Thrifty parents often ask whether it's OK to purchase a used car seat from a garage sale or an online auction. While a used car seat might save dollars, it could also compromise safety.
Car Seat Age & History
Do not buy a used car seat unless you can verify the age and crash history of the seat, and can use the model number to verify that the seat is not under recall. You must also determine whether used car seats still have all of the original parts needed for safety.
The Issue of Trust
Buying a used car seat means you are trusting the seller to give you information honestly. Can you trust a stranger on the other end of eBay to tell you whether or not that car seat was in a crash? Do you know the person at the yard sale well enough to know that they are car-seat savvy and have maintained the car seat according to manufacturer's instructions? When you trust a stranger to give you that kind of information honestly, you are essentially trusting them with your child's life, so it's important to make that choice wisely. My suggestion is to budget for a new car seat and cut costs elsewhere if need be.
If you have a trusted friend or family member who is willing to give you a used car seat, that may be a safe choice if you can verify all of the things mentioned above, as well as making sure that the car seat is not expired.
Car Seat Expiration Dates
Car seat manufacturers set expiration times for their car seats.
Some manufacturers even put a specific expiration date on one of the labels. Check the date of manufacture, which must be on one of the seat labels by law. Most car seats expire 6 years from the date of manufacture, unless there is a different expiration date marked on the seat. If you're not sure, call the manufacturer.
If the labels are missing from the car seat, it's best not to use it, as the labels would also give you important model information that would alert you to potential recalls.
Can't Rely On Your Eyes
While some car seats that are not expired and have not been in a crash can look horribly dirty and worn out, the opposite can also be true. Some very old car seats may still look new, particularly if they spent a lot of time on the store shelf or packed away somewhere before use. Car seats that have been involved in a crash may not appear damaged. No one can visually inspect a car seat for you or certify that it's safe to use if the history is unknown or it has been in a crash.
If you cannot verify all of the things mentioned here, the car seat is considered unsafe for use, even if it appears to be in good condition. Crashes can cause stress and structural weakness that isn't visible from the outside, and older car seats can be weakened by many seasons of heat and cold in the car. Unless a used car seat is coming from a close friend or family member and meets the above criteria, the best choice is to buy a new car seat for your baby.
Heather Wootton Corley is a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician-Instructor.