vintage baby products at garage sales are a bad deal

Its garage sale season and I’m in the mood to buy some cheap used stuff for my kids. Normally, the main draw for me at a garage sale is that…

Its garage sale season and I’m in the mood to buy some cheap used stuff for my kids.

Normally, the main draw for me at a garage sale is that curious sport of plowing through other people’s lives without getting arrested.

Ahhh, and the thrill of steeling away with an armload of booty for less than a buck or two…

It’s true, I usually end up with a collection of useless things such as magnetic poetry, an old leather purse and someone’s quaint first attempt at a pottery bowl.

Although, three years ago I did find a pair of gold sequined high-heel shoes, which I suspect had probably been worn once by a bridesmaid. They cost me $1! They are my biggest score ever — even if I never do wear them outside.

This year, though, I am in the market for something useful and specific: toddler bicycle seats.

These things cost more than $50 each at Canadian Tire — and I have twins so I need two.

I’d only get a year, maybe two, out of them. So I figure I might as well buy a couple of gently used ones at a garage sale.

Buying used baby stuff, however, is a trickier sport than buying sparkly shoes.

There is so much potential for buying items dangerous to your child’s physical safety, in fact, that Health Canada issues a garage sale advisery every year.

This Radiation Emitting Devices Act warning covers products such as microwave ovens and personal tanning equipment, but its main focus is to warn buyers and sellers about the dangers of recalled or highly questionable baby and toddler items, such as the notorious walker.

The baby walker, you might recall, is a colourful doughnut-shaped contraption with wheels that baby sits in. It allows baby, who is not yet walking, to zoom around the house at lightening speeds.

The federal government officially banned the walker in 2004, but only after the Canadian public suffered 20 years’ worth of warnings that babies were falling to their deaths down stairways in them — in 1984, a coroner’s jury in Ontario called the walker a “non-useful, lethal toy” — and long after manufacturers had voluntarily stopped producing them in Canada.

The ban means that it is illegal to sell walkers — even used ones at garage sales.

Health Canada also vigorously warns garage sellers about the dangers of baby bath seats, which suction to the bottom of the bathtub.

Mistaken by many parents as safety devices, these seats are too often used as bath-time babysitters. When the suction cups lose their grip, however, or when baby tries to climb out, tragedy can happen.

Since 1991, there have been more than a dozen drowning deaths related to baby bath seats.

The consumer group Safe Kids Canada warns about a long list of baby items, including pressurized baby gates.

Unlike gates that screw into a door frame, these are supposed to stay in place without the use of hardware, although they often don’t.

They also warn against old style baby gates with “V” or diamond-shape openings that baby can get their head caught in.

“Baby gates made before 1990 are dangerous. Do not use them,” says Safe Kids Canada.

Cribs made before 1986 are also generally unsafe, according to Safe Kids.

They have poor support under the mattress, which has caused babies to suffocate do death when they became entrapped underneath one that falls.

They also have widely-spaced bars  so babies can get their heads caught between them.

You should also beware of older playpens which have large mesh rather than small mesh, like mosquito netting, and playpens that collapse easily and can smother your child; toy chests into which a child can climb and suffocate; older styles of clothing with drawstrings that can get caught on things, and blinds with pull cords that can strangle.

You should never buy a second-hand car seat unless it comes with instructions and complies with current safety standards.

And beware of those newer car seats recently implicated in a report by the Michigan environmental group, Ecology Centre.

The report fingered 30 per cent of 60 car seat models for containing high levels of toxic chemicals such as chlorine, bromine and lead, which have all been linked to cancer.

These car seats use plastic compounds such as polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, which contains lead, the cheapest “stabilizer” among plastic manufacturers. PVC tends to break down in sun and heat, releasing the toxins.

Lead, by the way, is still widely used in cheap plastic jewelry intended for kids, including the heart-shaped charm sold with kids Reebok shoes.

Last year, the company recalled the charm, but no-name outfits that sell to discount stores won’t be issuing any recalls.

But back to the bicycle seats … I really hate giving into companies that exploit concern for my children’s safety in order to make money.

But my ignorance works against me here — I have no way of knowing whether one product is safer than another.

I have to read the ‘selling features’ on the packages and let one of them convince me.

Since there aren’t usually packages or instruction booklets by the time a product makes its way onto the garage sale circuit, I have the feeling that despite my urge to recycle and my desire to save a few bucks, I might have to forgo the used bicycle seats and get those new ones at Canadian Tire.

Of course, after hearing what we did recently about the toxic chemicals in some current brands of car seats, there is no guarantee that newer will mean safer. I can only consider the odds.

Juliann Fraser is a writer living in Whitehorse.