The car seat is the one baby item you will buy that could save your child’s life. 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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 are selling your car seat, take a picture of the labels where you find this information as it is easier than writing it down – and 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 imprinted 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.
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 its 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’s 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. The car seats on the market today are much easier to install and operate than most of the car seats on the market 10 years ago.
The plastics used in these seats are different. The seat that lasts nine years may also have some steel reinforcement.
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 2 to 3 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 TEN YEARS OLD, since more than 50% of kids still need a booster at age 10.
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. You can also do-it-yourself by checking this online recall list – http://www.carseat.org/Recalls/179NP.pdf
Try and recycle it. If your neighborhood accepts all types of plastics for curbside recycling you may be able to recycle the car seat with your other plastics. Before recycling a car seat, be sure to remove all the fabric, straps, and buckle hardware. Click here to see if you can recycle a car seat in your area. If you have a Clek seat, you can send it back to Clek to be recycled.
If you can’t recycle your seat, cut the straps and remove any foam and padding from the car seat shell. Then, write on the car seat in permanent marker “This car seat is not safe to use, it’s expired” or some other clear indication that it should not be used. Putting a whole, new-looking car seat out with your trash is dangerous to others who might pass by and take it, believing it to be safe.