What to expect from a used laptop?
January 15, 2011 10:18 AM   Subscribe

What is reasonable to expect from a used laptop? And from the eBay seller of a used laptop?

Last week, I purchased a used ThinkPad on eBay - my first used computer, and my first eBay purchase. I got what I still feel is reliable info about the seller from folks on an excellent TPad message board, did my thinking about the offer (a really excellent offer - and seemed very much on the level) - and feel I went into this with my eyes open. Taking a risk, but a calculated risk.

Questions arose when I received the unit; I've tried to contact the seller twice via eBay (on Tues 1/11 and Weds 1/12), and have received no response. Which concerns me a bit. I've now contacted eBay for seller contact info.

My questions for the Hive Mind are:

A) What is reasonable to expect from a used X60 priced at *well* under $300? (how long "should" it last without major meltdown - one year? 6 months? less? Note the quotes around "should" - I imagine this is a very grey area.) I've heard that some machines sold by this seller are close to mint - this one is definitely used, but quite functional. My only remaining concerns about the unit are:

1) a 'roasted electronics' smell from the fan - it's only very, very faint now that I've got the power profile on max. battery. Before I did this, though, it was quite noticeable!

2) a tiny scratch on the screen - really only visible when the screen is dark. No dead pixels, though! I'd wondered whether the lcd's lamp was ok - but I have no objective way of measuring this. Is a screen scratch close to the center considered 'cosmetic' or 'functional'?

B) what is reasonable to expect from a seller vis a vis his / her responding to a buyer's query? There was no paperwork or invoice in the box itself, but the mailing label does include a phone number, presumably for use by Fedex.

Good things I can say about the machine - any other issues are cosmetic - meaning they're not issues at all. The battery seems fine - haven't recalibrated it, but it seems to give around 2 or 2 1/2 hours of normal computing. There were unexpected and delightful extras in the box - an ultrabase (no key, but that's fine), an external optical drive, an extra adapter (well, that was probably for the ultrabase, now that I think about it).

Sorry if these questions seem incredibly naive.
posted by ferkit to Computers & Internet (10 answers total)
If the laptop "melts down" (not sure what you mean by that) in two weeks I doubt it would have anything to do with the seller. Hard drives and laptop fans, for instance, fail all the time.
posted by The Lamplighter at 10:24 AM on January 15, 2011

You might try taking a can of compressed air and cleaning out every vent that you see on the machine. Laptops are so rarely cleaned out that they can get filled with dust and overheat easily. Might even take the little doors off the back and shoot in there with some air, just to really clean it out good.
Luckily, one of the best things about ThinkPads are replacement parts. You can keep this thing running for a very, very long time by replacing parts that fail. It just depends on your level of comfort tearing the thing apart and getting in to switch out failed parts.
posted by msbutah at 10:39 AM on January 15, 2011

I bought a similar laptop on ebay and my feeling is that anything not stated in the ad is fair game for ... fudging. So a scratch on the screen? I'd expect that. The fan smell? If it goes away I'd suspect more that there was weird crap in an unused laptop, but worth keeping an eye on. I'm not always happy about this state of affairs, but if the thing was "as advertised" and there was nothing you asked a specific question about and it works and continues to work [I'm a little amazed it has a battery that's any good] and you paid very little money for it it seems like yo got what you paid for. Add to that he delightful extras? I'd really consider this a win if not coming out even.

What do you want to contact the seller about?
posted by jessamyn at 10:39 AM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

What is reasonable to expect from a used laptop?

You should expect it to be precisely as described on ebay, no better and no worse.

And from the eBay seller of a used laptop?

That they describe the laptop accurately, pack and ship it promptly and carefully.

Questions arose when I received the unit; I've tried to contact the seller twice via eBay (on Tues 1/11 and Weds 1/12), and have received no response. Which concerns me a bit.

What kind of questions are you asking the seller? If you are, for example, asking for him to warrantee that the laptop won't melt down within a year, or six months (and of course implying that you would want your money back if that happens), I too would be unsure as to how to respond. I buy and sell used computers on ebay very regularly (I am responsible for reselling and acquiring new computers for virtually everyone in my family) and I would be a little taken aback by such a question.

The thing I look for in a ebay computer auction is: careful, accurate description. Serial number that checks out with the company as not stolen (and I ask for this before bidding). Seller with experience on ebay, and lots of positive feedback (so I would be very unlikely to bid on an auction from a seller with low feedback and a relatively recent ebay membership).

A) What is reasonable to expect from a used X60 priced at *well* under $300?

Price is immaterial. All that matters is the price that you valued it at when bidding or making your best offer and the condition it was described in.

(how long "should" it last without major meltdown - one year? 6 months? less? Note the quotes around "should" - I imagine this is a very grey area.)

It is impossible to guess this without seeing the computer or their description.

I've heard that some machines sold by this seller are close to mint - this one is definitely used, but quite functional.

It sounds like this is a frequent seller on ebay who sells a lot of used computers? Do they have good feedback? Do they have a lot of feedback? If yes, I wouldn't be as worried about the lack of communication

1) a 'roasted electronics' smell from the fan
2) a tiny scratch on the screen

Was this mentioned in the description? If not, and this really bugs the heck out of you, it is probably worth contacting the seller and requesting some resolution for it.

B) what is reasonable to expect from a seller vis a vis his / her responding to a buyer's query?
eBay has sellers who respond lickity split, they have other sellers that communication is like pulling teeth. I think you should expect a response, and if they haven't replied by Monday, I'd suggest sending another email via ebay with a request for them to get in touch.
posted by arnicae at 10:39 AM on January 15, 2011

Speaking as an eBay seller -- I would have replied to you, but my reply would have been along the lines of "I am sorry, but I do not quite understand your dissatisfaction."

Was there a discrepancy between what was stated in the listing and what you received? If you did not ask any clear questions the seller may well have just scratched his head, assumed you wanted to vent, and filed it as a sort of feedback to him that did not require a response. A tiny scratch on a used item is par for the course, assuming there are no emphatic descriptions stating that the item is in mint condition.

From what you have laid out here this was a good transaction and you want to leave positive feedback, perhaps docking one star for communication, but, again, if your message came off as rhetorical and not requiring a response perhaps that's not the case. A message stating "I have noted a tiny scratch" would, for example, be considered a tsk-tsk sort of thing that did not require further action by many sellers.

Do keep in mind that the average seller doesn't do this as a full-time business, and even if they do, they have families and so on and may not be tethered to their computer 24/7, and don't have back-up. If I am sick I crawl to the computer and take care of urgent stuff and "tiny scratch, just fyi" would not merit quick attention; given that it's only been a few days, I don't think it's necessary to call the fellow just yet, and it is not generally done to make a call over a non-serious issue. I have been using eBay here and there since 1998 and never made or received a call over a transaction.

It is reasonable to expect exactly what was described in the auction and any questions should've been resolved during the bidding process. The freebies were a really nice touch. How long it "should" last is as up in the air as how long what I'm typing on is; even though I know my laptop's history, these things are unreliable, unpredictable.
posted by kmennie at 11:04 AM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm not a big eBay user, but unless the product isn't as advertised or you have a question about how to operate it, I don't think you have the right to expect them to respond to your questions. The deal is done, and when you buy things from eBay you are not buying the same kind of customer service you'd get in a store. An ebay seller is not the same thing as a fully staffed electronics store - that's why you get the product so cheaply, less overhead.
posted by yarly at 11:07 AM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

To answer your question directly, you shouldn't really expect much of anything from a sub-$300 used laptop that you buy on eBay. I don't mean to sound unsympathetic, but you would have been better off buying used from Craigslist so you could test it first, or buy a new laptop with a warranty. It's really not worth the risk to buy stuff like that on eBay, especially in a popular electronics category that is rife with fraud.

Has he listed anything on eBay or bid on anything on eBay since you've attempted to contact him? If he's been on eBay and he's dodging you, you have reason to be worried.

If the seller does not reply to your inquiries, you can file a Paypal dispute as long as you are within a 45 days of your payment date. Hopefully, you'd get your money back through that process.

Before you do that, though: are you absolutely sure your expectations aren't a little high for a used, sub-$300 laptop?
posted by MegoSteve at 11:16 AM on January 15, 2011

Normally I'd expect a purchase of any electronics device from eBay to be a calculated risk, like you've mentioned, where I could not expect the seller to offer any kind of support or warranty on what I receive. This is why I'd rather stick to less fragile purchases from eBay, like crafts, clothes, mechanical parts, etc. But some sellers are more responsive than others...I once purchased a new laptop from eBay years ago and didn't hear back from the seller in about a week, so don't panic just yet. Good sellers also accept returns (most at the buyers expense on shipping, which is usually fine). The quality of shipping will vary from seller to seller....some are in it for the business...some are using eBay as an alternative to a yard sale.

Aside from brand new PCs, I think purchasing a used computer from eBay does take a leap of faith as you get no hands-on evaluation prior to the purchase. How was this sellers rating? If you do not atleast hear back from him or her in a few more days, you can always leave feedback on eBay about lack of communication for them to dispute if needed. The scratch, if its minor can be repaired. The burnt smell could have been due to dust or particles getting behind the vents during shipping on components that normally run hot.
posted by samsara at 11:19 AM on January 15, 2011

you can file a Paypal dispute

No, not in a case like this (unless there's a substantial amount of information missing from the question here). EBay does like to put up signs about "buyer protection!!" but there is jack all for stuff that is not markedly different from what was advertised. This would have to be: broken out of the box when advertised as working, a PC when sold as a Mac, etcetera. You would not even get as far as actually filing the dispute with PayPal for "tiny scratch" and "only very, very faint now" odour; there's no mechanism via which to do it -- you have to tick a box indicating the nature of the problem and "minor flaws" isn't among the options.

Of course one can go above PayPal and speak to one's credit card issuer about chargebacks, but I mention that for others stumbling across this thread with different problems; there's not going to be a way to take up a used laptop, delivered in working order, with barely perceptible problems with a credit card issuer.
posted by kmennie at 12:46 PM on January 15, 2011

These answers were very helpful.

The wish to contact the seller was not about 'complaint' (and god knows, I'm not expecting a 'warranty'!) I'd wanted to know whether the seller himself deemed the burning smell significant / a departure from the product description. According to the guy who'd steered me toward this seller - he / she's the sort who will do an exchange if merited. I'd also wanted to know if a scratch on the *screen* would be considered 'cosmetic', or functional. If I were editing photographs (well - I probably wouldn't be doing that on an X60) it would be an issue.

But! I feel I've got a sense of the landscape now, and I realize I did very well with this purchase.

Thanks again!
posted by ferkit at 9:15 PM on January 15, 2011

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