We all know that there are a lot of expenses when a new baby is on the way. One of those expenses include purchasing a car seat, as required by car seat safety laws. In many cases, used items are a good way to save some money. However, car seats may not be an area you should skimp on. When shopping for any car seat, the safety of the car seat should be your first priority. Instead of buying used car seats, consider purchasing new inexpensive car seats.
Are Used Car Seats Safe?
There are many reasons why safety advocates do not recommend buying used child safety seats. Below are some of the top reasons why:
Car seats expire
Yes, car seats actually expire. This isn’t just a marketing ploy by the manufacturers to get you to spend more money. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommend that we need to pay attention to car seat expiration dates. Car seats expire with good reason. It’s about keeping your baby safe.
Why do car seats expire? Materials break down over time. Most car seats have a plastic shell and plastic wears and breaks down over time. If the plastic is becoming brittle, it could fail to serve its purpose of keeping a child safe and uninjured in an accident. Most car seats also have metal parts that degrades over time. Metal can rust in unseen areas, causing the seat to not function properly in a crash and reducing its ability to protect a child. The seat base can also develop fractures which may shatter in a crash. Many times, you won’t be able to see the breakdown with the naked eye. Thus, it is very dangerous to use an expired seat since it may not keep your child safe. Taking this risk defeats the purpose of having a car seat.
Where do you find your car seat’s expiration date? The expiration information should be available on the car seat itself. Most car seats have a date of manufacture or expiration on a sticker located at the side or bottom of the car seat. Most car seats last between 5-7 years after they were manufactured, not when they were bought. You can also check the car seat manual to see how long the seat can be used for. Each car seat model is different and it is important to check and make note of the car seat expiration date so that you know when to stop using it.
Even if you are buying a new car seat, you still need to pay attention to the date of manufacture. If you are purchasing a previous year’s model, understand that the seat has a shorter life expectancy compared to the newest release. Also, just because a seat is more expensive doesn’t mean that it will have a longer lifespan.
Damaged car seats
Car seats may not be safe to use if they’ve been in a previous car accident, especially since not all damages are visible. This doesn’t mean that you need to automatically replace your car seat if your vehicle was in an accident. NHTSA advises to replace all car seats involved in moderate to severe crashes in order to ensure a continued high level of crash protection for your child. You do not necessarily need to replace your seat if your car was in a minor crash. What defines a minor crash? A crash is considered minor if it follows all of the below:
- The vehicle was able to be driven away from the accident
- The car door nearest to the safety seat was not damaged
- None of the passengers in the vehicle sustained any injures in the accident
- No air bags deployed
- There is no visible damage to the car seat.
NEVER use a car seat that has been involved in a moderate to severe crash as the seat will not offer a high level of crash protection for your child. Not knowing the car seat accident history is a huge reason for not buying used car seats. It’s never safe to use a car seat if you don’t know its history.
New car seat safety standards
Child passenger safety is an advancing field. The industry is constantly making improvements and requirements for safety. Car seat manufacturers work very hard to manufacture seats that keep up with the current standards. People who use expired secondhand seats are missing out on those improvements, Federal safety standards are always changing and older seats may not meet the new safety standards.
Even if an older car looks like it’s in great condition, it may not be utilizing the newer lifesaving technologies. For example, in 2012, car seats were not equipped with Lower Anchor and Tethers for Children (LATCH). Now, they are a standard feature in nearly all car seats. Expiration dates ensure that seats being used follow current safety standards.
Using Secondhand Car Seats
There is no safety guarantee when purchasing a used car seat at a garage sale, thrift store, or flea market. These seats may be expired, damaged, have missing parts, or may have been recalled.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t use an older sibling’s seat or one from a relative or trusted friend. If you are going to use a secondhand car seat, make sure you the car seat has:
- not expired
- not been recalled
- no defects, such as cracks on the plastic
- never been in a moderate or severe crash
Tips for buying used car seats
- Only buy a used car seat from someone you know and whom you trust to give you facts about the seat. Avoid purchasing a car seat from a stranger. A person selling a used car may only care about getting rid of it and making some money and not so much about the safety of your child. He may tell you that an expired car seat is fine, that it’s never been in an accident, and that there’s nothing wrong with it. Not all damages to a car seat can be seen with the naked eye. Some sellers are honest but do not know that they are selling a product that could be dangerous. It is up to buyers to be aware and take precaution.
- If you are getting the car seats from someone else, make sure you install the car seat properly and are using it correctly. Ask them for a detailed car seat manual or order it from the manufacturer if they do not have it.
- Make sure the car seat is not missing any parts. Check that it has all its parts including harness and tether straps, restraining clips, and the car seat instruction book.
- Check for any evidence of craps, chips, or stress lines in the shell. Check for any rust, cuts, frayed edges, or broken buckles. If there’s any visible damage, don’t use the car seat.
- A new affordable seat is better than a used name brand seat.
- Double check the expiration date.
- Double check to make sure the seat has not been recalled. You can find out by calling the manufacturer or contacting the NHTSA Vehicle Safety Hotline at 888-327-4236 or checking this car seat recall list.
- Check the weight and height limits of the car seat to ensure that it is an appropriate fit for your child.
- Once you install the seat, take it to a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician to have it inspected.
When in doubt, don’t borrow, buy or sell a used car seat! It’s not worth the risk!