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Heather Corley

Should I Buy a Used Car Seat for My Baby?

By January 27, 2006

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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 be save dollars, it could also compromise safety. Steer clear of used car seats 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. It's also tricky to determine whether used car seats still have all of the original parts needed for safety.

Each manufacturer sets the time til expiration for their car seats. Some manufacturers even put an 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.

If you cannot verify all of those things, 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, it is almost always safer to choose a new car seat for your baby.

December 4, 2007 at 5:35 pm
(1) wilma says:

i have been given a car seat by some one i trust. it is dated 1998, is it still safe to use on my grandson? is there an age limit on car seats?

September 22, 2008 at 10:11 am
(2) Mary says:

NO! Car seats expire within 6 years of manufacturing, and they should never be used once they’ve been in an accident.

October 3, 2009 at 11:59 pm
(3) Marilyn Fuqua says:

but is it illegal to use an outdated carseat?

October 5, 2009 at 9:24 am
(4) Heather says:

If your state has a proper use clause in the car seat law, then yes, it is illegal to use an expired car seat. Otherwise it’s just a very poor choice.

October 8, 2009 at 5:35 pm
(5) Marilyn Fuqua says:

how do I find out if my state WA has a proper use clause?

October 8, 2009 at 6:14 pm
(6) babyproducts says:

Washington State does have a proper use clause. Section 1 of the state’s child passenger safety law (called the Anton Skeen Law) says children must be properly restrained, and subsection B defines that partly as:

“The child restraint system must comply with standards of the United States department of transportation and must be
secured in the vehicle in accordance with instructions of the vehicle manufacturer and the child restraint system

The manufacture date will be on the car seat shell on a sticker somewhere. Sometimes an actual expiration date is also listed on a sticker. Otherwise, check the instruction manual for the time they allow until expiration.

October 15, 2009 at 12:45 pm
(7) steve says:

Is being legal more important than your child’s safety? Certainly not.

April 18, 2010 at 10:05 pm
(8) Brittany says:

Exactly how does a car seat “expire”? If it’s been kept in good condition and not left outside to warp in the sun, how is it “outdated”? Sounds like the manufacturers want you to buy brand new $119+ car seats all the time.

April 23, 2010 at 4:31 pm
(9) laura says:

PEOPLE! Seriously? Carseats have expiration dates for the same reason milk does, because they go “bad”. Imagine this if you will, put something plastic in your car for weeks, months and possibly years at a time and guess what happens to it? It will weaken the integrity of the plastic. Same with carseats, if your carseat is expired cut the straps and throw it in the nearest dumpster, it WILL NOT protect your child in an accident. Yes I know carseats can be expensive but guess what, child sized caskets are more expensive! The money you spend on your internet and cable bill for 3 months would pay for a brand new top of the line carseat for your child. Buy your kids new carseats,it’s the LEAST you can do for them.

April 29, 2010 at 7:22 pm
(10) Penny says:

We were recently in a car accident with our 6 month old. His car seat was properly installed and he was properly installed in it Thankfully, he appeares to have been protected from injury. Now the adjuster for the insurance company (GEICO) took a cursory look at the carseat, proclaimed that there were no stress marks or obvious damage to it and therefore it did not need to be replaced. We are trying to do the safe thing for our child, but the message from this company’s representative was clear and potentially tragic. Any siggestions?

June 30, 2010 at 6:02 pm
(11) May says:

I LOVE Laura’s response… thank you! I feel the same way as you. It’s for your child! Come one people!

July 14, 2010 at 2:41 pm
(12) Kristin says:

how can i convince my husband that a used car seat for our new baby is a BAD idea? i have tried so many times to tell him and he just doesnt get it… helpl?!

August 12, 2010 at 7:08 pm
(13) snoop says:

(edited for inappropriate language) seats going bad like milk? why don’t the regular seatbelts in the car go bad like milk? why don’t the airbag systems need to be replaced like old milk? car seat makers say they expire because of legal liability issues. ifyou use a good seat that is old and something bad happens it is your fault. want to save your kid? don’t put him in the car to begin with.

August 13, 2010 at 2:14 am
(14) Rebecca says:

Seatbelts should be replaced after 10 years, so they do go bad. Look on youtube for a video of “expired car seat crash test”, it’s haunting.

Don’t take it lying down. Show the adjustor in the manual where it says that you are to replace the car seat after ANY accident. All car seat manuals except for Britax state that (they follow the NHTSA’s recommendation, because they test their seats so thoroughly.) The main names in seats for 6 month olds are Graco and Evenflo, and they both say, accident, trash it. Fight it, don’t just say, “Well sir, you know best.” I had an insurance adjustor tell me that seats don’t expire… the heck they don’t!

May 2, 2011 at 12:44 pm
(15) Melissa P says:

My car seat expired 7 months ago,and in excellent condition. I was wondering if its still safe to use?

May 14, 2011 at 7:10 pm
(16) Dan says:

(Melissa), No, It is no longer safe, (Penny),If you use an expired car seat and get in an accident your insurance will not cover the expenses if your child is injured. And you could be fined for child indangerment. SPEND THE MONEY buy your child a new seat, They only need them for a short time.

May 25, 2011 at 4:29 pm
(17) Stacy says:

I just want to comment I always do best for my child , however I am not lettering company’s take my money its crazy the laws now , common unless the seat is in baking in the sun 24/7 its not going to rot this is a scam so ppl keep buying new . There are more ppl who harm their children buy not buckling in right not an expired seat , I child is way safer in an expired seat then not buckled right . I proudly use my expired seat and know my child is safe and my inc I already asked them about this and they said as long as they are in a car seat they are covered , the media is so good at scareing everyone when it come to children .

June 9, 2011 at 8:36 am
(18) CMU Engineer says:

It behooves each parent to learn the laws in their state first, and then read the manual that comes with their carseat(s).

MY OPINION, for what it’s worth, mimics Stacy’s comment.

I’ve drunk expired milk, consumed expiration medication, etc., etc., and am still standing today. I won’t go so far as to say it’s intentional fear-mongering on the part of the manufacturers or the gov’t agencies, but in everything I do I lean on my own intelligence as much as or moreso than others, because 1) I’m no dummy and 2) my wallet (like it or not) must be considered in the equation.

I’m no more confident that an adjuster is more equipped to determine if stress fractures or strain marks are evident in a plastic car seat than I am. I’m comfortable buying the right used car seat for my third child, DESPITE what the manufacturers, government, and over-feeling/under-thinking moms say. Knowingly using a carseat that my insurance provider does not support is another factor of risk to consider in the decision, and for me, certainly will be a consideration.

Be smart, in everything you do. That doesn’t mean “do what someone (Graco, Britax, NHTSA) tells you to do”…get ALL the facts, and be smart.

June 17, 2011 at 12:44 pm
(19) cece says:

You people are crazy! A scam??? Think about this. They recommend you replace the carseat after 6 years……. who keeps a baby in a carseat for more than 6 years! Most people go through 3 different seats for each stage. They have these guidelines to replace after time to avoid people selling used when the seat may not be safe anymore. Some people need to get a grip. Carseats are not that expensive anymore. And if you want to complain about money maybe you shouldn’t have kids!!!!!

July 20, 2011 at 10:11 pm
(20) Heather says:

Part 1:

Reading these comments really makes me see what a stressed out society we are becoming. Take a breath people, I understand that the safety of children is at stake here, but we you all need to start listening to each other and stop arguing. First off, if you are following the law and putting your child into a car seat, bravo to you. Thats a great first step. When I was a kid, my Mom drove home from the hospital with each baby in her lap. I am only 34 so it wasnt that long ago that there were no laws at all forcing parents to have children in car seats. We have come a long way! Secondly, we are such a society of sheep following blindly. Sorry but we are. The government tells you it is a certain way, the car seat manufacturers tell you its a certain way but are you actually doing your research. A brand new car seat can still be dangerous to your child. Are you buying a car seat with the highest safety rating? If your buying any seat new or used that doesnt have a great rating then how protected is your child? The laws are changing and we must follow those laws even if we think they may be motivated by those seeking to make more money off of us parents.

July 20, 2011 at 10:12 pm
(21) Heather says:

Our society has evolved into a very stressed out, micromanaging type of society and unfortunately with this kind of attitude come an invasion of sorts into our lives as parents. You will see more restrictions being placed on things like this. While usually there is a valid concern that prompts it, such is the case with laws mandating car seat use, then we also have the money making side of it. One of the comments talked about how a parent could be charged with child endangerment for not having an up to date car seat. So the money making wheel goes round, we have the cops who would get paid a fine, we have the NY State Surcharge (usually around $80-90 for parking types of violations so maybe higher in this case) plus a possible CPS indication for child endangerment for a parent who buckled their child into a car seat (then the CPS money making wheel starts). I’m not saying that I am against car seats having a shelf life(have you seen how dirty and nasty they get after a couple of years, why would you want to keep something longer then 6 years anyway, my one year old is on his second car seat and at 3-4 he will get one more, the next stage up). Pick out the safest car seat you can for your child. Expensive does not always = better, New does not always = safest, and comments are only opinions, not fact.

October 5, 2011 at 11:21 pm
(22) victor m says:

We have a 4 year old and want to transition him from a car seat to a booster seat. The Booster is from our 8yr old child who haven’t used it in two years. The seats where bought brand new and never been in an accident. Are the re-use criteria for a Car seat the same as for a Booster seat?

October 27, 2011 at 6:46 pm
(23) No way says:

Buying a car seat is perfectly ok if it is done correctly and with good research as this article points out very well

comparing buying car seat to milk? lol

December 4, 2011 at 10:09 am
(24) Steve says:

The Problem Here Is The price Of The Car Seats,
If They Were Not Sooo Expensive, People Might Consider Buying New Ones !!!

January 2, 2012 at 9:53 am
(25) Holly says:

If someone is SO concerned with the price of new car seats, look for a used car seat that is less than 6 years old or hasn’t expired yet. There are plenty of them out there.

The truth of the matter is that we are talking about your baby here. Regardless of the reasoning for a 6 year expiration date, that’s the way it is and we should adhere to it for the sake of our children. Why take the risk? The fact that this is being argued over and challenged baffles me!

January 16, 2012 at 1:27 am
(26) Anouk says:

The reason why car seats expire is because the impact absorbing foam becomes hardened over time and will no longer function properly. This is the same case with bicycle helmets, etc.

February 25, 2012 at 8:30 pm
(27) S. Ellis says:

Emotional appeals comparing car seats to milk left in a hot car and their cost to the cost of child sized caskets make me want to get in my car and drive off a cliff just so I don’t have to live on the same planet. Yes, they have expiration dates for a reason. Don’t buy one that is expired. But the expiration date is much longer than the baby needs the seat for so there is a host of like new seats that are very safe to use. Best if you can get it from someone you trust, but still. Use your brains and good judgement.

April 3, 2012 at 9:51 pm
(28) Ryan says:

How emotional we all get about babies and money. Personally I find it fascinating… and perfectly acceptable. There is one dynamic that has not yet been introduced to the conversation: agreement. My wife and I have been having this conversation: do we purchase a used car seat, or new? She wants to purchase new, for many of the reasons already mentioned and I would prefer to purchase used, also for many of the reasons previously mentioned. The “correct” answer is the one that is agreed upon. If you are making the decision alone, then you must be willing to accept the consequences of your decision. There are both positives and negatives: save money, but possibly be less safe. If you are making the decision with a spouse or partner, remember to not lose perspective. Yes, car seats do have a cost, buying used can save you money, and yes we all want our child to be safe, but… is getting “your way” worth the harmony of the home? The decision that is best is the path that can lead to the best possible outcome. My wife wants new, I want used; we will buy new because the pros outweigh the cons, in our opinion. I went online and was able to save over $100 (about the additional cost of the new car seat) on baby items in about an hour. I was not comfortable knowing that if we were ever in an accident, and the outcome was not favorable for our child, it could potentially be linked to purchasing a used car seat. We will buy new not only because we care about our baby’s safety, but because I value my spouse’s thoughts and opinions and our relationship is more important than the $100 we could save by buying used.

April 6, 2012 at 2:42 am
(29) Jen says:

I cannot believe the debate over this..if there is any chance at all of lowering the chances of my child being injured, I will take that precaution. Car seats are plastic and I would assume, like any other plastic item exposed to prolonged heat, that it will warp or weaken the plastic. Things wear out, they need replaced. In some cases used, is def the way to go, and I know plenty of people that probably wouldn’t have a car seat if they wouldn’t have bought used, but this is your childs life at stake. How is this even a question?! If you cannot afford a new car seat…maybe you should have thought about that BEFORE you had the baby….But seriously hospitals and police stations around here will provide you with a brand new car seat if you cannot afford one. So check it out.

May 2, 2012 at 12:44 pm
(30) the truth says:

This conversation seems like it could use some facts. Bottom line is that new car seats AND used car seats passed repeated crash tests below 40 mph:

■ Recent studies demonstrate that child safety seats can withstand minor crash impacts without any documented degradation in subsequent performance.

■ The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia ( ICBC ) subjected nine new and used child seats restraining 3-year-old dummies to a series of 50 consecutive 15 km/h sled tests into a 40% offset barrier. Three seats were inspected visually; no damage was apparent as a result of the impacts. Three seats underwent x-ray inspection; no damage was detected. Three seats were tested in accordance with Canadian federal standards (CMVSS 213) and were found to be in compliance with all standards.

■ ICBC performed four vehicle crash tests at 48 and 64 km/h (40 mph), with two child seats restraining 3-year-old dummies in each vehicle. Each seat was subjected to multiple impacts and visually inspected. Defects were noted and the seats were re-tested. Seats always performed as well in subsequent tests as they did in the first test.

■ The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) performed 30 mph vehicle crash tests with dummies from six months to three years in a variety of child restraint systems (CRSs). Most seats sustained minor damage (e.g., frayed webbing, small cracks in the hard plastic shell, strain-whitening on the plastic shell or chest clip) but all dummies remained well secured by the restraints. Four of the damaged seats were subjected to three additional 30 mph crash tests. Although additional minor damage was observed in subsequent tests, the seats met all federal standards.

■ The agency searched for, but was unable to find any cases in which a child safety seats were damaged in a minor crash (as defined in NHTSA Position).


July 9, 2012 at 6:44 pm
(31) Anita says:

All i want to know is how to read the date of manufacture on my babys car seat, that i know is on the plastic and all i keep on finding is more of this ongoing crappy debate, points been made again and again. I say Tell manufactorer to malke it easier to read these blasted date’s so that we know alreadyand then we can actually do something about it.its so simple and yet so dumb.????

August 1, 2013 at 8:25 am
(32) Hotel Szczecin says:

Hi, i think that i saw you visited my website thus i came to _return the
favor_.I am attempting to find things to improve my site!
I suppose its ok to use a few of your ideas!!

November 20, 2013 at 1:31 pm
(33) Damien says:

This is just stupid. Car seats don’t “go bad like milk”. That being said, if a car seat looked banged up or was in a serious car accident, I would avoid using it. The makers of car seats like the expiration dates because it make people buy new seats. If they didn’t expire then there would be a larger market for used seats and they would cut their sales by 75%.

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