If in doubt, go without – a guide to buying the best products at car boot sales

Winter is finally over (allegedly) and even the sun is threatening to make an appearance. This must mean only one thing – car boot sale season is about to start!

So get an early night, set your alarm clock and enjoy the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents’ (RoSPA) guide to making safe purchases of second-hand goods.

Do you know how to spot the safest items?

Many people pick up household tools and equipment cheaply at car boot sales, from hammers and drills through to ladders and lawnmowers. Whilst there are some real bargains to be had, the important thing to remember is that a private sale may mean less protection in terms of the safety of products.

Tools and other equipment are typically sold either when they cease to work or have been replaced. As there is often no way of trying out electrical equipment at a car boot sale, you should be wary that electrical appliances may not work at all, or are unsafe.

Things to look out for are frayed cords, missing plugs and noticeable damage to the product. In every case, if in doubt go without.

Non-electrical goods can also be dangerous, as consistent use over the years can make them weakened and no longer safe. Step ladders are a good example and in every case it is a good idea to see if the instructions for use and warnings are available for the product from the seller. They probably won’t be, but these days you can always whip out your smartphone and see if they are downloadable from the internet.


You may be reading this and thinking “why would you need warnings for a step ladder?” but weight ratings are very important and exceeding safe weights on ladders and step ladders leads to hundreds of accidents each year.

Of course, it is not just tools that can be picked up cheaply, other household products such as irons, hair straighteners and kettles can all be bought for next to nothing.  Again, look for evidence of frayed cords, make sure the plugs are attached and as far as possible look for signs of visible damage.

Remember, whilst you may be buying the product for 30 per cent of its retail price you will be entitled to a 0 per cent refund if it is faulty and you have purchased it from a private individual.


Always check for a CE mark on second-hand toys

We at RoSPA know that any savings you do make will be instantly swallowed up by your children that you take with you to the sale – from hot dogs to bouncy castles to ice creams they will no doubt have the most fun while you are there!

They will also no doubt return home with carrier bags full of cheap toys, which they have masterfully persuaded you that they need.

When buying second-hand toys always look out for the CE mark and don’t buy any toy that hasn’t got this.

Check out the structural integrity of the toy. Some are broken inside but many are okay because the child has simply grown out of them and the parent wants more space.

Remember to wash cuddly toys in hot water before letting your children play with them though as this should kill the inevitable germs that build up on them.


RoSPA’s product safety adviser, Phil Le Shirley.

Finally, new parents often rely on car boot sales to kit out their nurseries, and why not? Babies grow out of cots, clothes and toys very quickly and there are bargains to be had. Just be aware that child car seats are one of the few products (alongside protective helmets) that RoSPA advises against buying second-hand, whether from a car boot sale, charity shop or internet auction site, because it is usually impossible to tell if it has been in a crash  – and if it has it should never be used again. 

I hope that this helps to inform your choices at car boot sales and there is more detailed information at RoSPA’s guide to buying second-hand goods.

They are brilliant fun with loads of bargains to be had. Please enjoy them, stay safe, and I will see you there!

Phil Le Shirley, RoSPA product safety adviser

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