You don't have to limit your explorations to furniture and bric-a-brac. Often, people upgrade their appliances when their old ones have a lot of life left in them. To make sure that you aren't contemplating a clunker, test all appliances to make sure they work. Stick with brand names that you recognize. That way, there's a good chance that the manufacturer will have a Web site you can visit to get an operating manual with care instructions. Be prepared to test battery-operated electronics and personal items by carrying a range of batteries with you. Rechargeable batteries are great for this.
Before you contemplate a purchase, check to make sure that there are no recalls on the product. A quick visit to Consumeraffairs.com will help you get information that could potentially save your life. You can also find information about recalls at the Consumer Reports Web site [source: Steele]. This is an area where a handheld device with Internet access will be invaluable.
Evaluate products carefully. If you're shopping for a DVD player, don't buy it unless you can make sure it works. (It's probably a good idea to take DVD with you for testing purposes.) Don't assume that something works because it's for sale or simply accept someone's word for it. Electronics that have been sitting in a basement or garage for months can stop working without the seller even knowing it.
If you like the look of a non-functioning lamp or coffeemaker with a broken carafe, the problem doesn't have to be a deal breaker. Some items have components that are easy to replace. The electric innards of lamps are usually pretty easy to switch out with a generic kit, and replacement carafes for many coffeemakers are available from the manufacturer or as a generic that you can find at your local hardware store. The lesson here is that you can research ways to reinvent or rework some things to your advantage. It just takes a little ingenuity.
On the next page, we'll play with garage sale toys and provide some tips on how to make sure they're safe to use.