Used Inkjet Printers - Spotting a Lemon

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Given that some InkJet printers are particularly expensive when bought new, or because an older model offers certain benefits over newer ones, you may well be tempted to buy a Used or Second hand printer on eBay...

There are however more than a few ways for you to go from buying a bargain to ending up with a Lemon (ie: a useless paperweight).

These are just a few tips to help reduce your chances of being taken for a fool.

Key:
  • NEW - a "new" printer which has been unused... Anything that has printed ANYTHING is not New!
  • USED - a printer that has seen some use, even if it's just sat on a display shelf.
  • REFURB - a printer that had a fault and was serviced (You should only accept a recognised service centre as a true refurbishment)

  1. Before purchasing a printer, check the specification for a brand new unit on the official website. Check for things like:

    • Printhead - is it built into the unit or not. If not, is the printhead on cartridges (eg: many HP deskjets) or a seperate replaceable component (eg: many Canon Pixma or HP officejet/business inkjet printers)
    • Type of Ink - what is the standard type of ink it uses (Dyebase or Pigment).. and how much does it cost?
    • Component prices - How much is this thing going to cost
      (if you need to buy a new printhead how much would that cost?)
    • Warranty terms and conditions - Can you get the unit serviced if it goes wrong?

  2. Take a VERY careful look at the Ebay listing to determine just what is included with the printer and what isn't

    • NEW/USED: All components? (Cartridges, printhead, cables, etc..)
      (If the printhead isn't included for a Canon iP4000 for example, the real value of the printer is £50 less than a new unit!
      It's also a favourite of many eBay sellers to sell the parts of a printer as individual items eg: CD trays, Cartridges, printheads, etc... as they can get more profit that way.

      IMPORTANT!! Printers sold as husks (ie: no printhead or cartridges) invariably cost more to refit with these items than the actual printer brand new. This is true of almost all low end and non-multifunctional printers. Large format and multifunction devices are an exception but as a rule if there's no consumables at all expect to spend serious money to get it running again.

    • USED: When was the printer last used?
      (If that printer hasn't printed anything in a month it's probably clogged up)

    • USED: When the printer was last used, did it print successfully without any banding?
      (If there was banding it'll need to run through a head clean which wastes ink and it could indicate a faulty unit)

    • USED: Does the printer include cartridges installed in the printer
      (If you're buying a used printer that has separate printheads, eg: Canon/Epson, you want cartridges installed to protect the ink receivers even if they are empty otherwise the head will clog and dry out)

    • USED: How old is the printer and how much use has it had?
      (Inkjet printers have a finite service life due to things like the printhead, and more importantly the waste ink pads that soak up wasted ink from cleaning cycles and usage.. If a printer has had a lot of use over a few months or regular use over a year or more it may well be at the end of its useful life).

    • REFURB: Who refurbished the unit?
      (You'll find refurbished units from Canon sold directly from the authorised Canon reseller but there are others claiming to be replacement or serviced units. It's useful to know WHY they were refurbished and what was replaced/fixed.)

    • USED: What ink/consumables have been used in the printer?
      (There are plenty of cheap third party ink suppliers on the net but not all are compatible with each other. Make sure that the printer has not been used to print with something non-standard like pigment ink in a dyebase printer, for example.)

    • NEW/USED: Is the warranty still valid?
      (If you're intent on using a printer that should still be in warranty, you need to check that it will still be valid. Check with the manufacturer, not just the seller, that purchase via Ebay doesn't invalidate this warranty)

    • USED: Canon Pixma specific: Has the warranty been invalidated by using non Canon ink?
      (The new Canon Pixma range have cartridges that use microchips to track ink usage and also to ensure you can't use 3rd party cartridges. It IS possible however for someone to try refilling the cartridge but if they continue to use the cartridge it will invalidate the warranty and mean you cannot get it fixed by Canon without charge. This issue is apparently unlikely to hold water legally but it does reduce the value of the printer).

    • NEW/USED: How much is the postage cost?
      (A printer is usually in the range of 4 to 7 kilograms in weight so postage of more than £15 is taking the mickey unless it's a rush or oversized printer like a multifunctional. Remember you can usually check a printers specifications on the manufacturers website and they usually include the standard weight. Comparing this with your expected delivery method cost can soon tell you if you're being ripped off on postage)

    • NEW/USED: What sort of packing will the printer come in?
      (A printer, like any other electronic equipment needs to be well packed in bubble warp, pellets, custom polystyrene holders, or similar cushioned packaging. Ask exactly what it will be sent in. Receiving something that has been bashed around by the Postman is unlikely to work.)

    • USED: Is it marked as faulty?
      (This is based on personal experience but if you buy something faulty, you have to treat it as completely dead and requiring major work. Any attempt to dispute the level of dysfunction will fail. It doesn't matter if your unit is worse than you were given reason to expect Paypal and eBay will not help you! ALWAYS be very careful to check that there isn't some small print in the sellers description saying the unit is faulty. Some sellers hide it a little too well!)

  3. Communicate with the seller

    • Use common sense
      If the seller doesn't respond, avoids your questions, doesn't know the answers, etc... then you have to question what you're getting for your money. If in doubt, walk away.

    • Get everything in writing
      Everyone knows that on eBay, if you don't ask, you don't know.. and if you didn't check all the details before you bid then it's your own fault. If you have everything in writing you always have grounds to invoke the eBay dispute procedure if it's not as advertised.

    • If in doubt?
      .. don't buy it. Just remember, buying used may cost you much more in the long run, be it the hair you pull out, the time you waste trying to get it working or money wasted on spare parts...

    • Reputation for selling printers?
      Normal eBay logic here but if the seller is getting rid of a single unit and normally sells dolls they aren't likely to be too knowledgable on printers, but as with anything, you're better buying from someone who has a good reputation for regularly selling used printers and who communicates well.

Hope this guide helps a few people save themselves from buying some of the poor quality offerings that are out there. The bottom line with these things is that the devil is in the detail... If you take the time to check out your item you will save yourself time, money and stress later on.



Ones to watch out for

Epson.
It's worth asking if the printer you're bidding for has been modified or is modified to expel waste ink to an external tank. Some printers are sold with the tube incorrectly stuffed back into the printer (or still poking out the back) and this can cause ink spills or leakage when you turn it back on.

Canon
Inkjet printers are almost all now chipped models (ie: iP4200/4300, iP5200/5300, MP500/530, MP800/830, MP800/900, MP150/170, etc...). Recently some advances were made in being able to reset these cartridges (see my other guide on Canon Pixma printers for details).
OEM/Branded cartridges for these printers will cost between £20 and £45 for a complete set depending on the actual model.

The more expensive models also have a separate printhead and can cost from £30 to £60 to replace. As with the HP K5400 (below) you can end up with "printer only" auctions that have been stripped of printhead and cartridges where a new printer would be cheaper than buying the bits you'd need to get it working!

Hewlett Packard (HP)
  • Deskjets are fairly standard with the printhead as part of the cartridge
  • Officejets usually have separate printheads and cartridges. Watch out for units like the K5400 without cartridges or printheads. They cost more to replace separately than a new printer!

This is by no means an exhaustive list but hopefully it gives you a few examples of potential lemon traps and I'll try to keep it updated as new "lemon" techniques appear.


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