The dangers of buying tools and DIY stuff at car boot sales

A photo of a car boot sale

We all like a bargain, right?

In these cash-strapped times what could be more satisfying than finding a cordless drill at a car boot sale for a fiver, or buying some paint for the hallway for only 2 quid a tin, off some bloke with a parrot on his shoulder, in a car park in Essex?

You’re sorted right?


Car boot sales have become very popular all across the UK over the past 25 years or so and they can be a great way to get out and about and have a good old “rummage” to find something you never knew you needed, but for tools and DIY cast-offs that bargain may turn out to be your biggest nightmare.

Car boot sales?

Car Boot sales, if you didn’t know already, are organised events, often by a charity or other community group, where a bunch of people turn up in their cars, laden with unwanted household objects for sale, mostly second hand. It’s a great way to de-clutter and earn some extra pocket money too.

Car boot sales are also known as Flea Markets in some English-speaking countries, and Spanish speaking nations call it a “Rastro”, and simply refers to people turning up to sell whatever they could fit into the boot (trunk) of their cars.

Here is some handy consumer advice to keep you safe.

Is that car boot seller really genuine?

It is worth noting that some of these people are not what they seem and travel to many different car boot sales, operating as a trader, often under the radar of the tax office. These people can often be easily spotted by having a display of very similar items for sale and arranging their stock a bit too neatly for an amateur.

Another dead give-away is their “stock” will all be pre priced and labelled, but unlike other legitimate traders such as shops, they will NOT give any guarantee or warranty, in fact power tool sellers often buy pallets worth of returned, faulty or damaged goods from home shopping catalogues for a fraction of the value of new and then sell them on as brand new, but not tell you they are faulty, and by the time you have found out, they are long gone.

The Stonehouse Creek car boot sale, Plymouth

The Stonehouse Creek car boot sale, Plymouth

Of course there are some exceptions to the rule, but in general, power tools and other DIY paraphernalia will be faulty or at best, very cheap quality, after all you get what you pay for in life!

The sort of tools often found at boor fairs for what seems like incredibly cheap prices include power saws, angle grinders, cement mixers, heat guns, drills and sanders.

So what could go wrong if I buy tools from a car booter?

Many things can go wrong and here’s why.

If you buy any type of power tools at a car boot sale it is of vital importance to give it a good look over to check to see if it has any identifying marks such as an address written with a security marker pen on it. This is because sometimes stolen items from garden sheds and builders vans end up at car boot sales so if there IS a mark, don’t be afraid to question the seller about it.

TIP: Take an ultra violet pen or torch with you and shine it on the tool to see if any invisible markings are evident.

If the seller has a lot of similar power tools, again with marks, if it looks suspicious take a note of his vehicle registration number and report your concerns to the police or trading standards. If it turns out to be true and you have already unwittingly bought a stolen item, the police have the right to return it to it’s owner, with zero compensation for you!

Some car booters also go through rubbish bins or scrounge at the local waste tip to find tools that people have thrown out, so beware!

Lastly, bear in mind that power tools can be dangerous so you can imagine if you are drilling and the chuck suddenly jams, it can break the drill bit, potentially landing you in hospital, or if it stops suddenly, your wrist will try an absorb the shock and break a bone.

This is the same with angle grinders where the sharp wheel can suddenly fall off, potentially cutting your fingers or hand clean off at the bone. This sort of thing really does happen to the unwary and according to ROSPA, injuries from tools and machinery are estimated to account for 87,000 of the 220,000 DIY enthusiasts turning up at hospital each year.

What’s that smell?!

The last tip I can give you when buying power tools at a car boot sale is to SNIFF the item in question! Yes, I know that sounds weird, but if you smell the item and it has a burnt smell, it means the motor is burnt out and the tool is useless so walk away, dig deeper in your pocket and BUY A NEW ONE!

Of course not everyone can afford that so why not turn to ebay for a cheap power tool, as you get buyer protection and your money back if anything goes wrong, and you are especially covered if you choose payment by PayPal.

Tips on buying DIY materials like paint, hand tools and wallpaper

The problem with buying DIY materials at car boot sales is the fact that paint, for example, only has a certain lifespan in the can, of 2 years at the most before the pigments and chemicals separate and even if you shake the can, the paint will already have started to impair, meaning you trying to save money on your painting job will actually cost you more as you are going to have to give up and buy some brand new paint cans!

If a can of emulsion has “Woolworths” written on it, or the original shop price tag is in pounds, shillings and pence, walk away!

Woman Putting Up Wallpaper

…but I surely can’t go wrong with buying old wallpaper, right?

Rolls of wallpaper are also something you get to see at a car boot sale and to be honest, not a lot can go wrong with a roll of paper (!) however the worst case scenario is the batches don’t match, or quite simply it is an old fashioned style that no one wants any more, but very little danger is involved.

On the plus side, if you are planning on decorating, that laying dust sheets down is good practice, so you should buy old cotton bed sheets, usually for a few pence, to use, and you can end up making a good saving on your next decorating job and keeping paint off your carpets!

Avoid “bargain” paint brushes, sold as new at boot fairs, often in a pack of 3 or 5. They will be RUBBISH, and we discussed this option and other DIY mistakes some time ago here.

So what IS a good purchase at a car boot sale?

Car boot sales are great places if you are into collectables and antiques, and the canny buyer can often spot things that can be re-sold on the internet for a profit, plus bargain clothes can be had too, often for a fraction of the original cost.

“……..And remember the toys you played with as a child? Dinky and corgi cars, or maybe sindy dolls, Pippa dolls, Action man, Scalextric, Hornby train sets, so much of our childhood can be found for sale at a boot fairs and the best thing is, people on on eBay pay good money for them, so keep your eyes peeled!……”

However, as far as DIY tools and materials, your best bet is to search online for the best bargains and buy new, or at least factory refurbished with a guarantee. To find out your nearest car boot sale time and location, search online for “Car boot sales” and add “(Your town or county) into the search box.

It is worth noting that sometimes you may see a legitimate tool seller at a car boot sale, someone selling only brand new tools, so ask if they have a permanent business address and contact, before parting with any money.

Staying with ebay, did you know that vintage hand tools, picked up at car boot sales, can actually be re-sold on ebay for quite a considerable sum, so it’s worth doing your research and you could end up earning a few extra quid!

Happy car booting!

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