What’s not to love about buying second-hand or, better still, helping yourself from someone else’s council clean-up? It saves you money, reduces landfill and sometimes you can score a bargain.
But before you buy (or pick up a roadside freebie), check out this CHOICE list of second-hand items not to buy. Using any of these products without knowing their history or taking proper precautions could lead to serious injury. In many cases the risk is to your child, but some second-hand products pose a risk to adult users too.
What’s more, surveys have shown that recalled products still frequently end up for sale second-hand, so check your find on www.recalls.gov.au before you buy.
Online shopping is routine for most Australians these days, but there are a few things to keep in mind. Check that the product is clearly identified and all the important details are described, delivery options and costs are clear, and that you’re able to easily contact the seller if anything goes wrong. This is particularly important when
buying on auction or second-hand sites such as eBay or Gumtree.
As mentioned below, safety standards apply to many kids’ products sold in Australia. If you buy from an overseas website, there’s a risk that the product won’t meet Australian standards. Look for statements that the item is certified to the relevant Australian standard.
Check our online shopping checklist for more tips, and our guide to online sites for second-hand goods.
Many products for babies and kids such as strollers and prams, cots, portable cots, bike helmets, baby dummies and toys are subject to mandatory standards. In addition, there are voluntary standards available for many of these and other products and these are regularly updated. When buying a second-hand version of any of these items, you’re taking the risk that you’re buying an old model that wasn't subject to standards when it was first sold, or was not made to pass the latest and best version of the relevant standard. Even if the item is in good condition, it may be less safe than a newer model.
A full list of products subject to mandatory standards can be found on the ACCC website. Take care when buying any of these products second-hand. In this article we list the products that you should be particularly careful of when buying second-hand.
Cots and mattresses
It’s accepted that second-hand cots are dangerous because they may not meet the mandatory standard. In Australia, cots have been subject to a mandatory standard since 1998. Even some cots sold since then do not meet the standard, as our tests have found. Cots that don’t meet current standards can have hazards such as having gaps between bars that are too wide and could trap a child’s head or limb. They can pose a strangulation risk, such as through clothing catching on decorative knobs. Some old cots may even be coated in dangerous lead paint.
However, a cot that’s been made for the Australian market, is in good condition, and is only a few years old is likely to be OK.
If you do find a second-hand cot that you are happy is safe, it’s still a good idea to buy a new mattress for it. Second-hand mattresses can be full of dust mites. Dust mite droppings contain allergens that can set off asthma, eczema and allergic rhinitis attacks and they could trigger an allergic reaction. Old mattresses are often also comparatively soft and saggy, which can mean they pose an increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), due to the increased chance of a child’s face being covered if they roll face first onto the mattress.
See our latest cot review for recommended models and what to look for.
Child car restraints
There’s little to recommend buying a baby seat second-hand. No baby seat should ever be re-used if it’s been in a car crash; car seat design improves over the years so older models may not comply with current standards; and manufacturers generally advise against using a seat that’s more than 6-10 years old.
So unless you know its complete history and there isn't any wear, fraying or cracking, give any second-hand baby seat a miss.
See our child car restraint reviews for recommended models and features to look for.
If you or your kids ride a bike, you need a bike helmet that fits properly. Bike helmets can slide off if they aren't properly fitted. Also, bike helmets are made to withstand only one big crash and you often can’t tell by looking if a helmet’s already been in an accident.
As bike helmets should be replaced every five years anyway, a second-hand helmet is a poor deal all round. It’s better to buy a new helmet from a bike shop and they'll make sure it fits.
Pre-loved toys have often seen a lot of action in the hands of their young owners. Wear and tear can lead to breaks and small loose parts, which in turn may present choking hazards to babies and toddlers.
Check that toys are in good condition and suitable for your child; for kids under the age of three, it’s particularly important that there are no loose or accessible small parts. The toys should have no sharp edges or points, and no accessible batteries or strong magnets.
For a full checklist, see our toy safety review.
Criss-cross accordion baby gates
Baby gates and barriers are meant to stop toddlers falling down stairs but unfortunately this older-type gate, which opens criss-cross like an accordion, can trap a child’s head or clothes and is too easy to climb. Overseas they've caused major injuries and deaths.
Instead choose a gate or barrier style with a straight top edge and openings too small for a child’s head or limb to fit through. Safety gates should have no climbing footholds; that means vertical bars with no horizontal bars or projections. The gate latch should be easy for you - but not your child - to operate (ideally the gate should also be self-closing), and the gate must secure firmly to the walls by pressure or permanent mounts.
Our tests of safety gates and barriers have found several models to recommend.
Swimming pools and fences
Pools are expensive to put in, but buying second-hand isn't always the bargain it seems. Not only can second-hand pools come with cracks and other defects in their shells, they may also be supplied with old and dangerous skimmer boxes (part of the filtration system) which have been responsible for serious injuries.
If the skimmer box can be sat in, or if there is damage to it, you have to replace it before your pool can be used. And if you buy a house with an existing pool, make sure you check the skimmer box and the pool fence (see below) before you take the plunge.
CHOICE tests have shown that even many new pool fences were poorly constructed and failed the safety standard so if you’re buying a second-hand pool fence you’re taking some real risks.
But if you’re still keen, make sure you check:
- Is the fence robust and unable to be pushed apart using moderate force with your hands?
- Is it free of footholds or handholds?
- Does the gate still close properly?
- Has the fence ever been recalled?
Exercise bikes and treadmills
Who gets injured by a stationary exercise bike or a treadmill? Unfortunately, the answer here is young children. They can put their fingers into a bike’s wheel spokes or chain while another person rides it. With treadmills, babies and toddlers may touch the belt while it’s moving and get a friction burn or trapped fingers. More than 100 Australian children have been seriously injured by treadmills at home.
The current mandatory safety standard for exercise bikes requires securely fastened frames around all moving parts, but older-style exercise bikes don’t always adequately cover the moving parts. There are labelling requirements for treadmills too, warning against allowing children nearby when the treadmill is in use.
Life jackets (more formally known as Personal Flotation Devices or PFDs) do save lives, no question. But in the past they were often so uncomfortable people didn't actually put them on. What’s more, the most comfy designs were the ones that didn't keep your head above water, which is a big problem if you’re knocked unconscious in a boating accident. If you buy second-hand, you could be buying these problems.
So particularly when it comes to your kids, it’s worth spending the money on modern jackets which are safer and more comfortable to wear. But whether you’re buying a new one or second-hand be sure to get the jacket fitted properly.
A mistake here can be deadly. In 2001 a man was electrocuted while adapting a soldering iron he’d bought in a garage sale for 50 cents. It’s because of this kind of safety risk few second-hand or op shops now offer second-hand electrical tools for sale.
If you do acquire a used tool or other electrical appliance, check that it has a valid tag or have it checked out by a registered electrical contractor or licensed electrician before you plug it in.
Car jacks already cause serious crush injuries and deaths every year, mostly from people using them at home to raise their vehicles for under-car maintenance (a big no-no) instead of using a trolley jack and safety stands.
But many second-hand jacks are also dangerous because they don’t meet more recent safety standards. Some older jacks didn't even pass the previous standard, so don’t take the chance with them.
Dispose of goods thoughtfully
As well as taking care when buying second-hand goods, you can also take steps to make sure your old things don’t pose a danger to someone else.
We suggest you decommission all devices that shouldn't be re-used. For example, cut off the electrical cord on appliances and take the doors off fridges before putting them on the rubbish pile or on the roadside for council collection.