Car seats, like every other aspect of parenthood, can be a costly necessity, especially for something that is guaranteed to be used for only a few years at best. Much like clothes and toys, more and more parents are finding it prudent to simply purchase used car seats – but unlike clothes and toys, there’s a lot more risk involved with secondhand safety harnesses that cannot simply be washed away or stitched up. While it’s not generally recommended to buy or accept used car seats, there are still signs to look for to ensure that if you do go the secondhand route, your purchase is still safe and reliable. While being expensive doesn’t necessarily mean being the best, saving money on a car seat doesn’t necessarily mean you are making a smart purchase, especially when a child’s safety is involved. If the car seat you’ve purchased or are looking to purchase fails any of these steps, pass on it and move on – there are better, safer directions to go.
Some of the things you want to consider when looking at used car seats include:
Is the car seat model more than six years old? Although you wouldn’t consider car seats as something that would have an expiration date, all models do actually have one at six years after manufacturing date. Apart from the fact that there are certain components that can wear out over time, this was also implemented to compensate for changing laws and regulations. Even if a car seat is determined to be structurally sound, it could be out of compliance with newer safety laws. Also, due to it's age, maintenance and replacement parts may not be readily available.
Has it been in an accident before? If so, or if you can’t find out, the safest route to take would be to avoid buying or accepting it entirely. Regardless of what the car seat may look like on the outside, there could be structural damage on the inside that can lessen or even eliminate the car seat’s efficacy. Car seats are only tested for a single crash event, which means there is no certainty on the part of the manufacturer as to how the car seat would withstand any subsequent accidents.
Are all of the parts present and accounted for? No part on a car seat is arbitrary – everything it’s made of is there to serve a very specific purpose. If the used seat in question is missing its instruction manual, it's usually possible to find it online to ensure that all of the parts are present and fully functional.
Can you find the manufacturer’s name? Car seat recalls are very common, particularly due to faulty parts. If you’re unable to determine who manufactured the car seat, you’ll have next to no way of knowing if its model was ever subjected to a recall. If you know the manufacturer, and the model was recalled, the manufacturer could provide either replacement parts or a different car seat.
How “used” is it? Nothing that spends a few years restraining a flailing, crying, eating, mess-making infant comes out looking too pristine, but beyond the traditional wear, check the chassis for cracks, faulty harness snaps, tears in the harnesses themselves, or any other damage that goes beyond the typical “wear and tear.” Any sign of physical damage beyond spilled food should be a red flag that the car seat is probably not suitable for further use.
While purchase of a used car seat is not often recommended for the above reasons, it’s understandable that it’s a more financially attractive option, since car seats can be notoriously pricey. While some argue that factors like expiration dates are just a ploy to discourage repurchasing car seats, it’s still important to err on the side of caution, especially with something as crucial to a child’s safety. So don’t rush the decision to purchase a car seat used simply because it’s cheap. Examine it closely, make sure that it follows the above standards, and listen to any doubts you may instinctively have about its efficacy, and you can still get a good car seat at a price that won’t break the bank.
This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as Buyers' Safety Checklist for Used Car Seats and was authored by Michelle Ballestrasse.