Friday, December 3, 2010

10 things you should NEVER buy USED

If anyone loves a good deal, it's me. I will scoure Craigslist before I even think to buy new. But knowing what's a good deal vs. a not so good deal is an art. Although scoring a great deal on Craigslist and Ebay is satisfying and exciting, many second-hand purchases are actually terrible deals. A lot of the time the financial or safety risk outweighs the savings.

In my companion piece, "10 things you shouldn't buy new," I listed lingerie and make-up as two items for which you'd best pay retail. Below is a list of 10 more items where the cost savings don't justify the risks of buying used:

1) Laptops: You're taking a chance when you buy any used computer, but the math really doesn't work when you're talking about a unit that's as prone to abuse and problems as a laptop. They're more likely to be dropped, banged around and spilled on, simply because they're out in the world while a desktop computer sits (mostly) safe at home. That's why laptops are one of the few products where springing for an extended warranty with free tech support makes sense, in addition to the standard warranty that typically comes when you buy new. Buy used, and you'll have neither option - along with no idea what maltreatment your laptop has suffered or when the hard drive, optical drive or other important parts will die on you.
Exception: You're buying a refurbished unit that comes with a warranty. Mobile technology consultant Catherine Roseberry, who writes a column for, said she's purchased two laptops from companies that refurbished leased corporate computers, and had no problems with either. Both came with 90-day warranties. If you want even more security, buy a laptop that's been refurbished and certified by the manufacturer.

2) Car seats: A car seat that's been in one accident may not protect your child in another. And damaged car seats aren't uncommon; a survey commissioned by Sainsbury's Bank in England discovered one in 10 car seats currently in use in that country had been involved in an accident.
Brand-new car seats can often be purchased for as little as $50, and safety technology tends to improve with each year, said Denise and Alan Fields, parents and authors of "Baby Bargains." That makes getting a new one pretty much a no-brainer.
Exception: You're getting the car seat from a friend or relative whom you'd trust with your child's life, because that's what you're doing. Still, check with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to make sure the model you're getting hasn't been recalled. Regardless of whether you buy new or used, have an expert check your work to make sure the seat is installed correctly.

3) Plasma and high-definition TVs: Here's another of those rare cases where you want not only the warranty that comes with the television, but an extended warranty. You'll want the coverage because if your screen dies, it can cost hundreds or thousands to fix or replace - sometimes almost as much as it would cost to buy a new TV. While defect rates have declined from 7% in digital TV's early years to about 1% with some of the better models, problems with this technology are still common enough - and repairs expensive enough - that an extended warranty makes sense, said Phil Connor of
Exception: If you're getting such a screaming deal that you don't really care if the TV blinks out shortly after you get it home.

4) DVD players: In the previous article, I recommended buying used DVDs, since their quality tends to remain high (unless they have scratches, which are usually pretty easy to spot). The same is not true of DVD players, however. These have lasers that will eventually wear out and cost more to replace than the unit is worth. Whenever repairs cost that much, buying new is often advisable. Add to that the fact that prices are constantly dropping while the technology is constantly improving, and buying new becomes a slam dunk.

5) Vacuum cleaners: Here's another item that is among the heavy-duty household appliances that tend to get a lot of use and abuse. They can also cost more to fix than if you bought them new right from the start. Consumer Reports says a good, basic upright can be purchased new for less than $100, and that the fancy features that push prices higher often aren't worth the extra cost.
Exception: You're handy and don't mind teaching yourself vacuum repair. No thanks.

6) Digital cameras and video cameras: Like laptops, used digital and video cameras are likely to have been dropped and banged around. It may not be obvious, but once the damage kicks in, it’ll be expensive to repair. If you know what to look for in a digital camera, you can get a great new camera without breaking the bank.
Exception: You're buying a refurbished model that comes with a warranty., for example, posts many models that still carry a factory warranty.

7) Shoes: Poor-fitting shoes can cause everything from bunions to back problems, so don't buy footwear that's already been molded by someone else's tootsies. This is particularly important for kids whose feet are still growing. Shop sales, buy last year's models, but don't give in to the temptation to save a buck now that's going to cost you more in pain and hassles later.
Exception: You're buying old cowboy boots for a costume. Or any occasion where you'll only be wearing them one time.

8) Mattresses & Bedding: Think of all the stuff you do on your mattress. Now think of sleeping in someone else's stuff. Ewwwww. Just think: You may be sleeping with other people’s mold, mites, bacteria, and bodily fluids. Besides, even the really good mattresses are only supposed to last eight to 10 years, and it’s hard know for sure how old a used mattress may be.
Exception: When "used" is really almost "un-used," such as a mattress from someone's rarely visited guest room. Still, you'd really have to trust the buyer to know, and disclose, everything that's happened on that bed, which is why you're still probably better off buying new. You shouldn't ever pay the list price, because haggling is expected. Consumer Reports suggests you need to spend about $800 to get a good-quality queen-size mattress and box spring set. That works out to about 25 cents a night - a small price to pay for cleanliness and comfort.

9) Wet suits: These spongy coverings tend to lose their ability to keep you warm over time. If you're a scuba diver, the constant change in water pressure will eventually take its toll. Also, ozone attacks neoprene suits so they become less stretchy and more likely to tear with age."
If diving, snorkeling or other aquatic activities are your passion, a good wet suit will set you back $100 to $400.
Exception: You're surfing, rather than diving, exclusively in warm waters. If you're trying to outfit a growing child and don't want to pop for a new suit, consider renting from a reputable shop that sanitizes the suits between uses.

10) Helmets: Like a car seat, a helmet is meant to protect against one accident and no more. A crash typically crushes the foam inside the helmet casing, according to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, so the damage may not be visible. Since you usually can't tell if a helmet's ticket has already been punched, you're smarter to buy new. Kid's sports and bike helmets retail for about $20; you'll pay $30 to $40 for the adult size. Motorcycle helmets usually start around $100 and climb steeply from there; you can contain the cost by resisting the fancy paint jobs.
Exception: None. Helmets aren't that expensive compared to a funeral or a lifetime as a quadriplegic. Spend the money.

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