Should you ever buy a used drone? The benefits

I love a good thrift store and buy most of my clothes and furniture used. It cuts down on waste and it usually means you can save a ton of money. Typically you save the environment not just on the production of an entirely new product, but unnecessary, wasteful extras like packing and (if you’re buying local, then) around-the-world shipping, too. But should you ever buy a used drone?

As is the case with many tech products, there are especially risks when you buy a used drone. In fact, a couple weeks ago, I outlined the risks of buying used drones here (and you should definitely read that piece before investing in a used drone). But you’ve come to learn the benefits of buying a used one.

Because yes, buying a used drone can be a smart money move. Here are five reasons why you should consider buying a used drone versus one brand-new:

Amazon almost always offers used versions of products for cheaper prices.

Cost savings

Perhaps the most obvious, but typically the most important for most folk: saving money.

Used drones can be found at a fraction of the cost of new ones, making them more affordable for many people. A quick web search conducted in January 2023 for the DJI Mini 3 Pro, which launched in May 2022 and starts at just $759 including controller when purchased new is going for $609 in “Very Good Used” condition on Amazon, and $510 on eBay.

That’s a nearly 50% savings right there. And on some websites like Mercari, you can even make an offer lower than the listed price, which many sellers are willing to take you up on.

Depreciation

Much like driving a new car off the lot, drones quickly depreciate in value after they’ve been unboxed and taken their first flight. Few folks are willing to pay anywhere close to full price for a used drone when they can get one fresh in the box (which typically means a better warranty system in place).

If you’re willing to take the risk, then the payoff is huge. Buy a used drone to avoid the initial depreciation that comes with buying a brand new drone. When you turn around to resell your used drone (from one that you bought used anyway), you likely will be able to resell it for close to what you paid to buy it used, assuming you keep it in the same condition you purchased it in.

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Here’s me with my original DJI Phantom. Photo courtesy of Stuart Palley.

Access to discontinued models

Drone makers routinely discontinue production of older models, as they only have a limited capacity for manufacturing and support

When old models go out of production and subsequently sell out of the shelves from traditional retailers, then sometimes the only way to access discontinued models is when you buy a used drone.

While the newer models of drones typically are an improvement over the old ones, that’s not always the case. Some drones provided certain features or value that doesn’t exist anywhere else today. Take the now-discontinued DJI Spark, which was an excellent beginner drone.

Then there’s that incredible, old school ‘OG’ vibe that comes with flying a DJI Phantom, the entire line of which has been discontinued.

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Helping the environment

Consider your used drone purchase as a way to help out Mother Nature — especially if you would have purchased a drone brand new otherwise. An estimated 50 million tons of electronic waste is generated worldwide every year. In context, that’s equivalent to throwing out 1,000 laptops every single second.

If tech products just end up dumped in landfill, then toxic substances like lead and mercury can leak into soil and water, creating future hazards for local communities.

Properly recycling your tech products can mitigate many of those issues, but even still, recycling electronics is not a perfect solution. The process to recycle electronics in itself is slow and inefficient.

And according to Professor Richard Herrington, Head of Earth Sciences at London’s Natural History Museum, nations export recycled electronics to be handled by citizens of countries where labor laws and safety often don’t protect those doing the meticulous and dangerous work of processing e-waste for metal and mineral extraction.

Buying a used versus new drone cuts down on waste by half (or more, if a used drone gets a third or fourth life).

Testing the waters

Especially because folks newer to drones often buy one and end up rarely flying it (either because they realize they just aren’t interested, or maybe there are too many restrictions in their area), it’s not ideal to pay over a thousand dollars for something only flown a few times.

Instead, test the waters before committing to a more expensive, new drone. By buying a used drone, you can get a sense of what you like and don’t like about a certain model, and use that information to make a more informed decision when buying a new drone — all for a cheaper price versus buying one new.

What to do before you buy a used drone

Before buy a used drone, inspect it thoroughly, and make sure that it is in good working condition before exchanging money.

In some transactions such as buying through Amazon, you might need to pay upfront, but then you’re entitled to free returns if you make a claim within a certain period. So move quickly.

Some inspections you should do:

  • Visual inspection: Look for noticeable signs of undisclosed wear like dents or scratches. You likely don’t need to worry about basic scratches on the drone body, but pay attention to scratches on the camera lens, as replacing a scratched camera can cost more than the savings from buying used.
  • Check the batteries: LiPo batteries used to be a lot less user-friendly, and damaged batteries were prone to starting fires. While DJI’s new and improved Intelligent Flight Batteries mitigate most of the risk, they can still be risk. Check your batteries, paying special attention to if they’re puffy. A puffy battery is a dangerous battery.If you happen to find yourself with a puffy battery in your hands that you can’t return to the seller, immediately follow proper disposal protocols.
  • Find out the life of the drone. Typically, you can check the drone’s flight hours through its accompanying app, which might also be helpful in making a decision whether a used drone is a good buy.
  • Go out and fly it: The easiest inspection is simply flying it and making sure it works!

Related read: How to care for your LiPo batteries

The best places to buy a used drone

Buying used electronics through a third-party like Mercari means you’ll likely owe more than buying directly from the seller (because the seller needs to give a cut to the middleman, and they typically just pass on those costs to you). But, the extra cost is typically worth it, especially when it comes to buying used electronics like drones or other high-value items.

That’s because websites like Mercari have fraud prevention systems, product guarantees and customer support in place, which you wouldn’t get from just buying a drone off a stranger on the street. For example, Mercari uses an escrow payment system to guarantee a safer, more reliable transaction service for both parties. Both parties also rate each other (and it’s usually wise to only buy drones from folks with reviews). Mercari also has a dedicated customer service system and uses a combination of human experts and AI technology to identify fake, misleading or stolen goods. And if a product arrives damaged or defective, Mercari offers returns and compensation. 

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Amazon also has its own marketplace for used products called Amazon Renewed. When you find an item, if there’s a used version available then that option will be displayed right alongside it. So in this example, a new version of the DJI Mavic 3 going for $2,049 can also be purchased in “Used – Like New” condition for just $1,642. That’s 20% savings, or more than $400.

When you purchase an item through Amazon Renewed, Amazon slaps an Amazon Renewed Guarantee on applicable products. 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. 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.

Buying a used drone can be a smart move for those looking to save money, avoid initial depreciation, and test the waters before committing to a more expensive new drone. If you’re lucky in spotting a deal on a used drone at the right time — and you’re willing to take on some risk — you could save big.

How can I sell my used drone?

So now you’re convinced that it can be a great idea to buy a used drone. But what about if you’re the one trying to sell a used drone? I’ve outlined all the best ways to sell used drones here in a separate piece. The tl;dr, is that there are tons of trade-up programs where you can exchange your drone with certain electronics retailers for cash or store credits. There are also great online marketplaces for used drones like eBay and Mercari (I’ve sold two drones myself on Mercari!).

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.

If you don’t want to sell it outright but you want to put your drone to work when you’re not using it, there are drone rental companies you can participate in. And, you might be able to get a tax refund if you go the altruistic route and donate it.

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