Hand me down seats – Bargain or Bust?


So, you’re scrolling through your local buy-sell-and-trade page, or your local craigslist ads, searching for maybe a new stroller, or some baby clothes for that little one that doesn’t seem to stop growing.  Then, you stumble across an ad for a car seat.  “EXCELLENT CONDITION,” the caption says, along with “not expired!”  It looks like a great deal! A bargain! Half of what that seat retails for in a store!

What an awesome way to save money, right?  Think again.  Upon further inspection, that seat may look fantastic.  No stains, no funny smells.  But what is the purpose of a car seat? To look pretty and smell nice?  No.  The purpose of a car seat is to keep your child safe and protected during a collision. That seat may look like it is in perfect working order, but unless you know the entire history of the seat, avoid it. Seats that have been in an accident, or have been recalled, for instance, don’t look any different than a brand new seat.  Do you know the seller? Has he cleaned it according to the manual? Has it been checked as baggage on a plane?  (While checking a seat on a plane doesn’t necessarily mean anything bad happened to it, you don’t know if it was bounced off a tarmac from ten feet in the air by a well-meaning but butter-fingered baggage-handler.)

It essentially comes down to this: would you trust that seat, that seller, with your child’s life?

A used seat isn’t by definition ‘unsafe’.   There are times and places for used restraints.  If you know the person who owns the seat and trust the person implicitly (in the way you might trust that person to provide childcare for you), you can check for the following things

  • Date of manufacture on the restraint
  • Manufacturer, model name, and model number of the restraint, checked against the NHTSA list of recalled child restraints
  • Has it ever been checked as luggage on an airplane?  If it was, how was it packaged?  Did the owner inspect it for damage immediately thereafter?
  • How has the owner cared for it?  Has the harness ever been treated with harsh soaps (like a strong detergent, bleach, or vinegar?) or put through the washing machine?
  • Does it have all its original parts, stickers and manual?
  • Did the original owner add anything to it that didn’t come in the box? Is there any sign of fraying on the harness, or rusting of the metal parts, or damage to the plastic parts?

If it’s not expired, not damaged, not recalled, has been well cared for, and you trust the original owner, it may be fine to consider using the seat.   If your answer to any of those questions is uncertain, to keep your child safe look into a brand new seat at an approved retailer. Remember that new seats are available at lots of price points. All new seats that are sold pass stringent safety testing, and if money is tight, check out a local resource for reduced price seats.