Should You Buy Refurbished Electronics?

Those kind-of-new products may seem enticing—who doesn’t want to save money on the latest gadget?—but are you actually getting a good deal? Find out.

Refurbished electronics can look new. And because they have been opened, returned, retooled, and slapped with that slightly worrisome “refurbished” label, they’re also cheaper than their never-opened counterparts. So are they a smart way to save? Or are they duds, primed to self-destruct?

The pros: You’ll spend as much as 20 percent less, says Whitson Gordon, the editor in chief of Lifehacker.com, a digital-advice website. A 16-gigabyte iPad mini with Retina display sells for $399; one that’s been rehabbed and purchased from Apple is $339.

The cons: You can’t be sure whether the product was returned because it was defective or because a buyer who had barely opened it changed her mind. Display models (which may endure hundreds of demos) can also be labeled “refurbished.” While broken parts should have been replaced with new ones, there’s no guarantee that they will be. The refurbishing process also differs with each company; it could be a five-minute once-over or a longer inspection. Don’t expect perfection: You may be told that the item comes with cosmetic blemishes or without the add-ons (for example, chargers) or manuals that a new product would have.

The verdict: For an item with moving parts, like a laptop, buy new; refurbishing tests don’t always pick up intermittent hardware glitches (say, a disc drive that gets stuck), says Ken Colburn, the CEO of Data Doctors Technology Services, a chain of computer-service centers. But if you’re hot for an item that comes in one piece, like a tablet, buying refurbished may be worth it. Just make sure that the item has a warranty and is factory-refurbished. “There’s more quality assurance when it’s repaired by the manufacturer, as opposed to a third-party vendor,” says Gordon.