Should You Buy a Refurbished Cell Phone?

Is it a good idea to buy a refurbished cell phone?

Motorla Razr V3i
Motorla Razr V3i. KnowYourMobile.com

Sometimes what’s old and used breeds new appeal to lovers of all things vintage. The concept of buying used cell phones and refurbished cell phones, though, can either fit you like a glass slipper or evoke unfulfilled feelings of not being hip to the most bleeding-edge whizbang.

Because it’s standard practice today for cell phone carriers to guarantee their products with 30-day return policies with no questions asked, by law they can’t classify a phone as “new” if it’s returned for any reason in that time window.

This category of used phones is often coined “buyer’s remorse”.

So when’s it right for you to revive someone else’s previously new cell phone and make it your own refurbished cell phone? When’s it wrong?

What warnings should you heed when making the old-phone plunge? Where should you look to buy one? This is your guide to these questions.

When to Buy a Refurbished Cell Phone

The first factor appealing you to a refurbished cell phone should be the cost savings. A used cell phone will almost certainly be cheaper than a new cell phone. If it’s not, scoff silently to yourself and look elsewhere.

In consumer electronics, you get what you pay for. If you’re paying for something someone else has already loved, used for a short amount of time and then returned or even abused, a second-hand phone has to come with a price drop.

Another reason a refurbished cell phone may be right for you is if you believe in the power of small decisions having an impact on the planet at large.

With this decade’s red-hot green movement, buying a refurbished cell phone keeps it out of landfills.

If the cash savings is a motivating factor for you, the eco-friendly nature of this decision could be exactly the karma you crave.

That said, companies these days have grown keen to the planet-damaging nature of millions of cell phones regularly ending up in landfills.

They’ve been attacking the problem through cell phone recycling. Still, buying a refurbished mobile phone means you’ve done your part to guarantee that one phone won’t muddy our world’s soil.

Another reason you may want to buy a refurbished cell phone can be the “it’s out of style, but I want it anyway” factor. Say your phone feels like home and it finally kicks the bucket. Say you just want that same phone again because you know it, feel bonded to it and don’t want to sever the relationship.

While the phone’s model may have been replaced by new-fangled and fancier devices, buying refurbished can allow you to turn back time and find your old friend anew. Elderly customers who enjoy eluding change and have a difficult time with technology might find this reason attractive, too.

When You Shouldn’t Buy a Used Phone

If you’re the type of consumer who always replaces your cell phone every year or so because new features are your best friend, buying refurbished may make you resent the decision. Even though your purchase could still be relatively new as compared to what’s out there in the marketplace, you may still feel like it’s not new enough.


Another reason buying refurbished might not be your glass slipper is when – even though you’re paying less – you can’t afford to take a quality risk.

A refurbished cell phone is typically returned to a manufacturer within 30 days of use because of someone who changed their mind, changed their situation or an all-out device malfunction.

Refurbished cell phones typically come with either a guarantee or “I’m trying my best pledge” that the phone has been restored to the new condition just like when it initially left the factory. The quality of the restoration often depends on the reason the phone was returned and on how well the vendor indeed restored the product.

If your cell phone absolutely needs to function as reliability as the sun going up and down every day and you can’t afford even a single iota of malfunction that’s possible in the refurbished phone world, the risk may not be worth the reward for you.

Red Flags to Seek Out When Buying Refurbished Cell Phones

The first question that should be on your mind when buying refurbished is who it has been refurbished by. Is it a reputable company? Do they have a sound track record? Have other customers been pleased or displeased with their refurbished products? Just like buying a used car, don’t be afraid to do a bit of homework here.

The vendor you’re buying from should be able to convince you why the price cut you’re receiving from a used cell phone still comes with solid quality that’ll last you into the future. If they won’t disclose their process for professionally restoring the phone, they have something to hide.

Another question you should ask when considering a refurbished phone concerns its warranty.

New phones always come with warranties, so why shouldn’t professionally refurbished phones, too? While you’ll likely find the warranties on refurbished cell phone to be weaker and shorter, make sure you are covered for a reasonable period of time and you’re not buying a cheaper product that has the vulnerability of being dead on arrival.

For example, new phones may come with a one-year warranty whereas a refurbished phone may only have 90 days on its warranty or none at all. Be careful here, ask the warranty question and make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into.

Where to Buy Refurbished Cell Phones

Many wireless carriers offer refurbished phones directly as a way to offload older inventory and recoup some cash instead of taking a complete loss. Hit this AT&T link, for example, to see “refurb discounts” on some of its inventory. Those phones range from $40 to $150 off the new-phone prices.

In addition to buying refurbished phones at wireless carriers directly, many independently owned companies exist expressly for this purpose.

Customers have enjoyed quality experiences from ReCellular, for example, which deems itself the “world’s leading electronics sustainability firm”. You can buy refurbished and used phones, sell used phones and even donated used phones at ReCellular.

In addition, PhoneDog.com has a quality cell phone marketplace for buying and selling used phones. CellularCountry.com also offers quality pre-owned phones for various cell phone networks, but be aware that you’re only getting a 30-day warranty there.

Finally, WirelessGalaxy.com is another option for refurbished cell phones while RefurbDepot.com is a factory-direct outlet store for refurbished phones at meaty discounts.