Watch out for these risks of buying used drones

A used drone for sale can often offer massive savings over the same one new. And benefits of buying used drones go beyond just cash savings. Used drones unlock even more options including now-out-of-production drones and they can be far better for the environment. I often recommend buying used drones (and next week I’m planning to go into far greater detail outlining even deeper benefits of giving a drone a second life). But there are also risks of buying used drones.

Here are some of the lesser-known risks of buying used drones:

Possible lack of warranty

When buying a used drone, the manufacturer’s warranty may no longer be valid. So, if the drone malfunctions or breaks, you’ll be responsible for any repairs or replacements.

For example, DJI offers a limited warranty that covers you for most forms of damage incurred to your drone within a preset period of purchase (length of time varies by product). However, the warranty, formerly referred to by DJI as the “DJI After-Sales Policies” only apply to DJI products you purchased from DJI itself or DJI authorized retailers for your own use — and not for resale.

Buying used drones also typically prevents you from being able to buy extended warranty packages, such as DJI Care Refresh or Skydio Care. Both of those are optional protection plans that be purchased as a supplement to the existing warranty that comes when you purchase the drone new from the company itself or an approved third-party like Amazon.

But you won’t get the option for buying used. Such service plans can only be bound to a drone purchased from the drone maker itself (like DJI or Skydio’s website) or from an authorized sales channel. Typically, these plans can only be used in the country or region where it is purchased.

More headache if you need to make a return

Making returns when purchasing new items from major retailers is typically an easy, painless process.

For example, DJI accepts returns of drones within 14 calendar days of the initial buyer receiving a product, but also only if the product has no manufacturing defect, and it is still in new or like-new condition. But that means returning a used drone to DJI would not be eligible.

There’s no such thing as an official Craigslist return policy. Buying used drones through sites like that mean you need to work out the agreement of buying (and possibly returning the product) with the individual whom you bought the drone for. If you anticipate a possible return, then the risks of buying used drones are high.

That said, some return policies for buying used drones are better than others. Often if you buy a used drone from a company that specializes in reselling electronics, then you’ll likely have better luck. For example, when you purchase an item through Amazon Renewed which is Amazon’s service for reselling used items like drones, you are entitled to the Amazon Renewed Guarantee. This is a satisfaction guarantee where — if you are unsatisfied with your purchase (including the product not working as expected) — then you can return it within 90 days of receipt of the purchase for a full refund or replacement. Amazon Renewed also promises quick support for claims and free troubleshooting via Amazon customer service.

Amazon Renewed is one of the best places to buy a used drone given the flexible return policy, ongoing customer support and safe payment methods.

Less technical support when buying used drones

When buying a used drone, you may not have access to the same level of technical support as you would with a new drone. This can make it difficult to troubleshoot any issues that may arise, and may make it harder to get the drone repaired or replaced.

Again, some resellers are better than others. Amazon Renewed promises quick support for claims and free troubleshooting via Amazon customer service for used products purchased through its service.

Risk of scammers in used drone sales

As is the case with any tech product, beware the risks of scammers.

Meet in a safe place: If buying directly from a seller in-person, practice the same precautions as you would with any transaction. Meet in a public space that’s well-lit. Perhaps bring a friend or family member with you to the exchange, and consider letting someone else know where you are going and who you will be meeting.

Pay through a protected medium: If using PayPal, make sure to use the “Goods and Services” option, which offers buyer protection and ensures that the seller has to ship the item before they can receive payment. Avoid using wire transfers or prepaid debit cards, as they are not traceable and offer no protection against fraud. Additionally, it’s a good idea to avoid sharing any personal or financial information with the seller, as this could put you at risk for identity theft.

Inspect your products: And like any purchase in-person between two people, conduct a thorough inspection. With a drone, you might suggest meeting at a big public park, and having the seller actually fly the drone with you initially so that you can confirm it works.

Consider buying through a middleman like Amazon Renewed or Mercari: Buying tech products through a third-party, reputable website like Amazon Renewed can also mitigate most risks of buying used drones.

When you purchase most items through Amazon Renewed, you’re also entitled to the Amazon Renewed Guarantee which is a type of satisfaction guarantee where — if you are unsatisfied with your purchase (e.g. the drone doesn’t actually work as expected) — then you can return it within 90 days of receipt of the purchase for a full refund or replacement. Items considered to be Renewed Premium product get an even-more generous one-year return window. Amazon Renewed also promises quick support for claims and free troubleshooting via Amazon customer service.

Mercari is also pretty reputable for buying used drones — just ensure you read the description thoroughly. To really cut back on risk, only buy drones from folks with reviews (both parties rate each other after the purchase is complete).

Mercari does have thorough fraud prevention systems, product guarantees and customer support in place to cut back on risks. For example, Mercari’s dedicated customer service system uses a combination of human experts and AI technology to identify fake, misleading or stolen goods.

If the product doesn’t match the photo or description and arrives damaged or defective, Mercari offers returns and compensation. I’ve personally sold used drones through Mercari and had a great experience.

Sign up for Mercari using this link, and you’ll get $10 off your first purchase. And if you’re looking to sell on Mercari, you’ll make another $20 once you complete your first $100 in sales.

Risk of damage or missing parts, or quality just not up to par

A used drone may have a history of accidents, crashes, or other damage that may not be immediately obvious. It’s important to thoroughly inspect the drone and ask the seller about its history, including any previous repairs or replacements that have been made.

When buying used from an individual, make sure all the parts are there (or at least you fully understand what parts are missing). Buying a drone usually means buying more than just a drone. There are tons of cords to connect drones, chargers, batteries, computers, etc. all to each other (and to a power source), all of which can easily go missing. Check the original manufacturer to find out what’s supposed to be included in the box, and then compare that to what’s included in your used version so you can understand what’s missing.

A missing USB cable likely is nothing to fret about, as that’s likely something you can buy for less than $10. A missing part specific to the drone can be more stressful, especially if that drone model has been discontinued, as it means it could be more difficult (or impossible) to purchase replacement parts.

Risk of battery dangers

The old LiPo batteries on drones used to be higher risk, but luckily that’s changed since developments in battery technology such as DJI’s new and improved Intelligent Flight Batteries.

The old-school LiPo batteries were not exactly user-friendly, and damaged batteries were prone to starting fires. Intelligent Flight Batteries are far less hazardous, but even still, pay special attention to the batteries when you buy a used drone. Never buy a used battery if it’s puffy, as it can be dangerous.

If it’s too late and you’re already the owner of a puffy battery, that you can’t return to the seller, immediately follow proper disposal protocols.

DJI batteries are far safer now than what they were even just a few years ago.

Outdated technology

This point is perhaps obvious, but drone technology evolves rapidly, and older models may not have the same capabilities as newer models.

This could mean that a used drone may not be able to perform certain tasks or may not have the same level of safety features as newer models.

Newer models are more likely to have nice features like better cameras and longer battery life, but they’re also more likely to have crucial safety features like obstacle detection and avoidance or smart return to home.

Saving a few hundred dollars by buying a used version of an older model might seem wise, but a better drone with more safety features could prove to be far more worth it in the end if the outdated model goes haywire and flies away.

Potential legal hurdles, including new registration required

Exact rules around registration vary by country, but you’ll need to make sure the drone is properly registered to your name and has all necessary paperwork for yourself — don’t count on the original seller to have done that for you.

And this point is serious, as failure to do so could result in legal issues, including fines or penalties, depending on the country, the type of drone and nature of your flight.

How to register your drone in the U.S.

In the U.S., all drone pilots flying a drone outdoors that weighs more than 0.55 lbs must register themselves as a drone operator with the FAA. Luckily the process is easy and inexpensive, but you cannot rely on the person who sold you the drone to have done the registration for you. You must register for yourself (the registration number is tied to the pilot, not the drone). Here’s how to register your drone in the U.S.:

  1. Visit the FAA’s drone registration website and create an account.
  2. In creating your account, you’ll have to enter your address, phone number and email. You’ll also have to pay the $5 registration fee.
  3. From there, you’ll receive a registration number, which you need to simply need to affix somewhere on your drone. I recommend writing it with Sharpie on a piece of masking tape, so you can easily remove it should you decide to turn around and resell your drone to someone else. sell or give away your drone.

Are the risks of buying used drones worth the savings?

Sure, there are plenty of reasons not to buy used, as outlined above. But it’s not all bad, particularly when money-savings are at play.

To mitigate the risks of buying used drones, thoroughly inspect it and have a solid plan for exchanging the drone and the payment. When buying used, ask the seller if they have the original packaging, manuals, and any other accessories that come with the item. While not a dealbreaker (it’s perfectly reasonable to have thrown those things away), it can help add to your purchase and make it feel a little more like-new. Missing manuals are easy to replace, as most are downloadable online and can be found through a simple web search.

Buying a used drone can be a cost-effective way to dip your toes into the hobby of drone flying. For small business owners, it can keep costs under control, as the percent savings that come from buying used increase even more in dollar value the higher into enterprise and high-end drones you go.

Check back next week, and I’ll give you the counterpoint — all the benefits of buying drones used.

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