Buying a used drone is a great way to save money, but you could also end up with a lemon if you’re not careful. You might end up with a drone that has a dead battery or something that you need to file paperwork for before you even get to fly it. Make sure to go through this checklist if you’re a first-time drone buyer.
Beware of Online Scammers
The lure of a good deal can overwhelm even the savviest of shoppers. Even if you think of yourself as the kind of person who’d never fall for a scam or order a box of broken parts by mistake, the used market for drones could have some sticky surprises in store for you. Buy your used equipment from a reputable source that you’d buy any other piece of used tech from. If you have a favored massive online eCommerce marketplace, then look there first.
Naturally, you’ll want to look for used models on eBay and Amazon, but don’t forget about other places too. For instance, Bonanza.com has hosted special offers on drones in the past and you might even score a flier from the Newegg user’s marketplace in spite of the fact you probably associate them with PC parts.
Several major drone manufacturers have decided to put refurbished drones on the market. These include top names like DJI, Yuneec, and Autel. Each of these models comes with pretty much everything you’d expect to find with a new unit for a fraction of the price. You might even be able to get a warranty with them, which is something you’d never find when buying used drones from their previous owners. In many cases, refurbished equipment is sold right alongside new drones so it won’t be hard to find.
Check out the big online marketplaces for these units too, since several manufacturers actually sell directly through them. You’ll find their listings alongside those posted by your fellow consumers.
Does It Need to be Registered with the FAA?
Unless you have experience with filling out government registration forms and don’t mind paying any possible registration fees, check the dimensions and model number of the drone you’re buying to make sure that it doesn’t meet the federal definition for an advanced UAV. Larger vehicles are considered fairly close to aircraft, which means you’d have to register them and might even need a license to fly them. Plenty of people have gotten a box containing used drone parts in the mail only to find out later that they can’t fly their new toy because of legal restrictions.
Surf over to the FAA’s website before you buy any kind of larger or high-altitude drone. They have the specifics of these rules spelled out in fairly plain language, so even if your model isn’t specifically listed somewhere you should be able to get a fairly good guess as to whether or not it falls under them.
Does the Drone Require Assembly?
Countless potential pilots buy drones they don’t realize are in kit form, never build the kit and then later sell the whole thing as used. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to tell a finished drone apart from a kit. If the listing reads ready-to-fly or the abbreviated form RTF, then all you have to do is charge up the battery and tighten the propellers. BNF means bind-and-fly, which means that you may need to buy a separate controller. Four-blade model kits often have the letters ARF in their listings, which means they’re almost ready to fly. Stay away from these if you were expecting a plug-and-play experience.
On the other hand, buying a secondhand kit is a great way to save money if you’re into assembling things yourself.
Wear and Tear
It should be relatively easy to tell how worn out a drone is if you’re able to get a good look at it online. You may want to avoid any that have suffered obvious damage unless you’re a techie who enjoys the challenge of getting older equipment up and running. Consider possible damage that you’d never be able to see as well. Older batteries lose their ability to hold a charge and might even end up leaking. You may have to replace them. Remote controls eventually go bad too, and you might need to get new ones. These kinds of repairs can quickly send your overall price soaring higher than your drone ever will.
Find one with a Toolkit
Regular screwdrivers are more than enough to repair most drones, but there are also plenty on the market that features proprietary bolts and other annoyances that are difficult to deal with unless you have the proper tools. Getting a toolkit with your drone will prevent any problems when it comes time to install the blades later.
Alternatively, you may want to look for models that simply don’t require any specialized tools. If you’ve found something that you really like, then search for information about it from the original manufacturer. Chances are that they’ll have provided a full specifications sheet in the past that explains what each piece of hardware is for.
Follow Drone Forums
You might be able to score used equipment by signing up for a drone forum, but this isn’t the only reason you should sign up for one. While many do have virtual swap meet sections, they can also provide insider tips you couldn’t find anywhere else. You’ll even get a chance to share some photos later on once you have your used model running.
Some forum sites are also known for tipping potential pilots off to shady online drone dealers, which means they’re a great place to spot possible scams and prevent yourself from falling victim to one.
If you’ve never been to a pilot’s forum in the past, then you’ll want to check out DroneFlyers, UAV Coach, and QuadcopterForum. These are some of the largest. DJI fans can check out PhantomPilots as well.
Check if Replacement Parts are Still Offered
While it might seem like UAV technology isn’t that old overall, some manufacturers have already gone out of business. Others have canceled the production of certain lines or completely retooled their operations. Do a quick search for replacement parts before you add a drone to your virtual shopping cart. If it doesn’t seem like there’s anything available, then the drone you’re looking at may have gone out of production so long ago that you won’t be able to find batteries or bolts for it when the time comes.
Mobile App Availability
Replacement parts aren’t the only things that can be elusive for secondhand drone buyers. Smaller drones rely on mobile apps for control, and you won’t be able to use yours if the requisite app is either no longer offered or doesn’t work with modern cellular technology. Head over to the apps store for your preferred digital ecosystem and see if you’ve got any chance of installing the software you need. You might have to pass on an otherwise good deal if things don’t look too good.
Don’t be afraid to buy a used drone, because you can save a great deal of money by ordering one. Just make sure to keep these tips in mind so you can get the best one for your price range. You’ll be well rewarded for taking the time to shop around before you fly.