Refurbished electronics can be a smart way to go, if you do it right

Tech expert at refurbishes a donated computer for future sale at a deep discount KOMO photo

If a laptop, notebook or other type of computer is on your holiday gift list, the best value might actually be a device that someone else no longer needs. Refurbished computers are a great option for kids, or anyone who needs a good computer but doesn't care about all the latest bells and whistles.

In their guide to buying refurbished electronics, consumer advocates at WashPIRG point out that buying used also helps keep toxic chemicals and electronic components from ending up in landfills where they damage our environment.

Tech experts at clean up, repair and revamp thousands of perfectly good, donated electronics to help keep them out of the landfill.

The Seattle non-profit says 90 percent of its products come from corporations. The rest comes from individual consumers who want to e-cycle their devices responsibly and provide a solution, rather than add to the problem of electronic waste.

"When companies retire their products after 3 or 4 years, we inherit those machines. So they come here, we go through the whole process of refurbishing them, then offer them back to people at a heavily discounted price," explained InterConnection's Marketing Manager Waymon Wilkerson.

A brand new Surface Pro, for example, will set you back about $800. A 4 year old model at InterConnection sells for $360, with a 1 year guarantee. From a performance standpoint, a lot of users wouldn't know the difference.

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"We fix them, we guarantee them for a year," said Interconnection's President Harry Egler. "And that's going to give you some peace of mind. And it's not going to break the bank."

InterConnection's primary mission is to bridge the digital divide by providing high-quality electronics to non-profits and low-income communities. In fact, some of the devices for sale are for people who meet specific income requirements.

When you shop refurbished though, don't just look at the price tag. Some products may have cosmetic flaws. They're priced accordingly. Also make sure that any required accessories are available.

WashPIRG Foundation Director Elise Orlick says it's important to do your homework on the age and specifics of the product you have in mind.

"Focus on brands that have a track records of producing durable products," said Orlick.

WashPIRG also cautions you to only deal with reputable electronic refurbishing pros who explain and stand behind their work. And keep in mind that some refurbished electronics are risky- including printers- which can have undetected ink jams and television monitors- which are often made with fragile materials and have a track record of problems.

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