Having a baby is quite expensive, believe me I know! Over the years, I have found many ways to save money with a baby. Some by going non-mainstream routes (cloth diapers!) and some by goodwill and yard-sale hunting. I have managed to save a lot. Some things are great to buy used (they grow so fast, buying all new clothes at retail seems crazy to me!) BUT the one baby item you should NEVER buy used, unless there is no other option, is the car seat!!
On most yard sale or BST (buy/sell/ trade) pages online, you will see the rules usually require the seller to disclose whether the seat has been in an accident, and the expiration date. While this is a good start, it doesn't cover all the bases because, there are many more things to consider with a used seat.
In addition to not being able to verify whether it has truly been in an accident, and it very well may not have been in a crash or expired. But that doesn't mean that there can't be other conditions that can pose as a safety hazard, with the damage being not visible at all. In the pictures below you will see my used car seat example that also doubles as a demo seat where I work. Though it has not experienced a crash or expired yet, it has several things wrong with it. Just looking at it, you couldn't tell! I tested my husband on it (he's married to a CPST, so pretty knowledgeable..) and he could only find 3 errors! Just looking a used seat over isn't a guarantee its safe to use.
Things to consider if you HAVE to get a used car seat: (PLEASE NOTE that while buying a used seat is not advised, we understand that this may the best option for some)
1) Does the seat include the manual, all the parts and pieces, and have all the stickers still readable and intact? The manual and stickers contain important information for a correct installation. And the parts are necessary as well. 2) When is the expiration date? ALL car seats expire, and this includes the car seat bases. It’s important to not use past the expiration date because it has been tested and proven unsafe to use past that time. Foam and plastics break down over time. The expiration dates vary from 6-10yrs from the day they were manufactured. Bases expire as well. Always check that it is a base that came with the seat or is approved for use with that seat and that the base is also not expired. 3) Has it ever been in an accident? Car seats are a one-time use item. Once it has been in an accident, it is considered unsafe to use and should be properly destroyed. 4) Has the seat been recalled? It’s important to check if it has, because that is a safety issue. If it has, make sure the recall has been rectified. 5) Was the seat ever checked on an airplane? Car seats that are checked on an airplane have an unknown history. They are unsafe to use. 6) Has the seat, cover or straps ever been cleaned? If so, was it cleaned properly? The straps should never be submerged in water and the rest should never be cleaned with anything more than mild soap and a little water. 7) If it is a bucket style rear-facing only car seat, was it ever placed on top of a shopping cart? If so then it is unsafe for use. Doing so can damage the locking mechanisms of the seat. Even if you hear it “click” into place and check that it doesn’t move, it still can damage the locking mechanisms and is still unsafe.
AND MOST IMPORTANT TO CONSIDER: 8) Do you trust the person you are getting this car seat from with your child’s life? That is essentially what you are doing when you get a used seat and put your child in it. You are trusting that this person is 100% honest with you when answering the questions above and trusting that after their time using the car seat it still works safely and properly in an accident like it should. (While I would like to think all people do the right thing, often there are people who morally have no issues with lying and selling an unsafe seat to make a few bucks. It happens often.) For additional resources: You can find another used seat checklist here
If you want more proof on the dangers of used seats, check out this photo where the car seat looks perfectly normal, when it was actually in a car crash. This is why it is important to remember that you cannot guarantee that a used seat is safe just by looking it over.
At the end of the day, yes car seats are expensive, BUT that doesn't always mean that you are limited to used seats if you are working with a budget. There are ways to find good deals and options that are affordable. (Please note that it is better to buy a "cheaper" seat new than an expensive seat used. Expensive doesn't necessarily mean safer, all car seats pass the same safety standard, and buying any car seat used is a gamble. A "cheaper" seat used properly is just as safe as an expensive seat used properly.)
1) There is a group on facebook called "Car Seat Deals" that shares coupons and sales for car seats. 2) Some stores, like K-Mart, do layaway through out the year or have payment plans to make buying a new seat more affordable. 3) There are car seats that you can buy new that are priced below $100 that would work for the average child. (see picture below)
For more information or if you would like to schedule a car seat check to ensure your child is safe, you can find a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician in your area at cert.safekids.org or feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meet the Author:
Shaina is a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) from Missouri who is also an army wife. She is a stay-at-home mom who volunteers at her local Free Women's Center, where she provides car seat education and seat checks. After having multiple miscarriages, she was determined to keep her miracle child safe. While educating herself about parenting, she realized her passion was car seat safety and became a CPST. Shaina is a "crunchy" mama that loves babywearing and cute cloth diapers. In her spare time, she also enjoys crocheting, photography, and home canning.