Refurbishing old laptops: viable side business?

My wife has an old laptop (maybe new in 2003?) that, at the time, was top of the line. It was plugged into the wall nearly its entire life, so the battery is still good. I can probably clean it up and sell it.

I was thinking: if I keep buying and selling laptops at a profit, would this be a good idea for a side business? What costs would I have to consider?

I would expect this to be a fairly horrible business to get into.

Laptops typically run hot. This makes their long term reliability very poor. By the time many folks get rid of their laptop, they are near the end of their service life. What kind of warranty will you be providing? You are likely to have a fair amount of failures which are going to cut into your profits. On the other hand, if you just provide the laptops as-is, you are going to have a lot of angry customers for those same failures.

Laptop batteries tend not to age well. Most these days are lithium ion, which are really good from a weight and performance point of view, but from a longevity point of view they suck. Over time, they lose capacity no matter how well you treat them. Get them hot (like, running them in a laptop) and they’ll age even faster. Most 5 year old laptops have dead batteries.

Old laptops aren’t worth much. They are too slow and don’t run the latest whiz bang software. Factor in a replacement battery and you may find it extremely difficult to make a profit.

Other common laptop problems are worn out keyboards and displays that are starting to go wonky. What are your repair skills like?

For little more than the price of a replacement battery, you can buy a new laptop with double the CPU speed, triple the RAM, and quadruple the storage, plus builtin WiFi and other features that weren’t common 5 years ago. Also, replacement parts for laptops are more expensive and harder to find than desktops. I’d say it’s a losing business unless you can get a government subsidy.

For a few years, my hubby had a fairly nice side business going on where he was refurbishing old computers in general. It was a nice run while it lasted. Unfortunately (for us), new ones got so cheap that people figured out they could either pay him $200.00 for a 2YO machine, or get a brand new one for $300.00.

Bottom line, imho, is that electronics in general drop in price, at the same time rising in ability, so quickly that repairing/refurbishing usually just doesn’t make sense.

I agree-there is no market for old laptops-no sense economically.
What I always wondered-is there any market for old stereo gear (amplifiers and receivers) many people throw them out, when perfectly good.

Sure, on eBay. I’ve bought (and sold) some old equipment there, and some vintage products like high-end 1970-80 open reel recorders and JBL speakers are selling for astronomical prices.

There is a market for them, because there are laptop refurbishers all over. Can you make a profit doing it? Probably not.

I could do that with the stuff in my basement, but what kills the market is you can’t sell anything without some kind of warranty except to geeks; geeks won’t pay your price, and non-geeks are sure to complain that what you sold them doesn’t work and you spend 3 hours showing them that it does and there goes the slightest hope of any profit.

I just took a basement full of perfectly good, obsolete computer equipment to the dump for that reason. It was too expensive to sell it.

I have a friend who started refurbing laptops as a side business, and it became so profitable that it became his day job and he employs about a dozen people now.

But, it’s the same old story as with lots of business ideas: lots of people are trying to start this kind of business now, it’s much harder than when my friend started his business. And it really only works with economies of scale: i.e. you can fix up a few laptops and make a net loss, or you can risk huge sums of money and potentially make money.

OTOH it’s also true that you can acquire job lots of batteries, hard drives etc for a much lower unit price than buying them individually. This is why it can work as a business.

[Mod mod]Changed “Refurbisihing” to “Refurbishing” in title.[/Mod mod]

The reverse is normally true - unless you mean that the battery was physically removed and the machine was operated without it. Using a laptop plugged into the mains all the time results in many short charging cycles and is probably the most common cause of premature battery death in laptops.

The only way to do this profitably is to specialize in Apple laptops, which hold their value far, far better than any other brand.

Are you familiar with profit margins? And how thin they are in this field? And how fast the value of a product, even a new one, can drop (like 50% overnight)? And the cost of supporting things sold (warranties, 30% of sale price)? And the necessary writeoffs for defective and deteriorated supplies? Overhead, advertising, transportation, labor? The fact that no one wants to pay for last year’s goods when this year’s are shinier, flashier, and will cook your breakfast?

Unlike some merchandising fields, this one doesn’t support a business model where you can buy a used computer for $100 and sell it for $150 unless you want to lose your shirt.

I worked in a computer store over the holidays and we sold a lot of refurbs but they were only going for about $200. (We got a truckload of Toshibas). New Acer laptops were going for about $300.

As others said, refurbishing laptops is going to get you tops $200 and probably less. So if you can make that business model work for you then give it a shot :slight_smile:

You may be able to do it as a kind of “Craigslist business” where you can make a few bucks spending money, in your spare time.

Being in the computer business is almost exactly like being in the fruit business and nearly the same need for product turnover.


Wait, so I should let my battery run every once and a while for my laptop?

Does this apply even to lithium ion batteries (as opposed to Ni-Cad, etc.)?

Yes. Lithium ion batteries lose more capacity if they are constantly at a high level of charge. They also lose more capacity if they are in a hot environment, and most laptops run hot.

Lithium ion batteries also don’t like a deep discharge, so you want to avoid completely draining them.

No matter what you do, a lithium ion battery will lose about 20 percent of its capacity per year.

I bought a used laptop last week for $160.00. (this is with HST) It was a rent to own model that was returned, a Dell Vostro 1510 running XP with a 30 day waranty (!)and does ok for my needs. What were my needs?

  1. A computer for this week, when I am off work. Hubby works from home and doesn’t share his computer nice during the day time.
  2. Something for my 7 year old to use. Our desktop is getting cranky and for some reason will not hook up to the internet. (says hubby/ getting it to work is one of my projects for this week)
  3. Since hubby’s computer’s CD/DVR drive has crapped out (and is not worth replacing, he is getting his own new one roughly in April or May after his taxes are done) this gives us that function and also back up incase his fully dies in the next three months.

I have a blackberry for email, and I can read the Dope and do limited surfing on there. At work I have my own computer so most of my stuff I need to do I accomplish on my lunch/after work.

For 160 bucks I have everything I need currently, plus something for M. I would like this to last until April and I can’t see why it won’t,

So yes, people buy used laptops but I hope most are as realistic as we are regarding lifespan.

Just to reiterate what I said: I know someone personally who is running a very successful business selling refurbished laptops (I didn’t want to have to cite it but anyway it’s:

Secondly I said can be profitable. I’ve already given in length why I think it’s a difficult industry to enter.
Once again, the business idea where you can get rich with little risk, and where there’s lots of information out there on how to do it, but few competing businesses…remains elusive.