First, measure the dimensions of the space where your refrigerator will go. This is important when buying any refrigerator, new or used, but you must be especially vigilant when buying a used appliance as you may not be able to return it if it doesn’t fit.
Make sure the refrigerator and freezer doors have a correct seal—a door that leaks air will gobble up energy dollars. 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. A poor seal could signify a bad gasket around the door’s perimeter or hinges that need to be adjusted.
Another factor to consider is the direction the door opens. While most modern-day refrigerators offer doors that can be affixed on either side of the appliance, some older models do not offer this option. If the door swings in the wrong direction for your kitchen but you like the refrigerator, check to see whether the door can be reversed.
Look carefully inside the refrigerator and freezer to make sure all shelves and drawers are included and in good repair. Check the light switches and control knobs for proper function. Check the temperature settings to ensure they reach and maintain the desired cooling temperatures; do this in the store, if possible.
Inspect the drip pan behind the bottom grille, as well as the condenser coils behind the back covering (sometimes these are on the bottom of the appliance). Damage or excessive dirt could be a bad sign, suggesting that the previous owner did not clean nor take care of the appliance properly or that the motor may have endured undue strain.
As a final consideration, take into account that no matter how well a used appliance was maintained, any refrigerator more than 10 years old will most likely not be as energy efficient as a model you could purchase new today. Be sure that the immediate savings in the upfront cost of the appliance are worth the higher energy bills you may pay year after year.