There can be many reasons for asking yourself this question. Maybe you don’t have the money to splurge on a brand new drone. Maybe you’re a beginner drone enthusiast, and wish to save money on a second-hand device that you can tinker with and even crash into the sides of walls without losing a lot of money.
Whatever the reason, the answer is yes, you can certainly buy a used drone and derive much of the same pleasure from it as you would from a new one. However, the more important question is HOW should you buy a used drone? There are many factors that need to be taken into account to make sure the drone you buy serves you well for years despite being second-hand.
Naturally, you can’t walk into a retail store and demand a used drone. Instead, you’re going to have to get more creative. There are many online sites which deal with second-hand products. Craigslist is one of the most famous examples, but there is also eBay and online drone trading spaces like dronetradr.com
Additionally, you can look through the local classified ads for any offers on used drones. Ask around in your friends circle to see if you have an acquaintance who is willing to sell their drone. If no one in your circle is a drone hobbyist, you can visit online forums and Facebook groups devoted to drones.
While interacting with a potential seller, keep an eye out for any ‘funny business’. This can refer to any number of things. If the seller refuses to show you the drone or refuses to let you examine it. If he wants to know your financial details beyond cash for the drone. If he can’t supply you with basic information about the drone’s make, model and technical specifications. All of these are red flags that the seller is being dishonest and attempting to take you for a ride.
The State of the Machine
Once you get your seller fixed, it’s time to examine the drone you might be buying. Here are some of the things you need to check for:
- The wings should not be missing a blade, be glued on or stuck with tape to the body of the drone.
- The motor while it runs should not make any strange sound and be able to lift the machine entirely off the ground.
- The remote control should not have any buttons missing or not working. You should be able to fly the drone to the edge of the range mentioned by the seller for the machine’s technical specifications.
- If there have been any repairs done to the body of the drone, they should not interfere with its working. Also, the repairs need to have been carried out in a professional manner so that any repair material would not suddenly fall off the drone surface in the middle of a flight.
- The battery should be examined carefully. It should recharge properly, and not drain too quickly. If need be, the entire set of old batteries should be replaced, since they suffer the worst damage throughout a drone’s life.
- Sometimes sellers try to pass off cheap knock-offs as a popular brand. Examine the drone carefully to make sure it is truly a product of the company the seller claims it to be. If the spelling or logo of the company on the drone is different from their actual signature, it means the drone is a knock-off and most likely of a much inferior quality than what you had anticipated.
- Any drone that spends a certain amount of time in the air will accumulate many small bumps and bruises. In the hands of a clumsy amateur, these bumps can be quite violent, and interfere with the working of the machine. Examine the device with great care for any evidence of serious injuries that may lead to a malfunction.
- If the drone carries a camera, use it to capture images and record videos. The resolution of the images should be within an acceptable range. Also, the gimbal used to hold the camera should be examined for any breaks at the joints that will become a problem later.
- Once the drone is turned on, does it connect properly with the controller? Is the GPS system working? Is there an error in the compass signal? Any errors with the ESC or the IMU are serious and mean the device is not fixable. Tell the seller no deal.
Deciding the Price
Okay, so you’ve met with a respectable seller, you’ve examined the drone, and you’re confident that you want to buy it. Now you have to decide on a price. Most sellers base their price off what they paid for the drone, rather than according to the current market value of the device. It is often advisable to wait for a few months before buying a model, since most new drones usually experience a sharp drop in price in that time.
Tell the seller that you want to negotiate a price according to the current market value. If the seller complains that the market value is far less than what he paid, explain that he would get a similar price from any other buyer as well. If the seller stands his ground and you really like the drone and are convinced it’s a good deal, start negotiating upwards from the lowest price you offered until you both hit upon a mutually agreeable number.
If you’re buying a tiny drone, you can keep it without any paperwork. But if the machine is heavier than 8.8 ounces, it will need to be registered under your name after transfer of ownership from the seller. Registration markings on a drone deemed a recreational aircraft can simply be replaced with your own, but a commercial aircraft requires the previous owner to unregister his name from the aircraft from his online FAA account.
Some drone companies such as DJI allow ownership details to be changed using the DJI Go app. Such apps make the entire process of transference of ownership much easier and more convenient.
The final piece of advice is to wait for a holiday period when the latest drones hit the market. This is the time when a lot of owners will be looking to unload their older models so they can buy the latest drones. Use sites which have an established online reputation, and make use of the buyer’s protection feature offered by PayPal and similar online payment platforms while paying for the drone. Ask a lot of questions, and only go through with the deal once you’re 100% satisfied that you understand and like the product you’re be buying.