Q. I was looking at Best Buy the other day and I see that they have even bigger discounts on TVs that are called open box TVs. What is an open box TV and should I buy one? I’m guessing it’s a TV that was used before and brought back, right? — Gene, Annapolis, Maryland. 

Gene, you’re right. Best Buy, and other retailers 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.

Best Buy calls them ‘open-box’ TVs while Amazon refers to them as ”certified refurbished.’

The price difference sometimes can be hard to resist. For example, Best Buy now is selling an ‘open-box’ LG 55-inch OLED TV for $1,031, which is roughly $200 off the regular price. And the retailer is selling a Samsung open-box 70-inch 4K TV for just $388. How else are you going to get a 70-inch 4K TV from a name brand like Samsung for a price like that?

But before you hit the ‘Buy’ button, I have to caution against buying an open-box 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 open-box TV often comes with a 90-day warranty so you can return it if it falters soon after you bring it home. And in most cases, the televisions will operate perfectly after being repaired, and they will continue to perform well for years to come. (You can learn more about Best Buy’s ‘open-box’ guarantees here.)

That is true, but who wants the hassle of returning a large TV to the local TV store or via postal online, particularly during an international pandemic. 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 have to recommend that you don’t buy 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