Tips on buying secondhand stuff

August 7, 2019

Getty Images/iStockphoto/ArminStautBerlin

Saving money and the environment are good reasons to buy used things, but there are some items you should avoid.

A locally-based consumers’ group said buying secondhand stuff can help the environment in a number of ways.

Items bought used don’t end up in landfills. They don’t have to be shipped to places with secondhand markets. Lastly, energy doesn’t have to be expended to manufacture something new.

Buying things used does not use up a lot of energy and resources, unlike making new appliances, a new garment or a new bike, for example, said Kevin Brasler, executive editor at

But there are some items Checkbook said you should not buy used, such as child car seats.

“Used car seats are no good, especially if they’ve been in an accident. They’ve totally been compromised,” Brasler said.

Other used items to avoid:

  • Old bike helmets can be less effective, especially if they have sustained impact from accidents.
  • Be cautious buying tires, rain boots and items with watertight seals made from rubber that does not always age well.
  • Upholstered furniture is not always a bargain if you need to get new covers; and consider isolating upholstered furniture until it can be thoroughly inspected for bedbugs.
  • Old lamps can be fire hazards, unless you’re willing to test all their wiring and rewire them if needed.
  • Checkbook believes the yuck factor voids the potential savings of buying used mattresses, vacuum cleaners, rugs, makeup, hats, bathing suits and well-worn shoes.

Be wary of used electronics

“I think it’s OK to buy something that’s been refurbished by a major manufacturer like Apple or Dell. But, I’d avoid things that are just being sold as used, even by major retailers, because a lot of those electronics — there’s something wrong with them and they were just dumped on the secondhand market,” Brasler warned.

Be careful how you pay

There’s no recourse or dispute resolution if you pay for a used item with cash, Venmo or PayPal as if you’re giving a gift to a family member or friend.

“If you use something like Venmo or if you use Payal as if you’re paying a friend or a family member, you don’t get any dispute resolution if things go wrong. You’re just out that money,” Brassler explained.

PayPal’s dispute resolution function only applies to products and services.

“If at all possible, use a credit card to pay for things. You get a lot of protections when you do that from the credit card companies and from federal law that protects you from defective merchandise,” Brasler said.

Do your homework

Consult the Consumer Product Safety Commission to make sure an item is not the subject of a recall.

“For each type of item, it does make sense to do your research so you can inspect it, you know what you’re looking for, you know how to spot gross flaws and defects,” Brasler advised.

Trust your instinct

“If an offer seems way too good to be true, then it probably is,” Brasler said. “If while you’re communicating with the person who’s trying to sell you something, (and) they seem sketchy or something seems off, or you just get a bad vibe, trust your instincts and just back out of the deal.”

Also, if you’re buying something you learned about online and meeting with a private seller — take someone with you and make the purchase in a safe, public or specially designated “Exchange Zone.”

Like WTOP on Facebook and follow @WTOP on Twitter to engage in conversation about this article and others.

© 2019 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

Federal News Network Logo

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up