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Apple Refurbished Products: Should You Buy Them?

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macrumors bot
Original poster
Apr 12, 2001
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There's often a stigma against purchasing refurbished electronics because many companies don't have rigorous quality control programs for refurbished items, but that's not the case with Apple. Some companies may sell refurbished items with cosmetic defects and other issues, but Apple's refurbished products, available from its online refurbished store, are "as good as new" products, as Apple says.

You can also get refurbished Apple products at steeper discounts from third-party retailers, but they don't offer the same benefits as buying directly from Apple.


Every refurbished iPad, iPhone, Mac, Apple TV, or Apple accessory Apple sells goes through a certification process that ensures full functionality, and with iOS devices, each one gets a new outer shell and a fresh battery. All refurbished products come with a 1-year warranty.

As long as you can wait a few months to pick up an Apple product, there's virtually no downside to purchasing a refurbished model. The quality is superb and the price savings can be worth the wait. This guide covers all the ins and outs of refurbished products, from release timelines and prospective price savings to warranty information and stock information.

What is a Refurbished Product?

The products sold in Apple's online refurbished store are pre-owned products that have been returned to Apple by customers who ran into some kind of defect, such as a faulty SSD on a Retina MacBook Pro or dead pixels on an iPad's display. They may also be products that customers have elected to recycle through Apple's recycling program or products that were unwanted and returned.


Apple repairs these products and replaces all faulty parts before offering them for sale again through the online refurbished site. Refurbished products are only available through Apple's website and are not offered within retail stores.

Refurbished Apple products sold from third-party retailers are often from people who have sold older machines for cash back when getting a new machine.

Refurbished Products Available From Apple

Apple offers a wide range of refurbished products in its online store, from Macs and iPads to the Apple TV and accessories like the AirPort. Refurbished products range from stock models to those that have been custom built with upgraded parts through Apple's custom build-to-order options. A full list of products that can be purchased at a discount is below:


Macs:
iPhones:
iPads:
Apple Watch and Other Products:
Apple sells refurbished products that are both current-generation machines and machines from previous years, and with different configurations and capacities.

Stock Fluctuations

The stock on Apple's refurbished site is based on what people return or have replaced. That means the refurbished products that are available are constantly fluctuating and are only available in very limited quantities. It also means many of the Macs that are available may not be stock machines, instead featuring various upgrades to hardware like RAM, hard drive/SSD, graphics cards, and processors.

Purchasing a refurbished Mac can be confusing because Apple offers older machines right alongside newer machines. It's often difficult to tell the difference between processors and other hardware between years, especially for those who don't keep up with what's new in Apple's yearly refreshes.

Before making a purchase from the refurbished store, make sure to thoroughly read all product descriptions and research the hardware in the machine to make sure that it meets your needs. Many older Macs continue to be capable options that will last for many years, but there can be some notable differences in both performance and included features.

Getting a specific Mac or iPad from the refurbished store may mean waiting for several days to several weeks and frequently checking for new stock of the desired model. When planning to buy from the refurbished store, it's best to assume there will be a wait involved, especially if you're looking for exact custom options and upgrades.

There are some useful sites that can help you keep an eye on stock in Apple's refurbished store, sending an alert whenever a desired model is added. Refurb.me displays each product Apple has in stock, lists the date a specific model was last available, and lets users set up an alert to be notified when a particular model is back in the store. Refurb.me includes availability statistics and pricing history, which are both useful tools when choosing a refurbished product to purchase. As of 2020, the site also offers a comparison tool for comparing new and refurbished Apple product market prices.


Refurb Tracker lets you select specific product categories to watch, with notifications available through email or an RSS feed. Refurb Tracker and Refurb.me both support tracking refurbished products in all of the countries where Apple has a refurbished online store.

Apple's Pricing

The main reason to purchase a refurbished Apple product is for the hefty discount, which drops the prices on both current-generation Macs and iPads and older now-discontinued machines. Discounts on iPads and Macs generally range from 15 to 20 percent, but on rare occasions prices, can drop by as much as 25 percent. The older a machine is, the lower the price will be.

On many models, Apple includes the discount percentage and the exact amount saved, but for others, including older Macs, manual price comparisons will need to be made. Prices take into account the hardware upgrades included in refurbished built-to-order Macs.


For iPads and iPhones, most discounts range from 14 to 17 percent off, dropping the price from $50 to $140 off of the original cost. On some higher-end older cellular models, discounts are higher, ranging up to 22 percent off.

In most cases, Apple's refurbished prices aren't going to beat the discounts you can get from unofficial third-party sites that offer refurbished machines, but they are going to be more affordable than new machines. Apple's refurbished discounts also often beat sale prices on newer products available from third-party retailers like Best Buy, MacMall, and Amazon.

How does Apple Test Refurbished Products?

On its website, Apple outlines the rigorous testing procedures that are used to confirm each and every product is in full working condition and free from blemishes and other cosmetic defects.

Apple says its refurbishment procedures use the same basic technical guidelines that are used during its Finished Goods testing procedures for retail products. Here's the general refurbishing process Apple follows:
  1. Each product is tested to make sure it is in working condition. This phase includes several tests, such as full burn-in testing for displays.
  2. Defective modules identified during the testing process are replaced with functional parts.
  3. iPads, iPhones, and iPod touches receive brand new batteries and new outer enclosures, ensuring there will be no cosmetic damage.
  4. Each product is thoroughly cleaned and inspected by Apple employees.
  5. Current software is installed on the device, and each product ships with its original operating system software and the custom software offered with it.
  6. Following the cleaning, products are repackaged with their appropriate cables and manuals in new plain white boxes.
  7. Apple assigns the product a new refurbished part number and a new serial number.
  8. The product undergoes another quality assurance inspection before being given the okay to be sold to the public.
Packaging

A refurbished product sold by Apple is nearly indistinguishable from a new product, aside from the packaging. Apple's refurbished products come in a plain white box with an "Apple Certified Refurbished" guarantee and the name of the product on the front. In contrast, Apple's retail packaging often includes eye-catching images of the product.


Inside the box, refurbished products and new products include the same cables and manuals.

Warranty and Apple Care

Apple's generous warranty policy for refurbished Macs and iPads is one of the main reasons why there's no downside to purchasing a refurbished item.

Apple sells all of its refurbished products with the same one-year warranty and 90 days of phone support that it offers with all of its standard retail products. That means if something goes wrong with a refurbished product during the first 365 days after you buy it, Apple will fix the issue at no cost or offer a free replacement.

Refurbished products can be serviced at an Apple retail store, via mail, or through an Apple Authorized Service Provider.

AppleCare+ can be purchased alongside refurbished products, extending the warranty period. For Macs, purchasing the AppleCare Protection Plan extends warranty coverage and telephone support to a full three years, regardless of the year the Mac was originally released. Apple will fix any manufacturing issues that arise, including faulty batteries that retain less than 80 percent charge. Two incidents of accidental damage per year are also included.


With the iPad and iPhone, purchasing the AppleCare+ protection plan extends warranty coverage and telephone support to two years. It also covers two incidents of accidental damage per year, each subject to a service fee (plus applicable tax) for repair or replacement. Accidental damage covers anything from water exposure to shattered displays due to drops, while Apple will fix manufacturing problems, including a faulty battery, at no cost.


New Releases

When a new Apple product is released, it does not become available for purchase from the refurbished store for several months. Most products are available after a three or four month wait, but refurbished versions of products with supply constraints may not be available for six to nine months after launch.

Customers who are planning to wait to purchase a refurbished version of a newly launched product should plan to delay their purchase for at least three months.

Shipping and In-Store Pickup

Refurbished products can be shipped directly to your home address or shipped to a local Apple Store for in-store pickup. Refurbished models are never in stock for same-day pickup at a retail store because they come from a central warehouse, but shipping often takes just two or three days.

Country List

Apple certified refurbished products are available in multiple countries, not just the United States. Here's a full list of the countries where Apple operates an online refurbished store:
  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Canada
  • China
  • France
  • Germany
  • Hong Kong
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Singapore
  • South Korea
  • Spain
  • Switzerland
  • Taiwan
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
Refurbished iPhones

The iPhone is Apple's most popular product, so the company undoubtedly receives a huge number of faulty iPhones. While Apple offers iPhones on its refurbished website, the company also sometimes uses refurbished iPhones as under-warranty or out-of-warranty replacements for customers who run into issues with their devices.

There is nothing wrong with receiving a refurbished iPhone as a replacement for a retail device as these are closely inspected by Apple, but some customers prefer to know what kind of device they're receiving when getting an iPhone repaired or replaced.

The answer lies in the model number of the iPhone, which can be found by going to General --> About in the Settings app and checking the first letter of the model number.

  • M - Retail Unit
  • N - Replacement Unit (Can be refurbished)
  • P - Personalized Unit
  • F - Refurbished Unit
M always denotes a new retail device, while N is used for iPhones that have been earmarked by Apple for replacements. These can be new devices or refurbished devices. Apple's use of "P" and "F" is less clear, but "N" and "M" appear to be regularly used based on our research of refurbished iPhones.

Another method of determining whether an iPhone has been refurbished is through checking the Lifetime cellular usage. When resetting Cellular statistics, the Lifetime metric does not change, even on a device that's been wiped or had a new operating system installed.

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Navigate to "Cellular."
  3. Scroll down to "Call Time."
  4. Check the "Lifetime" call time.
On a new device, this should be at zero or close to it - sometimes there are minutes on a new device due to factory testing.

Buying Refurbished Products From Third-Party Resellers

Apple's online refurbished store is the only source for official refurbished products certified by Apple. No third-party retailers are permitted to sell machines that have been guaranteed by Apple's refurbishing process.

You may see other sites such as Amazon, Best Buy, Simply Mac, Mac of All Trades, and others offering refurbished Macs at low price, but these do not come with the same warranty and have not been tested by Apple. Refurbished Macs purchased from third-party resellers will include more limited warranties and are not be eligible to receive one year of free support from Apple.

Refurbished machines from third-party sites may come at a much lower cost, but the savings may not be worth it should a major problem surface down the road. If purchasing from a third-party site, aim for a retailer that offers a 90-day or more warranty and a guaranteed inspection process.

Bottom Line

If you plan on purchasing an Apple product and don't mind waiting until a few months after it's released, there's no reason to choose a new device over a refurbished device. With enough patience, you can find the exact model you're looking for, and the process goes even quicker if you have some flexibility on specs that could vary due to build-to-order upgrades.

By purchasing a refurbished product directly from Apple, you can save up to a couple hundred dollars and get the same benefits you get with a brand new Apple product, including a guaranteed inspection process and a 1-year warranty.

You may save more cash purchasing a refurbished machine from a third-party retailer, but do so with caution -- there's less protection if something goes wrong.

Article Link: Apple Refurbished Products: Should You Buy Them?
 
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cerberusss

macrumors 6502a
Aug 25, 2013
920
358
The Netherlands
What's kind of weird is that in my country (The Netherlands), there aren't any refurbished Macs. Sure, there's an occasional iPod, or an Airport Extreme or a Time Capsule. But that's about it.
 

QuarterSwede

macrumors G3
Oct 1, 2005
9,476
1,552
Colorado Springs, CO
In my experience the many refurbished devices I've gotten from Apple or bought last longer than the new ones. Every iPhone I've had I've had to replace with a refurb from Apple. I have a multitouch trackpad that is still rocking and my Airport Exteme ac was almost half off as a refurb and it hasn't quit since I plugged it in in July. Personally I think the quality control is better on their refurb stuff. Why not save money too?
 

Scepticalscribe

macrumors Ivy Bridge
Jul 29, 2008
54,183
37,317
The Far Horizon
I have bought both refurbished and new Apple products, and have had excellent experiences with both.

While @street.cory has suggested that nothing equals opening the box of a brand new Apple product, that is not what motivates me when buying Apple stuff; actually, my new computers tend to be CTO, stuff I can't normally obtain through the refurb store.

However, I have had very good experiences with refurbished iPads, and once, bought a refurb computer, an 11" MBA (my CTO wasn't ready by the time I was due to return to work abroad and I needed a computer)
 

Jimmy James

macrumors 603
Oct 26, 2008
5,351
3,888
Magicland
I've had one iPod touch that had severe light bleed. Another with random quirks and early camera failure.

It's my impression that you're deal with a product that someone returned (probably sometimes with cause). I expect a higher failure rate.
 

LogicalVue

macrumors member
Aug 28, 2007
98
63
USA (Maine)
I try to purchased refurbished stuff whenever possible. I've twice received better specs than what was ordered, which makes for an ever better value:
  • A 2006 iMac Core Duo had a larger hard drive and the upgrade graphics card.
  • A 2013 Macbook Air came with 8GB RAM instead of 4GB.
 

Scepticalscribe

macrumors Ivy Bridge
Jul 29, 2008
54,183
37,317
The Far Horizon
I've had one iPod touch that had severe light bleed. Another with random quirks and early camera failure.

It's my impression that you're deal with a product that someone returned (probably sometimes with cause). I expect a higher failure rate.

Actually, the only Apple products I ever had real trouble with were iPod classics (that had been bought brand new) that suffered HDD failure while still under warranty.

Refurbished products can be those which were returned under the 14 day 'cooling off' period, or were returned for some other reason. Before being offered for sale as refurbished products, they have undergone an intense individual quality control examination - often more thorough than some of the brand new products - and anything defective or less than ideal repaired or - more usually - replaced.

I have no hesitation in recommending them heartily. An excellent way to buy an Apple product - which comes with all of the guarantees and warranties of the brand new product - at a considerable discount.

The only possible drawback is that the technology might not be the very latest - or, if it is, you won't be the first to have been able to buy it. That is a small price to pay for the discount.

Besides, personally, I am never a first generation buyer of new technology - I prefer to give a company a period of six months to a year to test their stuff thoroughly - if the product or technology are brand new, stuff will inevitably emerge that their own quality control hadn't spotted - before making any purchase to give them time to iron out any teething problems or glitches.
 
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iansumuk

macrumors newbie
Mar 4, 2015
12
18
I am on a refurbished Mac right now! Unless you have a thing for glossy box art, it's new to me.

The last two refurbished MacBook Pro's I purchased surprised me as they came in the full pucker retail glossy box!
 

IJ Reilly

macrumors P6
Jul 16, 2002
17,889
1,478
Palookaville
Mainly good luck with refurbished products from Apple, with the exception of the last one I bought, a Time Capsule. It was DOA, apparently a bad hard drive (how'd that ever pass QC?). Apple sent me a prepaid return box, which was fine, but for them to ship a replacement required a credit card authorization for the full cost. A bit of a hassle and you do feel somewhat at their mercy for a week or so, but the replacement was good and all was well.
 
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logicstudiouser

macrumors 6502a
Feb 4, 2010
529
1,068
Mainly good luck with refurbished products from Apple, with the exception of the last one I bought, a Time Capsule. It was DOA, apparently a bad hard drive (how'd that ever pass QC?). Apple sent me a prepaid return box, which was fine, but for them to ship a replacement required a credit card authorization for the full cost. A bit of a hassle and you do feel somewhat at their mercy for a week or so, but the replacement was good and all was well.

Agreed. Refurbished tend to be very reliable. I only had 1 bad refurbished, but the situation worked out amazing. Back in January 2014, I bought a 2012 iMac refurbished off the Apple online store and it wouldn't start up. When I took it to the Apple Store, I showed them the issue and they did an on the spot replacement with a 2013 iMac version (which was like $100 more and was the current generation with better specs), so it worked out great! :)
 

Cwolk

macrumors regular
Jun 3, 2015
147
92
NJ, USA
Great article! Thanks. Had no idea that the model number could be used to identify the condition of the item.
 

powerbook911

macrumors 68040
Mar 15, 2005
3,752
163
I think it's nice getting a retail box. It's also better for resale. Honestly, you can sometimes beat refurb prices at places like BB. I tend to just buy new at Apple due to their service and high return quality.
 

macs4nw

macrumors 601
I've had one iPod touch that had severe light bleed. Another with random quirks and early camera failure.

It's my impression that you're deal with a product that someone returned (probably sometimes with cause). I expect a higher failure rate.
I believe the opposite to be true, as with refurb any potential problems have been rooted out, whereas new products, even Apple's, do come with a certain failure rate. Fwiw, I've bought a handful of products from the refurb store, and I've (so far) never had a problem with any of them. The only downside is that you may have to have patience to get a certain config, and some items are virtually never available.

Case in point, I was interested a while back in a 13" non-retina MBP to do some tinkering with but couldn't get the upgraded 2.9 dual-core i7 without also getting memory and/or storage upgrades, so after scouring the refurb store for weeks, I ended up ordering a new one from Apple, CTO, and maxed out the memory to 16GB (Mushkin 2x8) myself, as well as installed a Sammy 850 PRO SSD. Not only less expensive than equivalent Apple upgrades, but Apple won't even do more than 8GB of memory in that little laptop. I do however understand not everyone is comfortable with opening up their new equipment.

To come back to the original point, perhaps I've been lucky but, of all the refurb equipment I have purchased (desktop, several laptops and a TC amongst others), besides being aesthetically flawless, I've never had a single problem with any item. You also get the same one year warranty as you do on new equipment, and for peace of mind you can get AppleCare as well.
 

T Coma

macrumors 6502
Dec 3, 2015
284
522
Flyover Country, USA
2009 MBP, 2011 iMac purchased refurb same year as original sale, both still running perfectly with no repairs required, although I replaced the battery on the MBP recently. Considering it's mileage, I'll chalk that up to standard wear and tear.

I'll likely make my next Apple purchase via the refurb store as well, under the assumption that the refurb goods get the (critical) US-based repair / inspection / secondary QC. Although someone above makes a good point about non-taxed business for new goods from some online discount vendors, that extra inspection is tough to pass up. I'll just have to have it shipped to relatives out of state (to avoid the obscene, big-government taxes I get from living at the intersection of corruption and bankruptcy.)
 

benji888

macrumors 68000
Sep 27, 2006
1,795
366
United States
You can buy refurb iPhones from the carriers and other resellers

Great guide, however, the iPhone section is incomplete. I know you can buy refurb iPhones from the carriers, usually online only (just like w/Apple, you can't walk into a store and get one, only online), but, I am not sure if they are only ones that customers returned to that reseller and refurbished by them or if apple sends them out certified and w/new warranties. My first iPhone was a refurbished iPhone 3G, purchased from AT&T's website in early 2009, I think I was able to purchase AppleCare for it at the time, but I did not. Supplies were limited and they would appear on their website and disappear when sold out, appear again when they had more.

• It would be great if the OP could look into this and update the section on iPhones. Also, perhaps there are other places one can buy refurbished iPhones (gazelle, best buy?), and maybe get AppleCare.
 
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