How to buy a second-hand or refurbished laptop
Deals on new laptops are common all year round, but these discounts can pale in comparison to how much you can save by shopping in the used and refurbished laptop marketplace.
We take a look at your options, and the potential pitfalls, to help you decide if it’s really worth the extra to buy brand new rather than a pre-owned laptop.
What's the difference between a refurbished laptop and a second-hand laptop?
A refurbished, or reconditioned, laptop has usually been professionally restored by a manufacturer or retailer to the closest it can get to ‘as new’ condition. Refurbished laptops often come with warranties.
The laptops we more commonly think of as 'second-hand' are typically used laptops sold ‘as-is’ by their previous owners, and their condition will be far more variable.
Refurbished or reconditioned laptops
- These laptops will always be sold directly by a manufacturer, retailer or professional reseller. Examples include Laptops Direct and Laptop Outlet.
- They will either look 'as-new' (particularly if they were returned by their former purchaser shortly after purchase or are ex-display models) or be graded by quality (see below), so you know for sure in what condition a laptop will be before you buy it.
- Prices will often be higher than on the second-hand market, as the laptops have been checked by professionals to ensure they're in working order and good physical condition.
- You're usually guaranteed a warranty of some sort, as it's being sold by a professional retailer.
Used or second-hand laptops
- You'll often be buying directly from the laptop's existing owner, meaning that transactions can be riskier.
- The warranty is likely to have expired unless the device is less than two years old.
- You can get a great price, as sellers may not know how much a used laptop is truly worth. Online auctions often result in low final prices, too. That said, there are professional bargain hunters looking at auction sites all the time, which can keep prices higher.
- The laptop may well look visibly worn, may not come in its original box, and may be missing some accessories. Double check with the seller what you’ll be receiving before you pay.
What do refurbished laptop grades mean?
Grades shown on refurbished laptops determine what condition the laptop is in, and what types of damage or wear and tear (if any) you can expect.
Refurbished computers typically fall into one of three categories – most companies list them as A, B and C. The popular retailer Laptops Direct uses A1, A2 and A3, but these are functionally the same as A, B and C.
Grade A laptops
Grade A is normally reserved for ‘open-box’ devices that have been barely used, typically because they were unwanted and returned to a retailer straight after purchase. The laptop is in visibly flawless condition, with no scuffs, scratches or marks on the outer casing. It will come in its original box and (most likely) with all of its original accessories.
This is as close as you can get to buying brand new, and the cost will reflect that – sometimes discounts from new prices can be less than £50.
Grade B laptops
Grade B laptops are visibly used, but any damage is purely cosmetic. This might equate to minor scratches, but nothing that’s noticeable during normal everyday use. A laptop might not come with its original box or charger, but it should still come with a compatible charger. These can be 20% cheaper than a new model.
Grade C laptops
With grade C, wear will be heavier than a Grade B unit and there may even be visible dents and scratches, but the laptop will still be in full working order. You probably won’t get it in the original box, and it possibly won't have its accompanying accessories, but it should still come with a compatible charger, depending on the retailer. These can be more than a third cheaper than the equivalent new model.
Where can I buy a refurbished laptop?
Many retailers that sell new laptops also sell refurbished models. What they'll have in stock, and the discounts available, will change regularly depending on the laptops that are returned and reconditioned, so you might need to be on the ball if you have a specific laptop in mind. Popular sites include:
* This is eBay's 'shopfront' for products that have been professionally inspected, cleaned, and refurbished by the manufacturer or a manufacturer-approved vendor to meet manufacturer specifications. Don't confuse these models with 'seller refurbished' or 'used' laptops, which might not meet the same standards.
Apple Certified Refurbished MacBooks
If you’re buying a refurbished laptop directly from Apple, you’re likely to get one that’s in grade A condition. Apple doesn't specify the level of damage, but the company says all of its refurbished models go through a rigorous testing process that is of the same standard as used for brand-new models.
How to spot good (and bad) used laptop deals
Shopping in the second-hand and refurbished marketplace can be a bit of a minefield. We've given some pointers on what to look out for, based on some examples we've found of good and bad deals.
Find out the age of the laptop
The text on the image is a bit on the small side, but this eBay listing is offering used Core i5 laptops from just £80 – apparently a complete bargain.
However, clicking on the dropdown list reveals that these processors are first-generation versions. In other words, these laptops are 11 or 12 years old.
Scroll further down the listing, and the seller notes reveal that they’re ex-business laptops with small-capacity hard drives, which means they’re likely to feel very sluggish in everyday use, and may have significant cosmetic damage. The fact you can’t choose a specific model also makes us wary, as do phrases like ‘Due To The Age Of The Laptop We Will Not Guarantee How Long The Battery Will Hold’.
The price is low, but if you want an effective laptop for everyday use this probably isn’t the way to go.
Look for good-quality listings and sellers
This used 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro looks a bargain at £999, and the signs are all positive. There are loads of pictures supplied in this listing, so you can get a good idea of its physical state, and the seller has taken a photo of the screen to prove that it is indeed the 2020 MacBook Pro, and has even included the number of battery charge cycles further down the listing, which is a good detail to include.
Meanwhile, the seller has a great positive review score (and a history of positive feedback when selling other gadgets when you click through to their seller’s profile page) – another tick in the box. This seems like a great way to save £300 on a nearly-new MacBook Pro.
Still, you should exercise caution because you’ll get no warranty beyond whatever is left of Apple’s own cover, and be aware that there may be unseen damage that the seller hasn’t disclosed.
Check the specs
Ex-business laptops can be a great way of saving money, especially if they’ve been reconditioned by the manufacturer. This refurbished Dell, on offer for £293.30, is a good example.
It's not immediately clear from the listing how old the laptop is, but with any purchase like this, searching the web for the model name is a great way of finding its age – and how much it cost at launch. In this case, while the model is getting on a bit (it launched in 2014), it originally cost more than £1,000, so was a pretty premium laptop in its day.
With models like these, check how old the the hardware inside is, though. While this laptop does have an Intel Core i5 processor, its age means the performance is probably closer to a modern Core i3. And it will be a lot less power-efficient than modern business laptops, so the battery may not last as long. It’s good to see that in this example the storage is a solid-state drive (SSD), so it will feel nippier than other old models that have a slow hard disk.
You should also make sure the display meets your needs – this model has a lower resolution than Full HD. However, because it was a business laptop, we’d expect the quality to be better than average. In this case, a solid business laptop for under £300 is probably a good deal.
Conversely, this deal on a refurbished Lenovo Yoga is poor. £149 for a laptop may look tempting, but if you do a web search for the processor, which is an Intel Celeron N2940, you'll find that it's just as old as the Dell above (from 2014).
While an older processor might be fine with a high-spec laptop, Celeron is pretty much the cheapest Intel processor you can buy, so one that's getting on a bit is going to feel absolutely ancient and sluggish today.
There are brand-new laptops with more modern processors that don't cost much more than this.
Don't be seduced by the 'discount'
Don't assume refurbished is always cheaper
Finally, always shop around before you buy. In this example, an Asus C101 laptop is on sale in Grade B used condition on eBay for around £220.
This might seem reasonable for a laptop that originally cost £299 new, but when we found this listing, Currys PC World had the same model on sale, brand new, for £199.
What are the risks of buying a used laptop?
Below, we've highlighted some of the most common frustrations with second-hand or reconditioned laptops, so make sure you consider these before you hit the buy button.
New Windows, old machine: The great thing about Windows 10 is that it works on a wide variety of laptops. However, when installed on very old laptops it feels incredibly slow and really isn’t suited to very old hardware, even if it is technically compatible. Very old business laptops (such as from our job-lot eBay example above) will not be enjoyable to use.
Battery problems: If you’re buying a used laptop, it’s likely the battery has been around the block a few times, and the laptop may not last for long away from the mains. If you mainly use your laptop plugged in at home, this might not be a big deal. But if battery life is something you care about, check to see whether official spares are available or, at worst, check for compatible replacements.
Charging: Probably the most abused part of any laptop is the charger and the laptop’s charging ports. Plugged in and unplugged every day and stuffed into bags in a hurry, these are a common point of failure. If the seller of a second-hand laptop doesn’t show the state of the charging port or the charger, request images to see if it looks wonky or damaged. Spares are nearly always available, but are rarely cheap.
What are my rights with second-hand or refurbished laptops?
Buying from shops
Your precise rights depend on whether you're buying from a shop or from a private seller.
If you buy a refurbished machine from an online retailer, you’re covered by the Consumer Contracts Regulations. These regulations give you the right to change your mind for any reason and cancel the order – starting from the moment you order and ending 14 days from the day you receive the laptop.
If you bought from an online or a physical shop, then you’re also protected by the Consumer Rights Act in the event that the laptop is faulty. Under that Act, you have a legal right to reject goods that are of unsatisfactory quality, unfit for purpose or not as described, and get a full refund – as long as you do it within 30 days from the date you take ownership of the laptop. After 30 days, you won’t be entitled to a full refund, although some sellers might offer you an extended refund period.
After 30 days, you can ask for a repair or replacement. Keep in mind, though, that while individual online product listings may not state the exact level of wear and tear, the website will probably have a detailed page explaining the type of wear and tear you can expect from the grade of product you bought – so make sure to check this before you buy.
Buying from private sellers
If you’re buying from a private seller, such as on eBay, the goods must be as described. However, there’s no obligation for the seller to proactively inform you of faults. On some sites, such as eBay, potential buyers are encouraged to ask questions to get more information from sellers who haven't provided a detailed listing.
If you find a fault that wasn’t disclosed but you also didn’t check for it before buying, you may be able to negotiate a solution with the seller, but they might not be under any obligation to help you or refund you
Can I get a warranty on second-hand laptops?
The warranty on a refurbished laptop varies and can be as little as 30 days, but are more typically one year, or even up to three years.
Warranties depend entirely on the retailer you buy from. CeX/WeBuy offers a full two-year warranty on all products, while Laptops Direct only offers three months as standard. Many refurbished tech retailers will sell you a warranty extension if you want extra peace of mind.
Also remember that your rights under the Consumer Rights Act still apply: you still have a 30-day right to reject if the laptop isn't as described, fit for purpose or of satisfactory quality.
Meanwhile, Apple supplies a one-year warranty with its officially refurbished products.
On a used laptop bought directly from the current owner, it’s unlikely you’ll get any warranty at all. The only exception to this will be if the laptop is still within its original manufacturer’s warranty.
However, the previous owner may have voided the warranty by either damaging the laptop or making modifications (such as changing the hard disk) not covered by the manufacturer’s warranty.
It’s best to assume your laptop won’t be covered when you buy second-hand from a private seller. Always check with the seller before buying if you’re concerned and want more information about damage and modifications.
There’s always a small risk in buying refurbished and used products. But a little research about what you’re buying and a good look at detailed listings will help you understand what you’re likely to receive.