10-Step Guide to Buying a Used Laptop That Works

laptop keyboard
Buying second-hand products is always green, but it’s easy to be discouraged by the stories of broken laptops from eBay or Craigslist. To quell these fears, here is a 10-step checklist on how to find a used laptop that isn’t just a high-tech lemon.

Most wouldn’t flinch at the idea of buying a used car, but the thought of a used computer sends them squirming. The tech industry tries their hardest to keep it that way: they advertise new products in such a way to render the previous models perceptually obsolete; they block even the simplest hardware upgrades; and they sell bottom-of-the-line models that simply break within a couple years.

This shouldn’t scare you away from a used computer purchase, but know that they are imperfect machines; some research, determination, and basic knowledge is required. To make this list, I used both my own experience along with some tips from Peter Montesano of Peter’s PC Repair, one of the most highly regarded repair shops in San Francisco.

Step 1: The Decision – Finding The Best Used Laptop

Decide what computer you want and then change your mind. Like most people, you probably dream of the newest, hottest thing on the marketβ€”maybe a Macbook Air or Dell’s new Studio Hybrid? No. Instead, check out some of the best computers from last year or earlier this year. These are the laptops you should choose from in the used marketβ€”and generally, they’ll perform the same tasks that this year’s models do. As an added bonus, you can try to find a computer from 2007 with Windows XP installed instead of Vista!

Step 2: Where to Buy

Determine where you will buy your computer. There are four options: eBay, Craigslist, local dealers, and straight from the manufacturer. Buying refurbished models from the manufacturer or a local dealer is often more expensive, but they’ll come with attached warranties that will calm your worried hearts. The remaining two options are a bit trickier, but also cheaper. If you plan to use eBay, make sure to find a seller with no less than 100% feedback rating. If the computer arrives broken, a seller with a flawless rating will happily allow a return in order to prevent negative feedbackβ€”that’s the beauty of eBay. For a Craigslist exchange, make sure to arrange a public meeting spot like a coffee shop where you can inspect the computer fully before purchasing.

Step 3: Cracks and Imperfections

Now you need to check for damage. First check for cosmetic issuesβ€”and then realize that it doesn’t matter whatsoever. As long as the computer still works, that little chip on the bottom corner will not be a problem. But if you’d like, you can try to get a few bucks knocked off the price because of it.

Step 4: No Purple Haze

One of the most expensive things to replace on a laptop is the screen. Check for any purple or pink discoloration, and if you find any, send the computer back. It’s not worth the hassle or cost of repairs.

Step 5: Testing the Inputs

Check all plugs, sockets, and wireless connections like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Many of these are attached to the motherboard, which is costly to replace. If one USB port is broken and you can live with the other three, then do it. If the headphone jack is broken but you have Bluetooth headphones anyway, then rejoice.

Step 6: Check for a Faulty Hard Drive.

Test the hard drive(s) for errors and remember that replacement drives are generally cheap.

Step 7: Check for a Faulty CD Drive

Try burning all types of media that the drive should supportβ€”CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-R, DVD+R DL, etc.

Step 8: Test the Battery Life

Read as many of my posts on Green Options as you can until the computer’s battery dies. If goes out too fast, try to get the seller to discount the price to make up for the cost of a replacement battery, which can often carry a big price tag.

Step 9: Seek Help

If you don’t want to do all these tests yourself or you want an expert opinion, most repair places would not charge more than $80 for a complete diagnostic check-up. When your used computer cost less than half the original retail price, $80 isn’t much.

Step 10: Wrap it up

For eBay buyers, don’t leave feedback until you’ve checked everything out. If there are any major problems, do not be afraid to return the computer.

Don’t get frustrated if everything isn’t perfect right from the start. Remember that people have problems with their brand new computers pretty often as well. Even if you have to fork up some money for small repairs or upgrades, rest assured that your decision was environmentally and economically sound.

Photo Credit: Declantm on Flickr under Creative Commons license.

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Written by alexfelsinger


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