Should You Buy a Used MacBook?

Should You Buy a Used MacBook?Dennis, a member of the Gnomies community, asked: “Is it a good idea to buy a secondhand or refurbished MacBook Pro?”

Dennis, this is an excellent question and one with several answers. I’ll try to break things down here in a way that covers most of the opinions out there either for or against buying secondhand laptops.

First, there is a difference between refurbished and secondhand. While they generally mean the same thing, a factory refurbished MacBook has been through Apple’s rigorous refurbishing process, which includes adding a one-year warranty to each and every MacBook sold through the refurbishing program. That warranty means that Apple will service the MacBook should anything go wrong within the first year, which is a guarantee you won’t get buying one secondhand from a private interest.

To make things easier, we’ll just concentrate on what you should (or shouldn’t) do when buying a MacBook secondhand from an individual versus a retailer.

Do You Trust the Seller?

So many people get disappointed after buying something on an auction site or through Craigslist only to discover that the previous owner didn’t take good care of the item at all. Laptops may appear to look great in the tiny photographs on the site, but what you may not see is the months or even years of rough treatment the internals have endured. Even if everything works, the head on the hard drive or even the motherboard may be on the brink of failure.

On the other hand, if I’m buying form a reputable person, I may be more willing to trust them to take good care of their equipment. For example, if Chris Pirillo (LockerGnome’s founder) were to sell his MacBook Pro, I know for a fact that it would have been kept in a protective shell, frequently cleaned, and very well maintained throughout its time at the Pirillo household.

eBay has the slight advantage of a ratings system for sellers. If you’re buying from someone with a near 100% approval rating and quite a few transactions under their belt, you can generally expect the MacBook to be in fairly good shape. Granted, this is no guarantee.

Site Unseen

Buying a laptop sight unseen isn’t something I’d recommend under any circumstance. Yes, you do this a lot when buying through retailers, but a person-to-person transaction is a little different. If you’re buying from someone local, you may want to pack a flash drive with CineBench on it when you go to look at the computer.

Benchmarking and Testing

An honest person will allow you to check out the computer before handing over your cash. If someone doesn’t like the idea of me, a potential buyer, checking out the About screen on OS X or running a benchmark program, they probably have doubts about the system’s ability to complete the test.

Plug your USB flash drive in every USB port on the machine, and test it. This will make sure that the USB ports are good, and nothing is worse than a bad USB port on a laptop. A lot of the time, these things go bad and the owner never realizes it because they don’t use that particular port very often. When they do, they blame the gadget that’s plugged into it rather than the port itself.

When running your diagnostic program (or benchmarking tool, if you prefer), listen to the fans as they kick in. The point of stressing the computer out during the initial evaluation is to make sure that not only can it handle being put to the test, but it allows you to listen for any telltale squeaks or hums in the fans. This can be an indication of a bearing on its way out, and a potentially costly repair depending on which MacBook you’re looking at. Fans in laptops aren’t easy to replace, and I’m not a fan (pun intended) of buying anything that is giving me red flags in that regard.

Existing Warranty

A MacBook comes with a one-year manufacturer’s warranty. This is transferable with a simple phone call from the original owner to Apple letting Apple know the new owner’s name and address. This isn’t someone often done, and I’m sure Apple will service a MacBook under warranty without this call if you asked nicely.

AppleCare is also transferable, once. The original owner can call Apple and have this plan moved into another person’s name one time during the life of the policy. That means an existing AppleCare agreement can indeed be a value add to the deal, and shouldn’t be overlooked when considering the value of the laptop.

Before you part ways with the seller, make sure they call Apple and do this. It’s much easier than simply hoping that they keep up their end of the bargain. Be patient, this call can take 20-30 minutes on a busy day.

Final Thoughts

I’m not a big fan of buying used laptops. Even though I know desktop computers are also quite prone to abuse and failure, I feel more comfortable recommending a used desktop over a laptop. If you have to buy a used MacBook, make sure there is either a warranty or an existing AppleCare plan in place just in case what you bought doesn’t quite survive the trip home.

People are asking a lot of money for used Apple computers, even years after models have passed their prime. The funny thing is, there is a big difference between what people ask for something and how much they will actually get for it. I recently sold my 2010 iMac for about half of what I paid for it retail. By eBay standards, I should have gotten 90% of the value back, but I don’t think my conscience would have agreed.

Take some time to evaluate what the system you’re considering purchasing is actually worth, and go from there. You may find that a refurbished MacBook with the exact same specs can be picked up for about as much as someone will ask for it secondhand. If you ask me, refurbished MacBooks are worth a lot more than ones that are used.

12 comments On Should You Buy a Used MacBook?

  • Decent tips, but AppleCare doesn’t need to be transfered. I bought my MacBook Air used with Apple Care from craigslist, and the guy didn’t even remember he bought Apple Care until I checked the warranty and told him. I had no idea about the calling thing. I’ve had it repaired twice, one of those times getting a full refurb unit back. No problems with the warranty. I think you just need to register the computer in your name when you install OS X.

  • Decent tips, but AppleCare doesn’t need to be transfered. I bought my MacBook Air used with Apple Care from craigslist, and the guy didn’t even remember he bought Apple Care until I checked the warranty and told him. I had no idea about the calling thing. I’ve had it repaired twice, one of those times getting a full refurb unit back. No problems with the warranty. I think you just need to register the computer in your name when you install OS X.

  • I recently bought a used MacBook from my brother’s friend. It was 2009 model & I paid half it’s price. It is good until now but I have a problem with the battery, it seems to die out faster than other MacBooks.

  • I’ve always been very hesitant to buy any technology that has been previously owned but in the case of my 2010 MacBook Pro, it was completely worth it.  I bought it refurbished directly from Apple so I got the same Apple Care as a new machine and I saved myself a couple hundred dollars.  The best part was that you couldn’t even tell it wasn’t brand new!

  • David Orellana

    Nice article, I would add that perhaps sometimes is worth to wait, because the price for an use Macbook it is ridiculous when comparing to a brand new Macbook, for example some 2 duo Core Macbook’s mid 2008-2009 is selling on ebay arround 600-700 while a current macbook pro entry level $999 + tax and you know it is new and has the warraty, OSX lion etc. I recently sold my mid 2010 Macbook for $550.00 and it sold in less than 5 min after I posted and the buyer did not ask anything just wanted the Laptop. anyways It is worth wait and buy it new or if you buy a used mac you shouldn’t spend more that the 50%-65% of the retail value

  • All batteries tend to lower in capacity after per long use , just buy a new one form apple

  • I like refurbished much better. You know that you will be buying it from the right people, at a discount. It comes with the same warranty. I got my tablet refurbished, it’s great, the only difference is that it comes in a different box.

  • JulioGonzalez2013

    I recently bought a first gen black MacBook from my local pawn shop. I was a little curious about what kind of person owned this before me. I found some weird tranny porn on it. I immediately wiped down that laptop with hand sanitizer and alcohol.

  • Just make sure you buy one with AppleCare for atleast another year or buy a SquareTraade warranty with it. I’m on my second machine like that (4th used Mac) and I’ve been very happy, still spending the same $700 each year I started with 5 years ago, getting a newer, better machine each year. I just got a 2010 MacBook Pro 13″ and I’m very happy.

  • I just brought a used macbook air from apple. Hopefully all will go well with the laptop, however as you stated their is a 1 year warranty on the device so my experience should be all well. I would personally recommend buying a new laptop though 🙂

  • I second a Refurb – using one right now !

  • I second a Refurb – using one right now !

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