Seriously - Buyer Beware
While there are many amazing circuit breakers deals to be had on eBay, it is imperative that buyers exercise discretion when choosing circuit breakers on eBay. Even though a seller may appear reputable by their feedback rating, there are no rules governing the minimum product standards on eBay. Buying breakers is not like buying an iPod - if your iPod doesn't work when you get it, the seller warranty probably allows you to return it for a refund or replacement. While the same warranty may apply for circuit breakers, a warranty means nothing if your house or business burns down or if the person installing the breaker dies as a result of a dead short caused by faulty insulation. When it comes to breakers, you can never be too careful. Here are some tips for making the most of your eBay circuit breaker purchase.
Test, test, retest.
So you got a smoking deal on a breaker. You pay, receive it, and are ready to install. It's the moment of truth - how do you know it's going to work? "Work" is a subjective term when it comes to breakers. A great deal of people consider a "working" breaker to be one which goes on when you turn it on and goes off when you turn it off. This definition is FALSE. A breaker really only works if it will protect you and your equipment in the event of an overload. Since you can't just use a Megger to simulate overcurrent, it's imperative to have your breaker tested by a reputable company - either the one you bought it from, or a third party company (after you receive it). In order to ensure that you can trust the seller, make sure that your breaker comes with a test report. Even when a seller SAYS tested, many times they mean that your breaker has been continuity tested which, of course, won't do you any good if you require overcurrent protection. For your protection, always look for the overcurrent test results with your breaker.
In the USA, look for UL listings.
This one's a little tougher, since sometimes seller descriptions don't account for the listings and ratings of circuit breakers. UL (Underwriter's Laboratories) lists products that are tested and certified for use in the USA. Be careful - UL listings don't ensure that a circuit breaker will function - just that in the manufacturer's batch process for that breaker, not each individual breaker or its history. Even though it worked off the factory line, your circuit breaker could have been sitting at the bottom of the ocean for the last year before you bought it.
Counterfeit or Genuine?
UL listings also provide protection from counterfeit and breakers that aren't rated for use in the USA. You may unpack your breaker and find a "MX" after the part number. Look around on the label - you won't find a UL listing! That's because these breakers aren't suitable for use in the USA. Installing them in an application in the USA may cause you to fail an inspection costing you downtime and replacement costs. Also, counterfeit breakers are often missing UL labels, or have incorrect UL listings. You can visit the UL website (UL dot com) to look up the listing on your circuit breaker. While it may not say exactly what your breaker is, chances are if the UL file comes up as "garden hose", it should raise some eyebrows.
New. At any one time there are over 2500 circuit breakers listed on eBay. Of those 2500, probably 50% define their breakers as being "NEW" in condition. In reality, that number is more like 10%. Our research group has purchased over 1000 circuit breakers this year from eBay, and found that sellers often default to describing their circuit breaker as new, as long as it looks clean. This is fine when you have your breaker tested - just make sure you take that into consideration when valuing an item you are considering for purchase. The safe bet to ensure new is to look for a factory sealed box. Otherwise, call it used/nice and bid accordingly.
Reconditioned. This is a term thrown around in the gray market which technically means "rebuilt to function as new", but many companies throw this term out when their breaker is very clean on the outside. Who's going to look inside? If you look inside, it usually will void your warranty. So they’re banking that 95% of the time, the breaker will work. The bottom line is that if they claim the breaker has been reconditioned, ask what process they use or to which standards they test. Then get specifics from them on the steps taken to rebuild your breaker.
Clean. This is the most common condition you’ll find a breaker in on eBay. Someone has taken a moment to dust off the case before snapping a few shots for the auction block. Note that no testing in involved...
Tested. If you read above, you'll know that saying "tested" doesn't mean tested. Always ask for test reports! If you don’t, there’s a very good chance that your breaker hasn’t been tested. When you get the reports, make sure that your breaker has undergone continuity testing, primary injection testing, insulation resistance testing and millivolt drop testing. If any of these tests aren’t present on the report, you’re at risk.
As-Is. While this sounds bad, what you most likely have is an honest seller. Sellers that don’t know about testing breakers shouldn’t sell breakers as guaranteed. These sellers are guaranteeing you, the buyer, that if your breaker fails you’ll get your money back or a replacement. BUT you risk much more than just the cost of the breaker – application downtime, equipment damage, injury or death – none of which are covered by the sellers “guarantee”. Accept an As-Is breaker as just that – a breaker that needs to be tested by a creditable 3rd party prior to installation.
The Bottom Line.
If nothing else, just remember BUYER BEWARE - circuit breakers are protective devices. You will need your circuit breaker to work when something else doesn’t, or you may face serious consequences. If the breaker you’re buying isn’t new, sealed in the manufacturer box, make sure the seller can provide you with test reports. If they can’t, make sure you have your breaker tested by a certified, 3rd party testing company to ensure functionality and reliability.