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20 Things You Should Never Buy at Yard Sale

July 15th, 2013

yard-saleFor those who enjoy browsing through the bargains at a good yard sale, I imagine there could possibly be some hidden gems to be found. Or so it seems to me, when I see such “bargains” turn out to be valuable when appraised on the PBS Antiques Roadshow program! But the warning “Buyer Beware” is never more true than at yard sales, and there are a number of items you should NEVER buy there.

In the essence, yard sales are a way for people to make a little extra money by cleaning out all their unwanted and long-forgotten stuff from the attic and garage. If you do a bit of research and shop carefully, you’ll be able to make an informed decision about what you can buy. The following list are 20 items we think you should avoid:

  1. Child car seats – These are at the top of our safety issue list, because they are only designed to protect your child in a single accident, and you have no way of knowing if a used one has ever been in an accident or not. In addition, the technology improves with every new model, so this is an item you never want to buy used.
  2. Helmets – These are also designed to protect once, so they’re no longer safe or offer full protection if they’ve ever been in an accident, even if there’s no visible damage.
  3. Cribs – Due to recalls and improved safety standards, older used cribs are a very bad idea. Although it’s now illegal to sell recalled items, some can still turn up in these kinds of sales.
  4. Stuffed animals – Unless they are new, these can be unsanitary, harboring all sorts of disgusting things that even washing in hot water can’t remove.
  5. Baby bottles and water bottles for children – These bottles may have cracks or contain BPA, and newer models are far superior. In June of 2012 the FDA ruled that the older bottles are unsafe and this year retailer H&M had to recall some children’s water bottles they had sold.
  6. Baby clothes – Consider buying them only if they are brand new. Quite often children outgrow the many clothing gifts they get at birth without ever wearing them. But anything baby-related should be bought with extreme caution.
  7. Tires – Used tires can be unstable or unreliable if they have been in an accident or recalled. We recently had a flat tire due to partial tread separation on a Goodyear Wrangler tire, and learned afterward that there was a recall a year ago. The company issued a voluntary recall for the popular tire based on elevated levels of warranty returns, but we never knew it.
  8. Wet suits and swimsuits – Aside from being unsanitary, these items can wear out faster and tear more easily than other clothing from exposure to salt water and chlorine and extreme changes in water pressure. Buy only the ones that are new with tags.
  9. Running shoes – In most cases, the cushion is worn out, and they would offer no protection. If they’re very worn they’ve also molded to the shape of the first owner’s feet and will fit poorly. Buy them only if they look new.
  10. Mattresses and bed linens – The biggest risk these days are bedbugs; you cannot easily sanitize them and you could bring an infestation to your home.
  11. Upholstered furniture – These offer a high risk of bedbugs, fleas, spiders, mold and mildew, and unpleasant odors and stains that you can’t ever get rid of. Possibly OK if you plan to reupholster, but I personally would think twice. Recently a Rooms To Go customer discovered a large beetle inside a wooden table the store imported from China.
  12. Old pots and pans – Older cookware can have rust or flaky non-stick coating that would allow harmful chemicals to leach out into your food.
  13. DVDs, CDs, VHS tapes – Disks could be scratched or tapes disintegrated with age. Often the cases contain the wrong item, or are even empty.
  14. Laptops and other portable electronics – These may have been dropped, resulting in hidden damage. If you can’t determine if it works properly, don’t buy it. You can find newer models for less money than the cost of repairing an old one.
  15. TVs and DVD players – You have no idea when these will fail and there is absolutely no warranty. You will be better off buying a manufacturer’s refurbished model.
  16. Software and video games – Make sure you get a license or code that can be transferred to you, or you won’t be able to use them.
  17. Hats – Unless the hats are new with tags, they could have residual hair oils or sweat and be a source of skin infection.
  18. Cosmetics or fragrances – The quality of these products lessens over time, even for new unopened products. You definitely don’t want them if they have been used, they can be a source of infection and cannot be sanitized.
  19. Battery-operated items – Open the battery compartment to make sure there aren’t some old batteries inside that are corroded. Even if the battery compartment is clean and empty, there’s still a chance the item doesn’t work. Bring a few batteries with you to test the items.
  20. Boxed toy sets – Avoid toys with choke-hazard small pieces; if they are not sealed, they could also have pieces missing and small nails or unrelated objects thrown in.

A final word

If you still like to shop yard sales and you’re creative, look at items for their potential repurposing. You can probably make some interesting planters from items like worn leather boots or old toy dump trucks. There may even be some value in 1930’s art deco pieces, 1950-1960 housewares, tin toys, or any old paintings. Just remember that you won’t find antiques in a neighborhood with swing sets in every yard, and you won’t find suitable baby items in a retirement community. Be informed by searching this link for recall information, and use Yard Sale Search to find yard sales in your local area.

Entry Filed under: Shopping

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