obviously buying a stolen device of any kind is bad, but buying a stolen phone can leave you with a data-less device. Once reported, the carrier will block that phone from getting service. So when you're buying, be sure to check the ESN/IMEI numbers on the AMTA site to avoid buying a stolen phone.
Nice DSLR cameras are expensive, which make them good candidates for buying used — but they require close inspection, just like any other gadget. Check the camera for cosmetic wear and tear, shoot the blue sky to check the sensor for any dust or scratches, and compare the camera's shutter count to its maximum rated value from the manufacturer. CNET has a good guide to buying used, so definitely check that out for more details.
Most importantly, though: inspect the lens. You can always buy a new lens if you have to, but they're very expensive, so you want to avoid it if you can. When buying used lenses, check the mount and check any moving parts, like the rings and filter threads. DIY Photography has more information specific to lenses so you can make sure you don't get hosed.
There's a lot of debate over whether buying a used car is better than buying new, but we won't get into that here — this pros and cons list at Car and Driver should help you out. However, if you are set on buying a used car, we'll leave it to our friends at Jalopnik to help you avoid getting screwed. Their advice? Inspect the owner, not just the car, and have your own mechanic look at it. Most importantly, do some serious research on the model you're looking at. Forums are a great resource. That way, you know its pain points, what a fair price is, and repair costs (which is so often ignored). Check out their guide for more.
Those aren't the only items you can buy used, of course, but they are some of the most common — and some of the ones that really require your due diligence. No matter what you're buying, don't be afraid to walk away if you don't trust the seller — and if you can, buy locally so you can do your inspection in person. Good luck!
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