Skip the ThriftLast month we looked at some of the products you should always buy used – items like books, plates and video games, all of which cost a lot less on the secondhand market without any significant reduction in quality. But not every product is a good deal when purchased used. Some secondhand goods carry significant safety hazards, some wear down in quality after repeated use, and some are just plain gross. Here are a few to avoid.
Photo Credit: Daniel Oines
MattressesIn New York City, a used mattress might as well be a smallpox blanket. Fear of bedbugs means that there’s virtually no secondhand mattress market to speak of, and you’re a lot more likely to see an old mattress in the back of a garbage truck than on Craigslist. While that means you can get one for super cheap, we still say it’s not worth the risk in urban areas where bedbugs are a concern.
But even in the absence of the little critters, buying a used mattress is still a bad proposition.
“You spend half your life in your bed, so this is one of those purchases that are worth splurging on, at least buying new,” says Andrea Woroch, consumers savings expert at Kinoli, a network of personal finance websites. “Not only do you want a mattress that provides support and doesn't have worn-out coils and poor back support, but you have no idea what's been going on in that bed before you bought it.”
Photo Credit: oh_colleen
Couches and Upholstered FurnitureOf course, bedbugs can be found in all sorts of upholstered furniture, not just beds. (They’d change the name, but “upholstered furniture bugs” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.) That’s why we previously recommended buying only non-upholstered furniture – while you can wipe down a bookshelf or coffee table, cleaning an upholstered couch is a lot trickier. If there are bedbugs, dust or pet smells lurking within, you’re going to have a tough time removing them through conventional methods.
Indeed, when we posed this question on our Facebook page, reader Kristine Webster recommended against buying used “any home furnishings that are ‘soft’ or could be harboring something undesirable.”
Photo Credit: Jeremy Vandel
Drop-Side CribsWe previously recommended getting cribs and other baby furniture used for the simple reason that people will use it for just a couple of years before putting it in their attic to gather dust. That abundance of supply means that there are a lot of people looking to sell old furniture on the cheap.
But there’s one very big exception to this rule: drop-side cribs, a special kind of crib that allows you to lower the side for easy access to your child. The cribs were linked to a number of infant deaths after babies became caught between the mattress and side, and in 2010 the government formally banned their manufacture and sale in the U.S.
That means you won’t find them in stores, but there’s always a chance that someone will try to sell you one of the cribs without realizing they’ve been banned. Before you buy any used items, inspect them thoroughly and confirm that they’re not a model that has been recalled.
Photo Credit: CPSC.gov
Bike HelmetsBicycle helmets are, in some sense, designed to break: They absorb the impact of a hard blow to the head, and in the process they’ll usually crack but leave the cranium intact. That’s why experts say you should always throw out your bike helmet after a crash.
“If you're in a biking accident, throw out the bicycle helmet and replace it with a new one,” says the Mayo Clinic website. “Even if the helmet looks undamaged, it may not be able to withstand the force of another blow.”
As such, you should play it safe by never buying a used bike helmet, because even if you don’t see any cracks, there could be unseen damage from an accident you don’t know about. The good news is that they’re cheap to buy new: You’ll be able to find one for less than $20, which is a small price to pay for keeping your brain intact.
Photo Credit: Daniel Burton
Bathing SuitsThe fact that bathing suits are worn without underwear should be enough to dissuade you from buying a used one. Even if you run it through the washing machine with hot water and germicidal detergent, there’s no washing away that “ick” factor.
But bathing suits are also among that class of clothing that tends to sustain a lot more wear and tear from multiple uses.
“Bathing suits… are best bought new because they lose their shape and elasticity after time and multiple wears,” Woroch says. “What's more, bathing suits that promote UV ray-resistant material are likely to diminish protection after wear and washes.”
Photo Credit: Emily Schreck
We previously recommended buying a used car, but tires are another matter. Consumer Reports notes that worn-down tires are a lot less safe in wet conditions, and unless you have enough car expertise to assess the wear and tear on a set of tires, it’s best to just buy them new. And if you’re buying a used car, make sure that the mechanic you bring in to inspect it also takes a hard look at the condition of the tires.
Photo Credit: Gene Selkov
ShoesMuch like bathing suits, shoes fall into both the “wear and tear” and “gross” categories. Indeed, multiple MainStreet readers identified shoes as one of the things they would never buy used.
Even if they don’t stink, you also have to deal with the fact that the soles are likely worn, they may be coming apart at the seams in ways you can’t see and they have been “broken in” to adapt to someone else’s unique foot shape. Shoes aren’t cheap, but there’s no sense in paying for a pair of stinky shoes that are going to need to be repaired soon anyway. Unless you find someone selling a like-new pair, pass on used shoes.
Photo Credit: rxb
LaptopsMainStreet reader Judy Heap noted on our Facebook page that she wouldn’t buy a used laptop, and we’re inclined to agree. As we see it, there are a few reasons to be suspicious of laptops.
First of all, they have moving parts: Laptops are opened and closed hundreds of times, and that constant use means a lot of unseen wear and tear over the years. My college laptop sustained a broken hinge after about five years of use, and I never had any advance warning that it was wearing down.
Secondly, there’s a lot going on inside that can go wrong. And we’re not talking about viruses, which won’t be a concern after you wipe the hard drive and start fresh. Rather, we’re referring to the various electronic components that may be on the verge of failure – my own laptop, for instance, got a fried motherboard a few years in. While you can open the hood to inspect a used car’s engine, it’s generally not advisable to open up a laptop (and you probably won’t know what you’re looking for anyway).
Finally, consider the fact that people tend to tote their laptops everywhere they go, and that means they get jostled, bumped, spilled on and dropped. Even if the laptop boots up when you test it out, it’s difficult to gauge what sort of abuse a computer has sustained in its travels.
Photo Credit: Craig Dugas
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