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Not Worth the Bargain: Things You Should Never Buy Secondhand



Buying used typically seems like a great way to get a great item at a great price. Sometimes, it absolutely can be a great move, but other times it will just wind up being more trouble than it’s worth.

If you’re lucky, a bad purchase will be a useless waste of money and nothing more. If you’re not so lucky, it may wind up causing a problem that genuinely ruins your life.

No matter how much research you do and no matter how shrewd of a buyer you might be, there are certain things you shouldn’t buy secondhand.

For Safety’s Sake

It’s not that things that are meant to protect you are bad at their job, it’s that they’re only meant to protect you once.

For that reason, things like bicycle helmets and work hardhats ought not to be bought if you don’t know their entire intricate history (and why would you?). If they’ve ever needed to fulfill their duty, they would’ve probably sustained damage that should’ve taken them out of the line of duty.

Similarly, tires of cars that may have been in accidents may be hazardously unwell if they must skid to a stop.

It’s one thing to gamble on your own safety, but most would agree you shouldn’t gamble on your children’s.

Old car seats, baby carriers and strollers can cause injury if they come apart during use. For car seats specifically, not only should the seat have been disposed of if the car was in an accident, some car seats actually have expiration dates on them.

While all old items have a risk of failing, that’s going to be an even bigger problem if the item is meant to keep people safe.

Things of a Certain Age

Of course, while older things do deteriorate, not everything is equal, and something older may be more resilient than something newer. That said, some things may hold up a bit too well for their age.

For a very long time, lead paint was the standard. It was even preferred specifically because its leaden quality helped reinforce whatever it coated. Then we found out lead is bad for us and now it’s illegal. But that doesn’t mean all the lead paint just disappeared.

Jewelry and children’s toys from before the 1980s very well may contain lead paint. It’s not good to breathe in or make repeated contact with lead paint, but the worst thing you can do is ingest it.

While you might not be swallowing a necklace or chewing on a toy soldier, your children might, and children are the most susceptible to the mental and physical developmental disorders that come with lead poisoning.

While we’re at it, don’t buy a home built before 1978 if you can’t afford to get it professionally checked for lead paint (home kits exist, but are known to be unreliable) and then afford to remedy it if the results come up positive. Such remedies could range from having to drywall over the current walls to painstakingly removing the old paint and repainting it.

Lead paint is still a persistent hazard, however, especially in cheaply-made foreign products, such as some products made in China. This includes disposable jewelry, like the kind children have, and generic children’s toys.

We don’t mean to scare you into thinking everything in the world is out to harm your child, and we ask you to remember that as you go into this next section.



A Distressing Number of Children’s Items Shouldn’t Be Resold

Lead paint isn’t the only contaminant to worry about in old products. Many baby bottles manufactured before 2012 may contain BPA, a chemical that has since been banned for its adverse health effects.

Baby cribs are a whole mess of potential hazards. “Drop-side” cribs were banned in the US in 2011 because their inherent design flaw saw a distressing number of fatal injuries.

Even if you get one that isn’t of that design, most cribs are assembled by the customer, so there’s no saying that the previous owner put it together correctly. Not to mention, a particularly old crib may be painted with – you guessed it – lead paint.

Did you have a toybox as a kid? You may have gotten lucky that it didn’t bite you. Many toyboxes have lids that are far too top-heavy and can slam shut while a child is digging through it.

If you’re buying a used toybox for your child, or even a new one, either add a spring or a safety latch to the lid’s hinges or take the lid off altogether.

When buying used toys to go in the toybox, make sure you’re familiar with the product, as it may have been subject to a recall the previous owner may have simply ignored.

The majority of toy recalls are either for a choking hazard, small parts that can be swallowed (especially magnets), or lead paint. (By the way, stay tuned for our upcoming article about exactly how much you should worry about lead paint hazards in This Current Year.)

One potentially hazardous type of toy may not contain any paint, but may pose a different kind of health hazard: stuffed animals.

You simply don’t know where they’ve been or, more to-the-point, what germs they harbor. If that teddy bear is really so warm and cuddly, then with just a little bit of moisture, it can host plenty of nasty guests, and the same thing goes for pet toys.

Actually, it turns out old germs lurk in many, many places…

Biological Playgrounds

Makeup is expensive, so when people don’t finish all they bought, they may try to sell the remainder to recoup their losses, and people will buy it.

Don’t be one of those people. If it’s manufacturer-sealed, then it’s fine, but if it’s been opened, it can be chock full of facial bacteria. (And while we’re talking about beauty supplies, did you know that perfume and lotion often have expiration dates?)

Used clothes are best to be avoided if you can since they may be holding onto old bacteria and other germs. It’s especially advised to avoid buying used clothes that would make contact with the skin, such as shirts, socks, and especially underwear and swimwear.

Things that deal with your scalp like hats, wigs, and hairbrushes may also have head lice hanging around. Come to think of it, you can add this to the list of reasons not to buy a used bike helmet, which we mentioned earlier.

Also, if anybody out there is still using old reusable cloth diapers as a cost-cutting technique, then it might be best to bite the bullet and start buying disposables.

One last clothes item to avoid buying secondhand would be shoes, both because they can communicate foot fungus and because they can be so grooved to the last owner’s feet that they may do legitimate damage to your own.

It also wouldn’t be comfortable to sleep on a used mattress that’s permanently contoured to another person’s form, but that would be the least of your worries if it has bedbugs.

Bedbugs are not things you want in your house if you don’t want to be forced to literally set all your stuff on fire later. This is why mattresses and bedding are usually high on people’s “do not buy used” lists.

As it turns out, there are quite a few large household items that can pose hidden dangers.

Little Things Come in Big Packages

Unfortunately, as expensive as furniture is, it’s best to buy certain things new when you can. Bedbugs, other mites, and germs can also fester in upholstered furniture or rugs.

Plus, if you’ve ever wanted to own your own hot tub and see a cheap one on the used market, resist the urge. Nobody seems to know how to properly clean those things, so they don’t.

In the kitchen, knives can be riskier than usual when they’re pre-owned and could be past the point of sharpening them anymore. This is especially a problem when you remember dull knives cause more injuries than sharp ones (because more force is needed to cut with them).

The blades in blenders may also be beyond repair and an injury risk if you were to try sharpening them anyway.

Cookware with nonstick surfaces will eventually start to deteriorate. The nonstick layer may start to peel off and wind up in your food. Teflon isn’t as toxic as it used to be, but it’s still best to not ingest it.

There are plenty of large appliances and electronics for which people say, “Don’t buy them used, because when they’re old, they can quit working at any time.”

That’s not untrue! For example, DVD players are notorious for their lasers ceasing to function at the drop of a hat and plasma TVs may have images burned into their screens. But those are the risks you take with any old thing.

There are, however, two appliances that pose extra risks: vacuum cleaners and table lamps.

Vacuum cleaners are not only especially susceptible to conking out prematurely because few people clean them out properly, but the dirt they retain can introduce new germs to your home.

As for table lamps, it’s not germs you have to worry about (although there’s always an outside chance), but rather the lamp itself. It turns out many older lamps are poorly wired, posing a fire risk if things really go bad.

One last thing of note is preowned software and computer games may be useless to you if they needed a one-time access code to be originally activated. In this event, they’ll only ever work on the owner’s original computer and will not function on yours.

Buying used is naturally risky, but in the real world, sometimes it’s necessary. That said, there are still right and wrong ways of going about it. With this information under your belt, you can feel safe knowing you made the best decisions you could.

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