Two big differences separate used big appliances (which Green Dad examined last week) from used small appliances. First, an old refrigerator or dishwasher takes a lot more finesse to get into your home, because you'll have less flexibility with size than when you order a new item.
And second: In this disposable society, it's very tempting to throw out a counter-top gadget when it goes on the fritz — which means it's that much more likely you could score a gem of a used deal.
"Small appliances are so easy and inexpensive to replace that most people don't fix them," says Chris Hall, president and co-founder of RepairClinic. "The exception might be a machine in which you have a bit of an investment, like a $300 KitchenAid mixer."
The thought of all those small appliances clogging up trash cans and landfills saddens me, especially when I consider how easy it is to keep some of them running smoothly, or give them a second life in another home. So this week, Green Dad turns to the little guys — the small appliances — and shares eight tips for making sure you land the best deal that used has to offer.
1) Start by Investigating the Model on Consumer Reports
Sound familiar? This was my first tip last week, and the same sage advice that Hall gave us for big appliances applies to the small, too. Again, back issues are your best bet to see how the appliance was first rated. Then, see how Consumer Reports rates a brand for overall reliability.
2) Know Where The Parts Are
Like we said last week, a used appliance is only a worthwhile purchase if replacement parts are still available. Hall's RepairClinic is a go-to site for millions of parts that fit countless kitchen doodads, but there's another site he recommends that's geared toward counter-top contraptions: SmallAppliance.com.
Not only does it stock lots of replacement parts, but it also has a repair service that makes it easy to get that food processor or pressure cooker serviced. I've used this site to get replacement parts for my Krups Il Primo espresso machine, with great results. Another option is The Gourmet Depot.
3) Check Prices With Your Smartphone
You can snag great deals on small appliances at garage sales and thrift shops, but there's a challenge: How do you know you're paying the right price? If the product's in the box with a UPC code, you're in luck, as RedLaser app will allow you to scan it and check the retail price. (Check out the RedLaser App for iPhone or Android, both free.)
No UPC code? You can always do a quick online search to see what it sells for new and refurbished. And if you come up empty, chances are the product has been discontinued, which could give you bargaining leverage. (Always cite the potential that spare parts will be harder to find.)
4) Big Things Come In (Nice) Small Appliance Packages
I just bought a Brother label writer for $10 at one of Chicago's best thrift shops, The Brown Elephant. Here's how I know I got a honey of a deal: The labeler came with all of its original packaging in pristine condition, including the warranty card and instruction guides in English and Spanish. So while it's possible the labeler was used a few times, the unsullied packaging told me that this baby was in great condition — which it is. I can't wait to use it to label all of my other … small appliances?
5) Rugged is Always Better
Because small appliances are small, the chances of teeny-weeny handles and parts breaking increase exponentially — especially with used items. So repeat after me: Never confuse cheap with cheapo. Check the buttons, knobs, and handles to make sure they feel secure enough to support constant use. Heavier is almost always better, and metal gearing for mixers and food processors will last longer. Plastic will snap easier or change its shape in extreme heat.
6) Fewer Parts and Electronics = Better Life Expectancy
I've had zero luck buying used DVD players, and no wonder: Consumer electronics — especially anything with a laser in it — are risky used buys. With appliances, why not go the opposite route and look for gadgets that use zero electricity? These include manual can openers and the coffee lover's best friend, the French press. The less complicated the gadget, the easier to service or repair yourself.
7) Go With the Brands You Know
A used Cuisinart toaster oven I snagged for $20 lasted in my kitchen for eight years, and only gave out because my family abused it into oblivion. It was succeeded by a Toastmaster QuickCooker, also used and about $20, that shows no signs of slowing down.
These established brands, and others such as KitchenAid and Krups, are built to last, so you're going to get your money's worth so long as the appliance you buy has minimal signs of wear. Anything that's gotten some use in the kitchen is going to have food residue caked somewhere in its crannies; otherwise, it should be smooth sailing at a rock-bottom price.
8) Try Before You Buy
At a garage sale, thrift shop or rummage sale, always test the appliance before you plunk down any cash. Telltale grinding noises, jammed gears, or intermittent shorts should tell you to steer clear.
Likewise, play nice when you sell your appliances at that next garage sale. Tell people honestly what works and what might cause a problem, and let people haggle if that makes them happy. The dollar or two they'll save will get that potential landfill plug into someone's kitchen, with a second shot at appliance life.
If you're still not convinced of the benefits to buying used (these items don't come with a warranty, after all), you should consider refurbished appliances. dealnews is able to list far more refurbished deals for small appliances than large, and recent offers include this factory-refurbished Cuisinart 2-lb. Convection Automatic Bread Maker for $39.97 with $11.97 for shipping, which is $56 under the cost of a new unit. (It comes with a 90-day Cuisinart warranty.)
Refurbished deals sometimes have limited stock, so click here to set up a deal alert so you won't miss them.
Photo credit: The Inadvertent Gardener via Flickr