It’s Yard Sale Season! 5 Rules for Smart Shopping

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There’s a good argument to be made that many, if not most, things can and should be purchased used. In the interests of minimizing environmental impact and/or just saving a few bucks, all sorts of consumers swear by the wisdom of buying “previously loved” books, DVDs, hand tools, cars, clothes, pots and pans, professionally refurbished computers and other electronics, and many, many other items. But before going hog-wild on every category of secondhand merchandise during this season’s garage sales, take careful note of what shouldn’t be purchased used.

While yard sales—or tag sales, garage sales, whatever you want to call them—are often loaded with treasures, there are plenty of items it’s wise to stay away from. The editors at Reader’s Digest offer one such list of “10 things you should never buy at garage sales.” It’s a list that includes items such as car tires, mattresses, and shoes, and it’s a list very similar to lists you’ve probably already seen circulating around the Web.

MainStreet, Yahoo!, BusinessInsider, and many others have posted stories named something along the lines of “things you should never buy used,” which is basically the same concept. In all cases, there are some legitimate concerns about purchasing certain items if they aren’t new, their functionality and safety can’t be verified, and their warranties are nonexistent.

(MORE: The Best (and Worst) Things to Buy at Dollar Stores)

Instead of making yet another list of specific items not to buy secondhand, here are five rules to keep in mind when figuring out whether or not to take a chance on something used.

Don’t Buy:

Things That Could Wind Up Hurting Your Kid
Cribs, car seats, and bicycle helmets make regular appearances on “what not to buy used” lists, and for good reason: It’s not worth risking your child’s safety to save a few bucks. If the item has the potential of hurting or not adequately protecting your kid, just pony up the money and buy it new. For that matter, don’t buy items used if their purpose is to keep you safe either. Bike and motorcycle helmets are compromised and shouldn’t be used again if they’ve been involved in an accident—and it’s often difficult to tell if they’ve been damaged.

Things That Could Give You Bed Bugs
Stay away from mattresses and upholstered furniture, which come with the possibility of bed bugs, as well as mold, bacteria, dust mites, and assorted bodily fluids. Beds and couches can’t simply be wiped down and disinfected like a wooden coffee table or vinyl porch furniture can. For these reasons, it’s often also advised not to buy hats at yard sales. According to the CDC, it’s very unlikely to get lice from a secondhand hat, but hats may be infested with hair products and sweat. If it’s a hat you can throw into the laundry, though, you should be fine. You could also have the hat professionally cleaned, but factoring in that added expense might not make it much of a bargain.

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Things That Are Unlikely to Work Right
Unless you’re a mechanic, you’re probably not in a position to judge whether used car tires are worn to the point that they’re dangerous. It’s much safer to buy tires new. Most lists advise against buying pricey electronics at garage sales too. They may not be dangerous, but it’s difficult, if not impossible, for the layman to tell on the spot if they’ve been dropped into a pool recently or don’t work properly for one reason or another. For a couple of bucks, you might be tempted to buy cheaper electronics used—toasters, coffee makers, blenders—but don’t be surprised if your kitchen is filled with smoke a week after you bring them home.

Things That Are Likely to Have Really Been Used
See: mattresses. Even if they’re not filled with bed bugs and funky “substances,” the coils are likely to be shot, and your back and joints may ache as a result. Vacuum cleaners also tend to get a lot of use in the house, so a used one may be on its last legs. Even if shoes, boots, or sandals look barely used, they may be subtly molded to the size and shape of the owner’s feet—and therefore, not a good fit for you.

(MORE: Top Tips for Hosting a Profitable Yard Sale)

Things That Are Gross Because They’re Used
See: mattresses and shoes. Also, anything that comes into especially close contact with intimate parts of the body. So, no bathing suits and wetsuits, and—it should go without saying—underwear.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

1 comments
RyanBertalotto
RyanBertalotto

Is there a chance that I can get a link added to your website. My name is Ryan Bertalotto and I built www.Yarddz.com cause it was impossible to use craigslist. Please and Thank You...... I Do Appreciate the help...... remember " It Takes a Village"