How to Safely Buy New or Used Computers & Laptops on Craigslist Local Classifieds

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Before you buy any computer—new or used—you should ask yourself what you’re planning to do with it. Since most used computers are a generation or two behind the most recent models, you have to take special care to make sure you don’t need the system for cutting edge work.

Most wouldn’t flinch at the idea of buying a used car, but the thought of a used computer sends most of us squirming. Take a look at the many things you should be aware of when purchasing a laptop or PC.

Desktop or Laptop?

This is probably one of the simplest choices to make and can have a big impact on the overall cost of your computer, including expenses that might not come right at the time of the purchase.In general, if a laptop and desktop are boasting all of the same performance specs, the desktop will be cheaper. It might not make sense, since it’s a bigger piece of hardware. The ability to cram a lot of components into a small space and the need for a battery is what ups the price of the laptop — notice the premium paid for Apple’s thinner devices.

Included Software and Peripherals

Remember, an OEM will include an operating system and usually at least a 1 year warranty. If you’re buying refurb or from an authorized reseller, they’ll probably include the OEM license for the OS, and offer their own service plan, or toss in a warranty with a service like SquareTrade. See what comes with your computer setup. The same applies to peripherals like keyboards and mice.

Competitive Pricing

Aside from raw specs and stats, look at the price of the used model, and compare it to the price of a new, comparable system. Remember, used doesn’t always equal bargain.

If your Craigslist contact is tossing in some pre-installed software or an external hard drive. Would you spend the same buying new or refurb, perhaps with that previously mentioned warranty?

Always Meet Publicly When using Craigslist

Meet at a public place where you can plug the machine in. You don’t know how many times I’ve seen a person buy a system that looks great, but has a loose DC jack. The system ends up charging slowly or not at all, and completely destroys the battery.

After some time, the jack will break completely and the system won’t turn on with the AC charger at all. The system should turn on with a battery, but by that point, yours will already be dead.

Sometimes you will be able to see damage, but most likely you will not. Ironically, physical damage to the plastics of the jack does not interfere nearly as much as internal damage.

For most laptops, the DC jack is an expensive repair because the jack is soldered to the motherboard. Even for those systems who have a separate piece, the system will need to be completely disassembled, which is not for the faint of heart or a novice. Avoid a broken jack like the plague, unless you have the knowledge to fix it, or the price reflects the damage.

Finding The Best Used Laptop

Decide what computer you want and then change your mind. Like most people, you probably dream of the newest, hottest thing on the market—maybe a Macbook Air or Dell’s new Studio Hybrid?

No. Instead, check out some of the best computers from last year or earlier this year. These are the laptops you should choose from in the used market—and generally, they’ll perform the same tasks that this year’s models do. As an added bonus, you can try to find a computer from 2007 with Windows XP installed instead of Vista!

Watch for Cracks and Imperfections

Now you need to check for damage. First check for cosmetic issues—and then realize that it doesn’t matter whatsoever. As long as the computer still works, that little chip on the bottom corner will not be a problem. But if you’d like, you can try to get a few bucks knocked off the price because of it.

Know the Processor and What it Means

The simplest way to explain the processor is that it’s the brain of the machine. If you want a fast computer that boots up programs in a flash, completes tasks as soon as you start them, and doesn’t keep you waiting, then you want the strongest processor available — and who doesn’t? You just have to know what you’re looking at when you see a processor’s details.