Car Seat Basics: Display Seats, Bargain or Bust?

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CSFTL Admin in the wild!

CSFTL Admin in the wild!

When the CSFTL team goes strolling through the aisles at the local baby store, we are often sidetracked by the car seat aisle.  That should come as no surprise since car seats are what we do!

Display model car seat

Display model car seat

The seats on display do a terrific job of showing the car seat’s features, giving caregivers a chance to touch them, pick them up (if they’re not attached to the rack), and see how they work.  But what happens to these display car seats when their time on the shelf is done? Sometimes, these display seats wind up being sold.  For the most part, we don’t find this practice a good thing and we’d like to share the reasons why we’d caution against purchasing a display seat.

Not Designed for Actual Use

Display car seat -- clearly marked for Display Only

Display car seat — clearly marked for Display Only

Many display seats are manufactured for the sole purpose of giving consumers a physical model of what their car seat will look like.  They aren’t designed to be used in a moving vehicle.  These car seats may or may not be usable for fit testing or any type of usability testing.  If they can’t be used for testing, they shouldn’t be used to secure a child!

Missing Components

Display car seat -- clearly marked for Display Only and missing parts

Display car seat — clearly marked for Display Only and missing parts

Display car seats could be missing critical components.  For example, some display seats have the belt paths blocked off so there’s no way to install them.  Other seats are missing required foam pieces, while other seats may be missing required labels.

Attached to the Shelf/Missing Paperwork

Display car seat tied to the rack

Display car seat tied to the rack

Sometimes, the seats are modified by the store to secure them to the shelf.  This could impact the seat’s functionality when it’s needed most.  These display car seats will not come with critical paperwork or may not include a registration card.  That’s because they’re not intended for use as a child safety device.

Grossness and More Missing Parts

Display car seat -- missing top tether

Display car seat — missing top tether

Those are the more subtle things to consider, let’s move onto the most obvious one:  they could be gross.  Every store visitor and their dog can touch the seat for the year or even a lot longer while it’s on display.  Display seats are also a popular place for people in the store to drop their garbage.  Gross!

For your safety, we’ve chosen to show a picture of a missing part instead of something gross here.

Broken Seats

Display car seat -- clearly broken

Display car seat — clearly broken

While those shoppers are dropping garbage, they may also randomly decide to remove a piece from the seat or that piece may break off while the shopper is attempting to adjust a seat without having read the manual first.

Recline adjuster is missing

Recline adjuster is missing

This seat is missing the recline adjuster — that’s a critical part of the car seat!  We’re not even sure how this happened but we definitely wouldn’t want a child riding in this seat!


Convertible car seats don't go in rear facing only bases!

Convertible car seats don’t go in rear facing only bases!

Now and again, that removed piece could wind up on another seat down the row, where a well-intentioned store employee could decide to rig a way to attach the wrong part to the seat.  Nobody wants a Frankenseat for their child.

Expired Car Seats

Display car seat -- expired while it was on the shelf!

Display car seat — expired while it was on the shelf!

The display seat could be on display for so long that it’s expired by the time it’s offered for sale.  We’ve seen this in stores with our own eyes!  Behold the evidence in this picture — this seat expired years ago and remains on the shelf.  That might be fine for a display seat but it’s not fine for an actual child to ride in.

Manufacturers often develop certain serial numbers for display seats so companies may be able to identify the seat should you call for support.  Disappointed caregivers could learn that they have purchased an unusable display seat that was not intended for sale.

Modified for Display

Display car seat -- blocked belt path

Display car seat — blocked belt path

Finally, display seats may not have been tested without whatever components they are missing.  Removing those components may make the seat fit better on a store shell but it doesn’t make the display seat a safe option for a vehicle.

Look Twice!

While we remain huge fans of getting a good deal, we’d suggest walking right on by any display seats that you may see on markdown.  Look for deals on seats that were intended for use.  Well-intentioned store employees are not usually CPSTs so they may not know that these seats were never intended for sale.