When I explained that thrift stores and satellite don’t mix

Should you shop at the Salvation Army for consumer electronics? That was the question I posed back in 2015. I had this friend at the time who was always trying to save a dollar in the worst possible way. He wired up his entire home for satellite, by himself, with cables he found in a dumpster. And, he was always telling me about satellite gear he found at the local thrift store.

Wasn’t a good idea then, not a good idea now

Back then I pointed out that both DIRECTV and DISH had been on a lease model for close to ten years. That meant it was technically illegal to resell any of their receivers. As for the other premises equipment, it wasn’t designed to be reused. You should never trust a used dish or multiswitch. Sure it might work but who knows?

And even though my article back then was about satellite, the same thing really applies to most consumer electronics. Yes, you will find some stuff at a thrift store that actually works. You’ll also find a lot of VHS players, typewriters, and tube televisions. Unless you’re looking for set decorations for your Dawson’s Creek fan film, these probably won’t be too appealing.

Stuff isn’t made to last

Not like you needed me to tell you that. Consumer electronics have been getting less and less durable since the 1980s, when people realized that technology was changing so fast that a well-made piece of gear was actually a liability. Who wants a PC made in 1981 if the one made in 1987 is literally 20 times faster? Same of course with game consoles, televisions, and just about anything else. The last 30 years have seen prices for consumer electronics drop so fast that we simply don’t mind if something breaks in five years or less. In fact we sort of look forward to it.

That planned obsolescence leads to a bizarre turn where a piece of technology made in 1970 might work better today than one made in 2000. Back then people assumed they’d have an expensive piece of equipment for decades.

Will that change?

One bright spot in this whole technology issue is that satellite equipment has gotten very stable. I still use the C31 Genie client I got in 2012 and it works great. A lot of H24 and H25 receivers are on their third refurb and still work. However, that still doesn’t mean you should get one that you find at a thrift store.

It’s not just satellite stuff either. While phones have gotten waaaaay more expensive in the last five years, they’re also much more likely to survive past that initial two-year run. A few weeks ago, Apple released a patch for iPhone 5. This is a phone that was first sold seven years ago. Apple, famous for casting its old tech adrift, saw there had to be so many people still using this old phone that they needed to issue a patch to keep it working.  These old devices may not be glamourous, but it is possible to get your money’s worth with them. If you’re too snobby to have something at old (hey, I am) then sell it for a decent price. But, don’t give it to a thrift store and don’t get one either. Thrift stores are great for clothes and furniture. Not so much for tech.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.