Buying faulty MacBooks on eBay

So you buy a broken MacBook for cheap, you fix it, then you sell it at market value for a tidy profit. It sounds good in theory, but there are plenty of potential pitfalls that can leave you with an unsellable pile of rubbish. Here are a few tips on minimising the risk.

Photos are better than descriptions

Look out for model numbers.

If you find an ad with an inadequate description, and the photos don’t fill in the gaps, don’t pay too much. A lot of people aren’t even sure what they have when they’re selling a broken computer, so it’s way more helpful when they post lots of pics. You can use your knowledge to fill in the gaps, but if there aren’t any good images, you don’t know what you might be getting. By all means still buy it, but it needs to be super cheap to compensate for your risk.

Locked firmware

Avoid computers that have locked firmware. Seller forgot their password? No, it’s probably stolen.

“Easy fix”

Always be wary of a seller that describes the computer as a “quick” or “easy fix”. If that were the case, they’d fix it themselves to increase the sale price. And look out for amateur diagnostics as well, such as “just needs a new battery”, “just needs a new DC-in board” or “just needs RAM replaced”. Yeah, sure it does.

Generic photos

If someone is selling a broken Mac using a stock photo from Apple’s sales catalogue, don’t buy it — ever! I can’t stress this enough. Unless someone is giving it away for nothing, don’t pay a single cent for a broken Mac without a picture of the actual item.

Watch for inconsistencies.

Want to buy the latest Touch Bar MacBook Pro?

Has someone listed a 15″ MacBook, but the picture is of a 13″? Does a listing description say Intel Core i5, but the picture shows an Intel Core 2 Duo? I’ve had this situation work both for and against me. I once picked up a 24″ iMac that was listed as a 20″, and I picked up a mid 2012 13″ MacBook Pro that was listed as a 2010 15″ MacBook Pro. They’re two examples where I benefited, but many other times it’s just the opposite. And watch out for the word “retina”. People seem to chuck this into the description whether it really is a retina model or not. Always check the descriptions and photos very carefully so that you pay an appropriate amount for the item.

Avoid buying from shops

Companies that make their living buying and selling computers can sometimes get hold of the biggest loads of garbage on the planet. They can end up selling failed repair attempts, stuff with missing parts and deliberately misleading descriptions. Try and buy from private sellers.

Don’t pay too much

Don’t get caught up in impulsive decisions. Every purchase of a broken computer has the potential to go bad. If you spend $200 on a MacBook that you think you can sell for $500, that all sounds great on paper, but what if the computer can’t be repaired? That’s now $200 you need to try and recoup from other sales. Hope for the best but prepare for the worst and don’t spend too much on any broken Mac.