Sell a Broken VCR on eBay

Unload your nonfunctional merchandise on eBay guilt-free, and help save the planet while you’re at it.

With DVDs all the rage these days, VCRs are going the way of 8-track tapes, fuzzy dice, and honest politicians. As you might expect, eBay is the perfect way to unload that old machine that has been blinking 12:00 for as long as you can remember. It won’t be worth very much, but some lucky bidder will be happy to get a bargain, and you don’t have to be responsible for adding it to a landfill.

But what if it’s broken? If a working machine isn’t worth much [Hack #42] on eBay, why even bother trying to sell one that doesn’t work? As you spend more time on eBay, you’ll begin to understand that for every item, there’s a market. All you need is a little time, creativity, and knowledge of the item you’re trying to sell.

The VCR, for instance, is essentially an obsolete technology. DVDs look and sound better, and DVRs (such as TiVo) are easier to use and do a better job recording TV programs than VCRs. Thus the market for new VCRs has bottomed out, leaving only the cheapest units available for retail purchase.

Now, VCRs are mechanical devices, and as such, do have a habit of breaking down, which means that there’s a steady supply of people who want to replace or repair their old units, if for no other reason than to watch old tapes of Fantasy Island. As you might expect, sending these old units back to the factory is out of the question, because replacement parts, if they’re even available, usually cost more than a new machine. So these customers turn to eBay.

When creating the listing [Hack #43] for your broken VCR, you can take one of two approaches: either describe it as a “Sony SLV-799HF with a functionality disorder” or market it as “Parts for the Sony SLV-799HF.” Of these two approaches, the second one is usually the best choice. Here’s how you do it.

First, include the word “parts” in your title [Hack #47] . Then, make sure the first thing you write in the description is that this unit doesn’t work. Go ahead and explain the problem [Hack #50] . Then take a sentence or two to explain what does still work: this is critical, because that’s what your buyers will be looking for.

For instance, your VCR may eat tapes, but the display works, and you still have the remote control and all original accessories. Any owners of the identical VCR may then bid on your listing to get a cheap replacement for a broken display or motor, to get a spare remote control, or even just to get the manual.

Assuming you get a bite, you’ve just recycled an old VCR, helped someone else save some money, and earned a few bucks for yourself. Good for you!

A Case in Point

This approach works for almost anything. PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants, a.k.a. Palm Pilots or handheld computers), for instance, are plentiful on eBay, and there’s usually strong demand for the newer models.

Most PDAs share the same design: a small tablet with a large, glass screen. The most common form of irreparable damage is a crack in the screen, which breaks the digitizer, the sensor that reads the taps of your stylus or fingernail. (If nothing else, let this be a lesson to avoid storing your PDA in your back pocket.)

I came upon just such a PDA not too long ago; it was an older model, typically selling for about $25 in working condition on eBay. So, I searched Google, and seconds later I had disassembly instructions for my particular model. After cracking the unit open, I found a gold mine of spare parts.

The screen was useless, so I threw it out. But the battery was still good, and it subsequently fetched about $20 on eBay. The motherboard fetched another $15, and the keypad ended up being worth about $8. In all, I got $43 for a broken PDA, when a working model was only worth $25.

Why Bother?

eBay isn’t just about bargains and profits; it’s a regime that facilitates recycling on a global scale. Rather than throwing something away and adding to the world’s growing landfills, or letting it accumulate dust in your attic, you can use eBay to find a buyer who will put it to good use.[1] And who knows; maybe someone is just about to take apart his VCR, and extract just the part you’ve been looking for.

[1] If you can’t find a buyer—or just don’t want to take the time to write up a listing—you can always recycle or donate your computer, cell phone, or other consumer electronic component. Visit for an extensive directory of recycling and donation resources near you.

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