Used Electronics Can Make Good Buys

Here's how to save by finding used flat-panel TVs and other gadgets.

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In a time of economic slowdown or recession, hard-pressed households might consider unloading that big-screen TV that sold for $3,000 when it was new. And flat-panel screens are among the few electronics that might make a tempting buy through or a newspaper ad—if it's at the right price and you can see it in person first. Here's a look at devices that are likely to be good buys even when used.

Plasma TV: If it turns on and displays a good picture, a plasma screen is unlikely to have major, hidden glitches. "Those are solid-state products that are pretty stable," says Mack Blakely, a longtime repairman and executive director of the National Electronics Service Dealers Association. Don't get one that's more than two years old—the sets do wear out eventually, and earlier ones did so more quickly than recent models do. Also, study the screen to make sure it hasn't suffered image "burn-in," which can leave a permanent shadow from text or video game images.

LCD TV: Like plasmas, these sets don't involve a lot of repair-prone parts. Study the screen to make sure that it doesn't suffer from excessive dead pixels. A few aren't unusual, but you don't want them to interfere with your viewing. Once home, the set should perform well. According to Consumer Reports, LCDs and plasmas need fewer repairs than traditional tube TVs.

Blu-ray DVD player: DVD players generally don't make good buys in the used market. They have too many moving parts that suffer wear, including expensive lasers. But with new models costing $300 and up, a Blu-ray player might be tempting if it's sold at a substantial discount and was bought less than a year ago—preferably six months or less.

Computer: Only relatively new PCs sold at a substantial discount might be tempting. Stick with brand names to make sure manuals, support, and parts are readily available. And don't buy desktops more than a year old or notebooks more than three months old. As with everything else on this list, you should visit the seller and make sure the device is working before committing to buy.

Flash-based MP3 player: Consider newer iPods and competitors that use memory chips for storage. "Those solid-state drives are much less likely to fail," says Aaron Vronko, a founder of Rapid Repair, an online iPod repair service. Just make sure that the LCD screen isn't cracked, the USB port is clear and still working, and the device is otherwise functional.