What to Expect When You're Buying a Refurbished Laptop

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This guide is written for all of you considering buying a refurbished laptop. I have been selling refurbished laptops for a very long time. I have dealt with customers who thought this or assumed that about the item they bought because there is no uniform standard of operation concerning what “refurbished” is. Everybody’s definition is different.

I have written this guide to help you out in your laptop purchase by shedding some light on some of the most often misunderstood areas regarding what it is you are actually buying when you see “Item Condition: Refurbished.”

Most of the points I have listed below are probably the “extreme” case. However it is best to sometimes expect the worse and get something better.

NOTE: I am not including those individuals who are selling their own personal laptop. This guide is written for those of you who are considering buying a refurbished laptop from one of the many dealers on eBay whose business is selling laptops.

MOST refurbished laptops that are selling on ebay come from retired lease portfolios. Dell's (or whoever) sales guy goes into company A and says "We think you should have these new laptops. You can exchange your old ones for them." Company A then tells all of their people that they are getting new laptops and to turn in their old ones. Dell collects the old laptops and brings them into one of their warehouses. Dell in turn then offers them to a company that sells refurbished laptops that in turn sells them on ebay.

The bottom line is a refurbished laptop is a USED laptop. "Refurbished" is a very broad term that in some cases is very loosely applied to the "condition" section of many item descriptions. EVERYONE has their own definition of what it means and what needs to be done to a laptop for a seller to call their product "refurbished."

IN MY opinion the least that a laptop reseller should do is:

  • Test the hardware is to insure that the components are working (i.e. motherboard, RAM, keyboard, screen, modem, DVD, etc)
  • Replace any part that is defective.
  • Replace any plastic that is broken (i.e. a cracked hinge, a broken latch, etc)
  • Wipe clean the hard drive, and install a fresh copy of the operating system.
  • Clean the laptop, and ready it for shipping to the buyer.

BOTTOM LINE: You are buying a laptop that has been previously used.
ADVICE: PLEASE PLEASE READ THE ENTIRE AUCTION DESCRIPTION. The most common problem that I have with customers is that they did not read the part of my auction where I CLEARLY stated the battery is not tested or guaranteed or "this particular auction does NOT come with an optical drive."


Expect that the battery MIGHT not be good (i.e. dead) or will not hold a long charge. NOTE: if a battery holds a charge for 20 minutes it is not DEAD it simply doesn't hold a long charge.

Most companies that sell used/refurbished laptops on ebay DO NOT guarantee the battery to be good (or cover it in the warranty). Please read the fine print. Dell doesn't even guarantee the batteries they sell on their reconditioned/ refurbished laptops (don't believe me? Read their terms).

BOTTOM LINE: You might get a battery that only lasts for 20 minutes or MIGHT NOT EVEN WORK AT ALL.
ADVICE 1: If the auction description says that the battery is good you will probably pay more for that item, and "good" doesn't mean new.
ADVICE 2: Plan that you might need to buy a new battery. Pay no more than $40 - $60 for it.


Expect that the laptop might (not always) show signs of wear. Remember it is not new. Most companies that "refurbish" only refurbish the inside. The good resellers will replace any broken plastics (see above).

BOTTOM LINE: Your refurbished laptop will probably have some kind of marks on the case.
ADVICE 1: If minor wear and tear on your laptop is going to drive you crazy, Don't buy refurbished, buy new.


Expect that there might (not always) be marks on the screen (minor marks, see below for explanation). The most common are marks left by the space bar when the laptop lid is closed. Also, but not as common, are a few dead pixels.

Most of these screen issues can really only be seen while you are booting the laptop because of the dark background, once it is booted it is hardly noticeable.

Most companies do not change the LCD unless it doesn't work, is cracked, or is horribly scratched. (A few marks on the screen made by the spacebar is NOT "horribly" scratched). The newer the laptop is the less likely that there will be any marks on the screen.

BOTTOM LINE: Your refurbished laptop will probably have some kind of marks on the screen.
ADVICE 1: If minor screen blemishes are going to drive you crazy, Don't buy refurbished, buy new.


Expect the Operating System (XP, W2K) to come installed with NO restore disks. Think about the last new computer or laptop you bought. 9.5 out of 10 of you probably could not find the install disks that came with it. The same is true with most refurbished laptops you buy on ebay. The person who turned in the laptop did not turn in the restore disks.

BOTTOM LINE: You probably will not get a OS restore disk with a refurbished laptop
ADVICE: Use one of the many back up programs to make a back up copy of your new refurbished laptop's hard drive so that you can restore your OS if you need to. I like Norton's Ghost.

ONE MORE THING: MS Office (Word, Excel, Powerpoint) is NOT PART OF Microsoft XP. It is a stand-alone program that can cost as much as $399. NO laptop seller (including Dell, IBM etc) includes it for free. If you are looking at an auction from a reseller that says they include Microsoft Office "installed" it is probably illegal. I have not come across a reseller yet who can sell a $350 laptop that includes (for free) a $299 software package. PLEASE NOTE: I do not include the individual who is selling his assets, I am referring to the Computer Reseller. It is very possible that the individual selling his laptop does have a legitimate copy of Office installed and is including it in his auction.

A PERFECT ALTERNATIVE THAT WILL WORK: Most companies will include a free Office suite that will allow you to work on MS office documents. The most common is Open Office (check out www.Openoffice.org for more info). It looks like MS office, but takes up less hard drive space, and is FREE!!


Expect a 30 day warranty (I have seen as much as 90 days). Also expect the "NO REFUND" policy.

BOTTOM LINE: at best you’re probably only going to get a 30 Day warranty with your refurbished laptop.
ADVICE: If you need a longer warranty consider using one of the third party providers such as Square Trade. Many laptop resellers might also offer some kind of extended warranty.


Many resellers offer some kind of tech support, or at least should. Whether or not they will assist you in setting up and configuring a in house wireless network or help you transfer your old files from your old laptop to the new on is a fine line between what pertains to the laptop and what is extra. If you cannot connect to your wifi It is the job of the laptop seller to help you make sure that the hardware that came with the laptop they sold you (in this case the wifi card) works properly and is not defective.

BOTTOM LINE: It is NOT the job of a laptop reseller to connect or set up your wireless network or to configure your email
ADVICE: Before you call The Geek Squad and spend $200 on something at least call your seller and see if they can help out many will be happy to (even with the wireless network setup).


Let’s face it you are considering buying a refurbished laptop to save money. There is no doubt that a refurbished laptop is a perfect way to get a high-end laptop without having to spend $2200 (see my other guide “Why Should You Consider a Refurbished Laptop). One of the best (if not the best) ways of buying a refurbished laptop is via ebay where you can compare various models, specifications and seller’s terms all in one convenient location.

ADVICE: Remember you are buying an item that is used. No Matter how much “refurbishing” the seller does the laptop is NOT new. If you keep that in mind you’ll end up buying a great asset that should serve your computing needs for years.

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