If you’re looking at buying a used fridge, it can be hard to spot a lemon. Here’s what to keep an eye out for.
What to look for
Before buying any second-hand appliance, check it still works. For a fridge that means inspecting it in person and asking the seller to leave it running for at least 12 hours beforehand. If you can’t see it running before buying, consider walking away.
Does it suit?
- Make sure it fits – measure the space in your kitchen (including doorways leading there) and remember you’ll need about 5cm on the sides and back and 30cm on top for ventilation (check what the manufacturer recommends).
- Is the door hinged on the correct side for your kitchen? If not, is it reversible?
- Check what the seller is telling you matches the manual for that model (you can find these online).
- Does it have enough shelves and drawers for your household?
Do your research
- If the listing doesn’t state the fridge’s model name, scrutinise the photos for one, including the energy rating sticker.
- Check out our archive of test results for discontinued fridges, including their specifications and features. While this is from when they were first released, we expect that a second-hand fridge less than 10 years old and kept in good condition should still perform comparably with these test results. However performance can decrease with age.
- Search the manufacturer’s website for information on the model, such as the manual, installation guide or product information sheet.
Interior and exterior checks
- Make sure it turns on.
- Check the door or lid seal is intact and shuts properly. Put a torch inside it so you can see if light shines through the seal. While seals can be easily replaced, it’s a sign the appliance has been poorly maintained.
- Make sure the interior’s in good nick and doesn’t smell. Only buy if it looks well cared for.
- Look for stains, both inside and outside. These could indicate a leak.
- Check the shelves/baskets aren’t cracked or buckled. These are replaceable (check your local op-shop or landfill shop), but the older a fridge is, the harder it is to find spare parts.
- Listen for excessive sounds or vibrations.
- Check the lights, ice and water dispensers and temperature controls work.
- Check the sides and back are in good order. Dents could potentially affect the motor or compressor.
- If it’s a frost-free model, is there an excessive build-up of ice? This can indicate a drainage issue.
- If you can, check the temperature (we suggest using an infrared thermometer). You want the fridge to be 3°C and the freezer -15°C. Check the temperature is fairly consistent throughout the compartments (but note that the dairy compartment is likely to be warmer).
Questions to ask the seller
- Why are they selling it?
- Is there anything wrong with it?
- How old is it?
- Has it ever been repaired?
- Are they the original owner? If so, do they have the receipt?
When buying a second-hand fridge, it’s a good idea to stick to well-known brands and models under five years old. Newer models are likely to be more energy-efficient.
About our scores
For discontinued models we show individual test scores to show how well they should perform.
Measures how much the temperature inside the fridge fluctuates (or swings) as the compressor starts and stops. The higher the score, the less the temperature fluctuates.
Where we measure the temperature in the fridge and freezer compartments at the same time. A high score means the temperature in both compartments are managed well, for example if the freezer is set to its coldest setting, the temperature in the fridge isn’t affected.
A measure of how uniform the temperature is throughout each compartment. The higher the score, the more uniform the temperature is in each compartment.
A test of how well the appliance deals with changing temperatures outside. We test in a temperature-controlled room. We adjust the temperatures to simulated winter and summer conditions while monitoring the temperature inside the fridge. The higher the score, the better the fridge dealt with the changing temperatures, meaning little adjustment would be needed throughout the seasons.
A test of how well the fridge performs on the manufacturer's recommended settings. Many people will only change the temperature setting once, so we test with this setting. If there isn’t a recommended setting, then we test using the factory set or mid-setting.
Refrigerant gases are what keep fridges and freezers cool. Fluorocarbons (CFCs, HFCs and HCFCs) are nasty ozone-depleting and active greenhouse gases that were commonly found in fridges. A few new models still use the HFC R134a, but this should be phased out over the next few years. Instead, most new fridges use hydrocarbon R600a (also called isobutane), which is more environmentally friendly and energy efficient than fluorocarbons. Most fridges have a sticker, generally on the back, stating the model name and refrigerant gas.
The refrigerants in fridges are combustible. While this isn’t an issue during everyday use, it’s important to remember when you’re moving a fridge or freezer. If they're not transported properly, they could cause a fire when the appliance is turned back on if the gas hasn’t equalised. Make sure to transport the fridge or freezer upright. If you have to move it on its side, try to keep it on an angle. Once moved, sit it upright for about 24 hours (this may vary by manufacturer) before turning it on – this gives the gas time to settle.
What are your consumer rights when purchasing a used fridge or freezer? It depends on the seller. If you’re buying from a second-hand dealer (including those “In-trade” on Trade Me) and discover it’s faulty, you're covered by the Consumer Guarantees Act. It should be of acceptable quality, fit for purpose and match the description. However, if you’re dealing with a private seller, you’re not covered by the CGA.
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