Q. I’ve been shopping for a new TV during the Black Friday sales and I noticed that some sets that were previously owned are cheaper. The salesman at my local TV store called them ‘certified used,’ meaning they were returned by the original owner because of a bad part or something. However, the store fixed the set and then put it back on sale. I’m very tempted by the lower price, but is there any risk in buying a TV that’s been used before. Also, what about those TVs online they call ‘refurbished.’ — Jan, College Station, Texas. 

Jan, that is a great question, but one that does not come with an easy answer.

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Retail stores and online sellers will often slash prices on TVs (and other electronics) that have been returned for a variety of reasons including missing parts, faulty components or simply sub-par performance. The TV merchants will then try to fix the set (if a repair is truly needed) and re-sell them with lower prices.

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Retailers usually call these TVs ‘demos’ or ‘floor models’ while web sites such as Amazon.com will label them ‘certified refurbished.’

In most cases, the televisions will operate perfectly after being repaired, and they will continue to perform well for years to come.

However, I would caution against buying a floor model or certified refurbished TV. While the set is likely to experience few or no problems after repair, the odds that it could rise once it needed to be fixed in the first place.

Think of it like the brand new car that comes out of the showroom needing repairs within a few weeks of purchase. In many cases, the initial problem signals that the car was poorly manufactured. Consequently, the car often requires more repairs during its lifetime than the average vehicle.

In the auto world, it’s known as a lemon.

Now you may say that the certified refurbished TV often comes with a 90-day warranty so you can return it if it falters soon after you bring it home.

That is true, but who wants the hassle of returning a large TV to the local TV store or via postal online. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a chore worth avoiding at all costs, even at the risk of losing a great bargain. And if a set required repairs soon after being manufactured, it’s more likely to need them again at some point during its life.

So, I would recommend not buying a repaired TV.  However, I don’t feel the same way about smaller, less expensive products that are floor models or certified refurbished, such as Roku players or even laptops. The investment, and therefore the risk, is smaller, and it’s significantly easier to return a small device.

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— Phillip Swann

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