What to consider when buying a used refrigerator

The Rob Ellerman Team at ReeceNichols
The Rob Ellerman Team at ReeceNichols
Published on July 14, 2021

It’s the sad truth: we can’t all afford to pop into Home Depot and plunk down $3,000 for a brand new “French Door Refrigerator in Fingerprint Resistant Stainless Steel.” Heck, many Americans, especially right now, don’t have the $620 for the rock-bottom priced new fridge sans bells and whistles.

It makes sense, then, how so many of us take to websites such as Facebook Marketplace, Nextdoor, Craigslist and OfferUp before hitting local garage sales in search of a used refrigerator.

It can be a long search to find one that’s not a lemon in disguise, so let’s take a look at what you need to think about before buying a used refrigerator.

Will it fit?

If you don’t know the measurements of your current fridge, take them now and keep them with you when you shop.

You’ll need to measure length, width and depth. According to the experts at Bosch, add an extra inch to each side and the top for clearance.

Figure out how much you can spend

Since you’ve opted to buy a used appliance instead of a new one, price is obviously important. Figure out the most you want to spend and vow to keep to the budget.

It helps to do a bit of research first. Head over to the appliance section of Home Depot, Lowe’s or Best Buy and check out which manufacturer’s garner the best reviews. Make a list of them.

Now, you not only have price as a guide, but manufacturer as well.

How much is that used refrigerator really worth?

There is no formula for determining the value of a used refrigerator. Experts recommend that you first check ads for others selling similar brands in similar condition to the one you have your eye on.

Check websites of used appliance shops in the area for prices of similar models. Don’t forget to factor in features, deducting the value if the one you’re thinking of buying doesn’t include the comparable’s features and adding value if it does.

Where to shop for your “new” old refrigerator

We’ve mentioned some shopping spots earlier, but here’s a longer list.

  • Facebook marketplace. Navigate to your Facebook page and click on “Marketplace” on the left side of the page. Then, click on Home Goods in the list on the left and, finally, in the Search Marketplace box at the top of the left side of the page, type in “Refrigerator.” Refine your search further by clicking on a delivery method or local pickup.
  • OfferUp.com: Type “Refrigerator” in the search box at the top of the page. The list of options to refine the search is on the left, although you’ll find that it’s not extensive.
  • Craigslist.org: Yup, it’s still around.
  • Garage sales
  • Used appliance outlets
  • Large retailers’ scratch and dent outlets, such as American Freight (formerly Sears Outlet) and Best Buy Outlet.
  • Ask around at work.

Questions to ask the seller

Make a list of all the questions you’ll ask. This might include:

  • Why are you selling your refrigerator?
  • How old is it? (A refrigerator more than 10 years may not be as big a bargain as you think. The lack of energy efficiency may create higher utility bills for you.)
  • How long have you owned it?
  • Did you buy it new?
  • Are there any problems with it?
  • If you haven’t seen photos of the fridge, ask if the seller would mind emailing or texting them to you.
  • Does it need any parts? This is an important question because even the tiniest part for a refrigerator can be pricey. If it needs a handle or shelf, research the cost before agreeing to buy the appliance. You can do this online at appliancepartspros.com or partselect.com.

What to look for when viewing the refrigerator in person

  • Plug it in to ensure that it runs
  • Is it cool? If you’ve had to plug it in, keep in mind that “Initial cool-down takes time,” according to the pros at American Appliance Repair. In fact, it can take up to 24 hours to reach the proper temperature. At least wait a few minutes to see if it’s getting cool.
  • Check the seal. “An easy way to test for air leakage is to close the door on a piece of paper; when you attempt to pull out the page, you should feel some resistance,” claim the experts at hometips.com. “A poor seal could signify a bad gasket around the door’s perimeter or hinges that need to be adjusted,” they conclude.
  • Does it stink? Reconsider purchasing it. Bad odors are exceptionally difficult to remove from a refrigerator.
  • Inspect the coils. The location of condenser coils isn’t universal, so you may have to do some sleuthing to find them. Often, they are at the bottom of the refrigerator, behind the grill. Or they may be on the back, under a covering. Look for excessive dust buildup. This is a clue that the owner hasn’t maintained the unit, and the “motor may have endured undue strain,” according to the pros with Appliance Repair Specialists.
  • Inspect the compressor. “Open the door and leave it open for a few moments to get the compressor to turn on,” instructs Nick Gromicko and Ben Gromicko at the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors. “The temperature control can also activate the motor. The compressor should operate, and start and stop smoothly, without a noticeable shudder that rattles the refrigerator.” The authors offer additional refrigerator inspection tips at nachi.org.

Out with the old

Finally, recycle the old unit. Compactappliance.com offers a brilliant article on the various ways to get rid of the old refrigerator in a responsible manner.

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