Car seats are a must-have appliance that can deeply cut into your finances. To save money, most new parents will receive hand-me-downs or purchase used baby products that have just a wee bit of wear and tear. However, when it comes to buying used car seats, most parents ask an understandable question: “Are used car seats safe?”.
There are a few key factors that we need to consider when determining if using a used car seat is safe. In this article, I’ll use research-based evidence to answer if used car seats are safe. We’ll also explore the advantages and disadvantages of having a used car seat, and afterward, I’ll provide a comprehensive list of tips on how to find the safest used car seat.
Are Used Car Seats Safe? Here’s the Evidence
Practically speaking, you can assume that a used car seat is unsafe to use because there’s no way to reliably verify its crash history - all you have to go on is the seller’s word. But, the used car seats that are safe are safe because they adhere to certain requirements that are also met by new car seats.
Below, I’ve laid out specific details that can make or break a used car seat. With this list, you’ll be able to see how a used car seat can be safe and vice-versa.
Every car seat, new or used, should have their expiration date located somewhere on the seat. Typically, you can find the expiration date on the same sticker or in the same place as the date of manufacture. If you can’t find the expiration date on the car seat, odds are that it’s located in the user manual. If you don’t have access to the manual and you can’t find the expiration date, at that point it’s best and safest to invest in a new car seat.
On average, car seats have a lifespan that ranges anywhere from six to ten years. This is one of the main reasons why it’s important to know when the car seat expires. If you’re going off the word of someone you’ve never met (I understand with friends and family, it may be a bit different), you don’t know for sure how long they were using the car seat. The expiration date will give you a good idea of how long you’ll have with the car seat and how long it was used. Again, if you can’t find the expiration date, move on to another car seat.
The crash history of a used car seat is the main reason why most car seat experts say that they’re unsafe.
One thing you should know about car seats is that just because they’ve been through a lot, that doesn’t mean the damages or wear and tear will show on the outside.
For example, there was a story done back in 2017, where a mother and her two sons were in a car accident that totaled her car, but the car seats walked away without a scratch. Now, just because the car seat appears undamaged, it doesn’t mean that the crash didn’t impair the car seat's ability to keep your child protected. I mean, it kept her kids safe this first time, yes, but there’s no guarantee that the features used to protect her kids will be as strong and effective in the event of another crash.
This is just one example of why knowing the crash history of a used car seat is important. Without it, you really can’t say if a used car seat is safe because you just don’t know. All you have to go off of is the word and integrity of a stranger, which seems pretty risky as it pertains to your child’s safety. If you’re going to buy a used car seat, I would suggest doing so from someone you trust or a reliable source. That way, buying a used car seat is less of a gamble and more of an informed decision.
Manuals and Original Parts
Having the car seat manual is essential for ensuring that you’re installing the car seat right, that you’re using it properly, and that you have access to critical information that may not be located on the car seat itself.
For instance, as I mentioned earlier, if you can’t find the expiration date on your car seat, it will almost certainly be in the manual. If the person selling the car seat doesn’t have the manual, you may be able to find it online because most car seat manufacturers have PDF files for their car seats on their website. Of course, if you can’t find the manual online either, it’d be best to move on to another car seat.
Moving forward, let’s take a look at why the parts of a car seat are a considerable factor as well when determining if a used car seat is safe. You can’t say that a used car seat is safe if it doesn’t come with its original parts. These parts can include a multi-position harness system or an anti-rebound bar that’s used in the forward-facing position. Without their original parts, a car seat can’t perform the way it needs to so that your baby is protected.
To add to that, when you’re buying a used car seat from a stranger, unless you have the manual, you have no way of knowing if the parts of the car seat have been switched out. With features like the harness system, if it’s been exchanged for a different harness, it can be hard to tell if it’s been exchanged unless the seller tells you so. It may seem like there’s a lot of grey area here because the truth of the matter is: there is. Honestly, the best way to ensure that everything is as it should be on a used car seat is to buy it from someone you know and trust.
Pros and Cons of Buying a Used Car Seat
Now that we’ve gone over a few key factors to help you see what can make used car seat safe or unsafe, let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons that comes with buying a used car seat.
Buying a Used Car Seat: Tips to Find the Safest (and Best) Used Car Seat
Listed below are the top five tips for finding the safest used car seat.
- 1Know the car seat’s history
I’ve mentioned this several times because you MUST know the history of the used car seat you’re interested in. You should walk away from the purchase with no confusion and unanswered questions. Knowing the history of the used car seat is the biggest factor that will help you determine if the car seat is safe to use.
- 2Look for the expiration date
The expiration date can usually be found on the back or base of the car seat near the date of manufacture. If you can’t find the expiration date on the car seat, it’s definitely a red flag because all car seats are required to have that label. Now, you can find the expiration date in the car seat manual, but that’s only if you have it. The safest car seats will have the expiration date displayed on the car seat.
- 3Buy from someone you trust
Because there are so many questions that you have to ask when buying a used car seat, it’s best that you buy from someone that you know and trust. If not, you’ll have to go off the word of a stranger, which is extremely risky when it comes to the safety of your little one. At least with someone you trust, you can find all of the information you need about the car seat’s history, expiration, and safety features.
- 4Register your car seat and have it checked
Once you’ve purchased the used car seat, have it registered with its manufacturer. Doing so will give you the reassurance that it hasn’t been recalled, or has. Either way, you’ll gain access to important information about your car seat to determine if it’s safe to use. Also, once you have it registered, take it to your local checkpoint to have it inspected by a certified car seat technician. They’ll be able to point out flaws in the car seat that you probably didn’t recognize or realize were flaws.
- 5Make sure it has all of its original parts
Without all of its original parts, you can’t necessarily say that a car seat is safe to use. Whoever you purchase the car seat from, you’ll want to confirm that it has the parts that it originally came from. Doing this is a good way to ensure that your car seat is at least somewhat safe to use.
Buying a used car seat can be safe but only if you do so wisely. That means not just buying a used car seat because it's cheap, but buying it after you've done your research on it and inspecting it after you've bought it. Remember, knowing the history of the car seat you're interested in is the most essential factor for buying a used car seat that's safe.
I personally recommend buying a new car seat, but I also understand that buying used a car seat may be the only solution for some parents, and that's perfectly fine. If you buy a used car seat, I'd advise that you do from someone you know or trust. It's the best way to ensure that the car seat is safe and up to date.
With two kids of my own, I’m passionate about child safety! I’m a research nerd who’s on a mission to make the world a safer place for kids – starting with car seats!
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