Refurbished gadgets help beat cost of living squeeze

Buying refurbished consumer electronics is an easy way to reduce household spending, but are there questions about device safety?

Wednesday, 10 August, 2022

If you’re the sort of person who loves acquiring new consumer technology, 2022 has probably been a massive disappointment.

Ongoing materials shortages are affecting everything from car manufacturing to spare parts production.

The supply chain is struggling with a toxic combination of fuel price spikes, key shipping routes being blocked and a chronic shortage of delivery drivers.

Add in spiralling inflation that’s pushing the cost of many electronic appliances ever higher, and refurbished consumer electronics look increasingly appealing.

These are second-hand items which have been updated and restored, usually by specialists. They offer a number of advantages, but should you have any concerns around their safety?

Here’s what you need to know.

The advantages of buying used

By definition, second-hand consumer technology was cutting edge when it was new.

If you buy a Google Pixel 5, you’re getting the best technology Google could offer in 2020.

The fact that Google now markets the Pixel 6 (which in some respects isn’t an improvement) doesn’t detract from the 5’s many qualities.

You’re not buying a second-hand device in unknown condition, either. Professionally refurbished consumer electronics are checked by technicians and tested for performance.

Hard-worked components (such as batteries or touchscreens) are replaced where this is viable, helping to maximise the appliance’s longevity.

Crucially, by purchasing a second-hand item, you’re keeping it out of landfill for longer.

That’s far more environmentally friendly than buying a new device, given all the raw materials required to construct appliances like televisions, tablets and toasters.

Guaranteed performance

On paper, there’s no reason to harbour concerns about old appliances which have been professionally refurbished.

However, don’t automatically trust a private individual on eBay who claims they’ve refurbished it.

Stick to sellers who provide warranties (ideally for a year), giving you a period of grace to use the item and test its day-to-day practicality.

If no warranty is offered, or an appliance is described as ‘sold as seen’, it’s probably not going to justify any cost saving compared to buying new.

You can also exercise your 14-day refund rights from authorised sellers here in the UK, though the Consumer Rights Act doesn’t apply to traders based overseas.

Direct resellers include Music Magpie, BuyItDirect and Appliances Direct, while marketplaces are represented by Back Market, eBay Refurbished and Amazon Renewed.

Manufacturers from Samsung and Nintendo to Apple and Microsoft are also reselling refurbished items nowadays, reducing their environmental footprint and boosting sales.

What about safety?

A used item’s life expectancy will inevitably be shorter than a new one, but there’s little to fear from a safety perspective.

A 2020 tumble dryer is no more likely to catch fire than a 2022 model, providing its filter has been routinely emptied.

Equally, an older laptop with a replacement battery shouldn’t pose a greater risk of overheating than it did when new.

A more significant safety concern involves updates being unavailable for devices like games consoles, smartphones and laptops.

Check model numbers on manufacturer websites to ensure vital software/firmware updates and security patches are still being released.

Any device capable of storing personal data should have been restored to factory settings long before it comes into your possession, so privacy issues are rarely a concern.

You’re purchasing an electronic item with no tangible record of usage beyond physical signs of wear, and the absence of some original packaging and paperwork.

Do remember that without accompanying paperwork, certain types of appliance – especially TVs and printers – don’t publicise their model numbers.

That makes it hard to tell how old they really are – another reason for only using a trusted reseller.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!