What Not to Buy at Garage Sales

Garage SaleSome people swear by garage and yard sales. They can certainly help stretch tight family budgets by being a great source for gently used baby and toddler items. But, there are important things to keep in mind when you’re considering that “good deal.”

One of the challenges, whether you are a buyer or a seller at a garage sale, is knowing the recall history of items. Unless you make a point of checking the Consumer Product Safety Commissions website (cpsc.gov), you may not be aware an item has been recalled. These items pose a life-threatening danger to infants and children so it is important not to take any chances.

Types of items that have experienced recalls in the past five years include:

  • Infant/todder play yards
  • Cribs
  • Bassinets
  • Infant swings
  • Bed rails
  • Toys (including items like high-powered magnets)
  • Drawstring clothing
  • Toy jewelry

While there is no end to what you might find at a garage sale, it is important to be aware of some common issues that can affect the safety of the items.

Car Seats

Never buy a used car seat at a garage or yard sale. You don’t know whether it’s been involved in a car crash and while it may look fine, unseen damage can affect the seat’s functioning during an impact. The plastic of the seats may become brittle with age, and older-models may not meet current safety standards or have been recalled due to faulty design.

Bike Helmets

The same principle applies – you don’t know whether the helmet has been in a crash and the damage might not be evident.


Cribs can be expensive, so it can be tempting to consider a garage sale find.  But in June 2011, new regulations were put in place for how cribs should be manufactured. Those rules essentially make cribs built prior to 2011 obsolete. Drop-side cribs, which had been the most common type, were determined to be particularly dangerous. The spacing of the slats may also be wider than regulation allows. In addition, you don’t know whether there are any issues with the hardware or how the crib was put together. Cribs with missing or damaged pieces may cause the crib to collapse.


Toys are a common find at garage and yard sales. The problem is that most individuals aren’t aware of the history of the toy. Unless the seller (or you) checked the safety commission’s website, they may not even realize an item has been recalled. Toys can be recalled for a number of reasons, including lead paint, breakable parts, choking hazards and more. When in doubt, avoid it. If you do decide to purchase a toy however, remember the toilet paper tube rule – if a toy can fit through the tube, it is small enough to choke a child.


While most children’s clothing is likely fine, though you should check that all buttons, zippers and clasps are secure. Avoid jackets and sweaters with drawstrings around the hoods. These drawstrings pose a choking hazard for children.


Gently used strollers made after 2007 are generally safe as well. Carefully inspect the stroller to ensure there are no broken, loose or missing parts. Also, take a trial run to ensure it has a smooth ride and is sturdy.

High Chairs

Voluntary safety standards require a high chair to have a five-point harness to prevent a child from climbing out. You should also make sure the chair does not have arms that lift the tray over the baby’s head and the chair itself is stable and cannot be rocked.

When shopping for items, using common sense is one of the best ways to keep your child safe. If it does not look safe, it is not worth the bargain. Do your homework. The Kohl’s Safety Center at American Family Children’s Hospital is a great resource for families with professional safety staff on hand to answer questions you might have. They also have a wide array of safety equipment, including car and booster seats at cost. Visit uwhealthkids.org/safetycenter to learn more.