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Refurbished iPhones: Apple Certified vs 3rd Party – Warning! Read this before you buy

Apple certified refurbished iPhone screen shot

Ever wondered why sometimes people buy an iPhone thinking that it’s brand new. But on checking they discover that its warranty has expired? Let’s find out. This post is all about Apple Certified versus 3rd Party refurbished iPhones. What are their differences? How can you identify them? and what potential consequences would you face if you decide to buy them?  

How to check if your iPhone is refurbished

You cannot easily differentiate a refurbished iPhone from a brand new one just by looking at it. So here’s how to check if your iPhone is refurbished.

  • Go to iPhone settings, general, and about.
  • Toggle from Model Number to Part Number.
  • If the Part Number starts with an “F”, that means your iPhone is “Refurbished”

The model number on my iPhone looks like this A2221. The part number on my iPhone looks like this MWM62AE/A. The model number and the part number are usually on the same line in the settings menu and only one is displayed at a time. You have to tap on it to switch between displaying the model number and the part number.

Image showing the model number of an iPhone 11. In this case, the model number starts with an "M" therefore the phone was originally a retail unit and not a refurbished iPhone.
How to check the model number of your iPhone – go to settings – general – about

What’s an Apple Certified refurbished iPhone?

To be more specific, if an iPhone’s Part Number starts with an “F” it’s an Apple Certified refurbished iPhone. Meaning that it’s a phone that was pre-owned, returned to Apple, and has undergone Apple’s rigorous in-house refurbishment process to make it function and perform like a brand new iPhone. 

How does Apple refurbish an iPhone?

Here’s how Apple refurbishes iPhones 

  • They replace any damaged parts with genuine Apple replacement parts.
  • Swap both the battery and outer shell with brand new ones.
  • Test it to make sure it works and performs like a brand new iPhone.
  • Format and reinstall its operating system.
  • Clean it thoroughly.
  • Then repack it with its accessories (all new) in a “plain white box”.

That white box is another way by which a consumer can easily identify that it’s an Apple Certified Refurbished iPhone, and not a brand new one. Apple gives a fresh 1-year warranty, and you can even buy an AppleCare plan for a certified refurbished iPhone. Apple usually sells its certified refurbished iPhones at a sizable discount which can go up to 15% of its original price.

To summarize, an Apple-certified refurbished iPhone has exactly the same benefits as a brand new iPhone, with the extra advantage that it comes at a lower price. Therefore I would highly recommend it to anyone who is shopping for an iPhone on a budget. 

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What’s a 3rd Party refurbished iPhone?

But it’s not only Apple that refurbishes iPhones. There are other companies that renew/refurbish iPhones too. Most of them sell their refurbished phones way cheaper than Apple’s Certified Refurbished iPhones. For example Amazon and its Amazon Renewed iPhone program. Amazon’s renewed iPhones come at very good prices. You get assurance that the phone is in good working condition. Amazon usually describes their iPhones as follows:

Amazon renewed iPhones terms and conditions

  • The product works and looks like new. Backed by the 90-day Amazon Renewed Guarantee.
  • This pre-owned product is not Apple certified but has been professionally inspected, tested, and cleaned by Amazon-qualified suppliers.
  • There will be no visible cosmetic imperfections when held at an arm’s length.
  • This product will have a battery that exceeds 80% capacity relative to new.
  • Accessories will not be original but will be compatible and fully functional. Product may come in generic Box.
  • This product is eligible for a replacement or refund within 90 days of receipt if you are not satisfied.

Even though their phones are in a good condition, there are a good number of reasons why you may not want to buy a 3rd party refurbished iPhones.

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Why 3rd party refurbished iPhones may not be good for you

  1. They may not have replaced the battery with a brand new one. So you would receive an iPhone with a low maximum battery capacity (Between 85 to 95%)
  2. In most cases you may only get a few months of warranty. 
  3. Which would not be an Apple warranty but rather the refurbisher’s own warranty. 
  4. Therefore you won’t be able to purchase AppleCare coverage for a 3rd Party refurbished iPhone. 

I have an iPhone 11 which I used very carefully for 1 year. This phone has been in a case and a glass screen protector ever since the first day I unboxed it. So there are no scratches on any part of its body. This kind of phone would be perfect for 3rd party refurbishment.

When a 3rd Party refurbished iPhone is sold, it will still have a part number that starts with an “M”. Because, unlike Apple, 3rd party refurbishers cannot modify an iPhone’s part number, to begin with, an “F”. Therefore it’s possible to buy an iPhone whose part number may start with an M, or an N, or a P, that has been previously refurbished.

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Meaning of the letters M, N, P or F at the start of an iPhone’s Part Number

If the iPhone Part Number starts with an “M”

When the Part Number starts with an “M” (for example MWM62AE/A) – it’s a retail unit. Retail iPhones are originally sold by Apple and other iPhone resellers as brand new units. Such devices have never been used before.

If the iPhone Part Number starts with an “N”

If the Part Number starts with an “N” (for example NWM62AE/A) – it’s a service iPhone that Apple initially provided as a replacement device for a malfunctioning unit during a warranty claim. It’s worth noting that a replacement iPhone could be provided without any extra packaging, documentation, or accessories

That makes me wonder, is it possible such devices could be refurbished or remanufactured iPhones. I’m pretty sure that if you ask an Apple representative, they would tell you it’s a brand new iPhone. But honestly, I don’t think there’s really any way most people can be certain that replacement iPhones are 100% brand new. Anyway, if Apple were to give you a replacement device, then they would also provide a valid warranty for that unit, in accordance with Apple’s warranty terms and conditions.

If the iPhone Part Number starts with a “P”

When an iPhone’s Part Number starts with a “P” (For example PWM62AE/A) – it means it’s a phone that was originally ordered directly from Apple with a personalized engraving. It’s not common to find Personalized iPhones in the market, because a customized engraving can only be requested during an online purchase directly from Apple’s website. 

  • If the Part Number starts with M – the iPhone is a Brand New Retail unit.
  • If the Part Number starts with N – the iPhone is a Replacement unit.
  • If the Part Number starts with P – the iPhone is a Personalized unit.
  • If the Part Number starts with F – the iPhone is a Refurbished unit.

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Should you buy 3rd party refurbished iPhones?

Just like the case with Amazon Renewed iPhones, there’s nothing wrong when a seller clearly mentions on their listing that their product is a Refurbished or a Renewed iPhone, and also specifies the duration of the warranty that they would provide for that phone. So that the customer is able to make a purchase decision with that in mind. In this case, I would recommend someone to buy it if they are on a tight budget and find the seller’s terms and conditions convenient enough.

However, there are some malicious resellers who list Refurbished iPhones, as if they were brand new units so that they can maximize their profits. That’s why, sometimes people buy an iPhone that feels brand new, and comes packed and sealed in the same box as a brand new iPhone. But on checking, they discover that its warranty coverage has already expired, right on the first day of use.

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How to check if your iPhone was refurbished by 3rd Party?

So, how can you determine if your iPhone was previously refurbished or repacked by a 3rd party agent? Well, there are actually two ways to do that.

Option 1: 

  • Go into your iPhone settings, general and about. 
  • Then get the iPhone’s “Serial number”
  • You can also find its serial number by checking on the back of its box.
  • Then visit the following link on Apple’s website: ““. 
  • On this web page, you would be able to check if the phone’s warranty is still valid by simply entering it’s serial number in the space provided, and completing the necessary requirements before clicking continue.
  • Alternatively, in the same settings menu
  • Check the next section just below the serial number.
  • If it’s a brand new iPhone it should indicate that it still has a 12 month warranty.
  • But if it’s a used, repacked, or 3rd party refurbished iPhone, it would specify exactly how many months of warranty have expired, or if there’s any warranty left at all.

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Option 2:

  • Another way is to check the iPhone’s maximum battery capacity by going to settings, then scroll all the way down to battery capacity, and click on battery health.
  • A brand new iPhone should have a maximum battery capacity of 100% unlike mine here which is now at 99% max capacity after over 1 year of use.

How to avoid buying a 3rd party refurbished iPhone

Due to the many risks involved, I personally wouldn’t advise anyone to buy a 3rd Party refurbished iPhone unless it’s absolutely necessary. So here are a few measures you can take to protect yourself against buying a 3rd party refurbished iPhone.

  1. Simply buy directly from Apple, or from an Apple authorized reseller. 
  2. If you have no other option than to buy from a 3rd party reseller, you can request the iPhone’s serial number and check it’s warranty validity on apple’s website before buying. 
  3. If none of the first two options are possible, then make sure you confirm the seller’s return and exchange terms and conditions to be sure that you can return the iPhone in case it’s not brand new.

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