Our favorite car seat expert, Alisa J Baer, MD (also known as The Car Seat Lady), has put together this comprehensive list of things you need to know when borrowing, buying, or selling a used car seat.
Is it safe to use a borrowed or used (secondhand) car seat? Can you sell your car seat once your child outgrows it?
When in doubt, don’t borrow, buy, or sell a used car seat – it’s just not worth the risk. However, many used car seats are still safe – and can be sold/loaned out safely. Here is what you need to know in order to make sure the used car seat is safe.
Make sure you know the ENTIRE history of the car seat.
- For the seller: If you were not the original owner of the seat and/or do not know EVERYONE who used the seat, you can not sell the seat safely as you will not be able to answer question #2 below.
- For the buyer: The seller should ideally be the original owner and only user of the seat—this way they are guaranteed to know the entire history of the seat. If they were not the original owner of the seat and/or do not know EVERYONE who used the seat, you can not buy/borrow the seat safely as you will not be able to answer question #2 below.
Make sure the car seat was NEVER in a crash.
Even if the child was not in the seat at the time of the crash, the seat can be damaged by the forces it experiences during a crash. Most car seat manufacturers state that the seat should never be used again if involved in ANY type of crash. However, a few car seat manufacturers allow the use of their seat after a minor crash.
- A minor crash is one that meets ALL of following criteria:
- The vehicle was able to be driven away from the crash site; AND
- The vehicle door nearest the child restraint was undamaged; AND
- There were no injuries to any of the vehicle occupants; AND
- The air bags (if present) did not deploy; AND
- There is no visible damage to the child seat.
If the car seat was in a minor crash, you will need to read the owner’s manual to the car seat to see what the manufacturer recommends regarding continued use of the seat. You can always call the manufacturer and ask what they recommend. When in doubt, throw the car seat out—do not sell, buy or borrow a car seat if you are unsure about its crash history.
Make sure all the parts are present and in good working order.
- Get out the owner’s manual to the car seat and check that all the parts mentioned are present on the car seat. If you are buying or borrowing a used seat, do not just take the owner’s word for it—he or she may simply not know that parts are missing! Check for cracks in the plastic, fraying of the harness straps, and other damage to the seat.
Make sure the seat is not expired.
In order to determine if the seat has expired, you will need to know the make (manufacturer) and model of the car seat, in addition to the model number and date of manufacture. If you have a digital camera, take a picture of the labels where you find this information as it is easier than writing it down – and you can then include these pictures in your post when you go to sell the car seat.
- Model Name and Number: There will be a mailing-label size sticker somewhere on the car seat (often hard to find) that will give you the model number and date of manufacture along with the manufacturer’s name.
- There are other dates and labels on the seat that often confuse parents. The tag sewn into the harness straps often has a date on it—but the numbers on that tag are NOT the date of manufacture for the car seat. Likewise, there are large stickers on the sides of every car seat that discuss installation & height/weight guidelines – often these stickers have a tiny date at the bottom which is the date when the sticker was last revised, not the date of manufacture for the car seat.
- Expiration Date: Most car seats expire after 6 years from the date of manufacture. If you can’t find an explicit expiration date printed anywhere on the seat (shown below), check the owner’s manual. When in doubt, the easiest thing to do is to call the manufacturer and ask them.
- Some seats have the expiration date printed in the plastic on the underside of the car seat. Look very carefully in a room with good lighting since it’s easy to miss in many cases. It will say something like “Do NOT use this car seat after December 2011.” Some car seats have the expiration date listed on the same sticker where you found the model number and date of manufacture.
Does the expiration date really matter?
- Is this just a way for the car seat manufacturers to make more money? You wouldn’t give your kids milk that is beyond its expiration date, or medicine beyond it’s expiration date – so too, your child shouldn’t be riding in an expired seat. One of the main reasons seats expire is that they are made of plastic.
- Plastic becomes brittle and weak as it ages – two qualities you don’t want in a car seat that has to withstand severe crash forces. Therefore it is important that the plastic is new enough that the car seat will be able to perform properly.
- Car seat technology also changes over the years. For example, a car seat that was made 10 years ago likely wouldn’t have the LATCH system.
Why do some car seats have a six year expiration date (from the date of manufacture) while others last nine years?
- The plastics used in these seats are different. The seat that lasts nine years may also have some steel reinforcement.
Is it okay to buy a seat that will expire soon?
- If you are buying a rear-facing only seat (i.e. an infant carrier), it should have AT LEAST ONE YEAR of use left.
- If you are buying a convertible seat (rear-facing to forward-facing) it should have AT LEAST 2 to 3 YEARS of use left. Convertible seats are typically used for at least two to three years before kids are ready to transition to combination seats (car seats that start out as a 5 point harness and then turn into a booster)
- If you are buying a booster seat, it should last until your child is AT LEAST 10-YEARS-OLD, since more than 50% of kids still need a booster at age 10.
Is the seat recalled? If it has been recalled, has the problem been addressed?
It is not uncommon for a car seat to be recalled. Typically, most recalls can be addressed and you can continue to use the seat safely thereafter. The easiest way to check for recalls is to call the manufacturer – you will need to give them the model name, model number & date of manufacture of your car seat, so have that information handy when you call.
By Alisa J Baer, MD (also known as The Car Seat Lady) graduated from NYU School of Medicine in 2006, completed her pediatric residency at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in 2009.