Hand Me Down Car Seats – Bargain or Bust?

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Used car seats show up in all kinds of places: local buy/sell/trade groups, Craigslist, or even on the curb sometimes!  At first glance, they seem like they could be a great bargain —  “EXCELLENT CONDITION,” the caption says, along with “not expired!”  These often sell for half of what the seats retail for in a store, so wouldn’t they be a great option for your Little?

Well.  They’re not.

That seat may look fantastic.  It may be devoid of stains or weird smells.  It may even appear to be in great shape and possibly even not be expired.

But car seats serve a more important purpose than looking nice and smelling okay.  A car seat is built to keep your child safe and protected during a crash.

While a bargain car seat may appear to be in perfect working order, unless you know the car seat’s entire history, avoid purchasing used car seats.

Seats that have been in a crash or have been recalled don’t always look any different than a brand new seat.

Questions to Ask

Do you know the seller?

Has that seller cleaned the car seat according to the manual’s instructions?

Has the car seat 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 car seat isn’t necessarily unsafe.   There are some situations where a used car seat is a perfectly safe option. For example, if the seat comes from a  person whom you trust in the same way you might trust that person to provide childcare for you, check for the following things:

  • Date of manufacture on the car seat — is it expired?
  • Manufacturer, model name, and model number of the car seat, checked against the NHTSA list of recalled child restraints.
  • If the car seat is on the recall list, have the recall replacement parts been ordered and installed correctly on the seat?
  • Has it ever been checked as luggage on an airplane?  If it was, was it packaged in a cardboard box?
  • 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? Has it been washed and dried only according to the instructions in the manual?
  • Does it have all its original parts, labels, 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?

In Summary

If a used car seat from a trusted friend is not expired, not damaged, not recalled, has been well cared for, and you trust the original owner, it may be fine to consider using a used car seat for your child.

However, if the answer to any of those questions is uncertain, we’d suggest purchasing a brand new seat from an approved retailer. Car seats come in a wide variety of price ranges – there’s a safe option out there to meet almost every budget!  All new seats that are sold pass stringent safety testing, and if money is tight, check out a local resource for reduced price car seats.