Used Car Seats – How to Borrow/Sell/Buy

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used car seats

“Buy a used car seat!” they said. “It’ll be a bargain!” they said.

A good deal can be very tempting. You are on a budget, looking for a car seat and there it is on craigslist, the car seat that fits right within your budget and it is in “EXCELLENT CONDITION” and has been “GENTLY USED”, and is not expired! What a deal right?

Saving a few dollars, however, may not be in the best interest of your child’s safety.

How much do you know about the car seat’s history? Had it been cared for appropriately? Has it ever been recalled? Has the seat been involved in an accident?

This car seat you found at a great bargain may look good, it may even look brand new, but if you do not know the entire history of this car seat you probably need to avoid it.

A car seat that has been recalled, or been in an accident may still really just look like a brand new, fresh out the box car seat. But do you know the seller? Has the seat been cleaned according to the manual? Had they ever checked it in as baggage on a flight?

Now ask yourself, “Would I trust this seller with my little one’s life?”

A used car seat isn’t unsafe just because it’s a used car seat. Here are few things you need to pay very close attention to:

  • Has the car seat been in a collision?
  • Are all the stickers, original parts  and user manual intact?
  • Has the car seat been recalled? Check the car seat manufacturer, model name, and model number on the NHTSA list of recalled child restraints.
  • How well has the car seat been cared for? Has the harness been cleaned with harsh detergent/bleach or thrown in the washing machine?
  • Has the seat been checked in as luggage on an airplane and how was it packaged?  Was it thoroughly inspected after the flight?
  • Does the car seat have any aftermarket products?
  • Is there any sign of fraying on the harness, or rusting of the metal parts, or damage to the plastic parts?

If you are uncertain about all of these, then you may want to consider looking for a brand-new car seat from an approved retailer. You can always get a new car seat at a pretty reasonable price point.

HOW DO YOU BORROW, BUY OR SELL A USED CAR SEAT SAFELY?

When in doubt, the answer should always be a resounding NO. So if you doubt the safety of a used car seat, you are better off not borrowing, buying or selling that car seat. The risk is just not worth it.

Many used car seats are still safe and can be sold or loaned out. There are a few things you need to know that will ensure that you are selling, borrowing or buying a safe used car seat.

TIPS FOR THE SELLER

KNOW THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF THE CAR SEAT YOU ARE SELLING
Are you the original owner of the car seat? Do you know everyone who has used that car seat? If not, please do not sell the car seat. You also need to be able to confidently answer the question below:

HAS THE CAR SEAT EVER BEEN IN A CRASH?
A car seat that has been involved in a crash (with or without the child in it) is considered unsafe. Some car seat manufacturers will give an allowance for the car seat to be used again if it was in a minor crash. Most car seat manufacturers however, will clearly state that should the car seat be involved in an accident, it should never be used again.

When is a crash considered a minor crash?

  1. The vehicle was driven away from the crash site; AND
  2. The door nearest the car seat was undamaged; AND
  3. No occupants were injured; AND
  4. Air bags did not deploy; AND
  5. There is no visible damage to the car seat.

ENSURE THAT ALL PARTS ARE STILL PRESENT AND IN GOOD CONDITION
You can easily do this by going through the owner’s manual and ensuring that all parts are available. You should also check for fraying harnesses, cracks in the plastic and any other damage to the car seat.

GATHERING INFORMATION ON A USED CAR SEAT.
You need to find out about any recalls and expiry of the car seat.  It’s pretty easy. Take a pic of the labels where this information would be found and use these images when you are selling the car seat. Take a picture of:

  • The manufacturer and model
  • The model number and manufacture date

Somewhere on the car seat you will find a mailing-label size sticker (it is often difficult to find). This sticker has all the information on the date of manufacture, model number as well as the manufacturer’s name.

The dates and labels you see on the harness straps as in the picture below should not confuse you. This is not the date of manufacture of that particular car seat.

The large stickers on the left and right of the car seat have information on weight/height guidelines as well as installation procedures. The little date at the bottom is not the date of manufacture if a car seat.

TIPS FOR THE BUYER (OR BORROWER)

ENSURE THAT THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF THE CAR SEAT IS KNOWN TO THE SELLER
It would be in the best interests of your child’s safety that the seller is the original owner and that they know the history of the car seat. You should not buy a car seat that cannot answer question 2 below.

ENSURE THAT THE CAR SEAT HAS NEVER BEEN IN A CRASH
As mentioned, even if there was no child in the car seat at the time of a crash, collision forces may have damaged the car seat. A few car seat manufacturers will give an allowance for the car seat to be used again if the crash was minor. A majority of car seat manufacturers will be adamant that a car seat that has been in an accident should not be used.

When is a crash considered a minor crash?

  1. The vehicle was driven away from the crash site; AND
  2. The door nearest the car seat was undamaged; AND
  3. No occupants were injured; AND
  4. Air bags did not deploy; AND
  5. There is no visible damage to the car seat.

Should the car seat have been in a minor accident please read the owner’s manual to find out if you can use it again safely. And like we said before , when in doubt the answer is always no. So do not borrow or buy a used car seat that you are not sure of.

You will need to know what the manufacturer of the car seat recommends for car seats that have been in minor accidents.

ENSURE THAT ALL PARTS ARE PRESENT AND WORKING WELL
Have a look at the car seat against the owner’s manual. Be sure to check for any cracks, fraying and any other damage.

GATHERING INFORMATION
A picture of the sticker on the used car seat should have been posted by the seller. This sticker should clearly relay information on the manufacturer, model number & date of manufacture of the car seat.

The seller should also give the model name of the car seat to you. However, some seats like Safety 1st, Cosco and Eddie Bauer may not have model names.

There are also other labels and dates that may confuse a parent. The date on the harness strap tag is not the date of the manufacture.

Installation as well as height and weight guidelines will be clearly illustrated on the large stickers on the sides of the car seat. These stickers will also have a tiny date at the bottom. This date indicates the last day the sticker was updated and not the date of manufacture.

Ensure that you have had a look at the expiration date (Usually 6 years from the date of manufacture)

To find the expiry date on some car seats, you may need to look on the plastic that is underneath the car seat. You may need good lighting so that you are able to see it.

You may need to look out for some car seat expiration dates that will be listed on the same sticker as the date of manufacture.

Call the manufacturer to find out about your car seat’s expiration date if you cannot find it.

CAR SEAT EXPIRY DATES

To find the expiry date on some car seats, you may need to look on the plastic that is underneath the car seat. Look out for something that goes something like “Do NOT use this car seat after December 2011”.

expiration date imprinted in plastic

You may need to look out for some car seat expiration dates that will be listed on the same sticker as the date of manufacture.

car seat expiry date

Some owner’s manuals will also indicate the expiry date.

If you cannot find the expiration date anywhere, you can always call the manufacturer for clarification.

Why do car seats expire?

You wouldn’t give your child food or medicine that is past it’s expiration date, would you? Your precious child should also never ride in an expired car seat.

Car seats are mostly made of plastic, this plastic become brittle over time and cannot therefore withstand the force of a crash.

For a car seat to be safe, the plastic needs to be a new as possible. Some car seats have plastic with steel reinforcements and will last longer, say 9 years and not 6 years like some car seats.

We at The Car Seat Nerd recommend that…

Only buy a rear facing car seat if it has at least one year left before expiry.

A used convertible car seat (rear facing to forward facing) should have no less than 2 to 3 years of good use left before expiry as these seats are also used before the kids transition to a booster car seat.

Should you be buying a booster car seat, then it ought to have enough years before expiry to see the child through to the age of 10.

Check for car seat recalls

Car seats get recalled. This is not news. Many times, recalls are dealt with and you can continue using the car seat.

You can always check for recalls with the manufacturer. Tell them the model number, model name and date of manufacture.  Additionally, check for recalls here: http://www.carseat.org/Recalls/179NP.pdf

Buying a used car seat – A checklist

CHECKLIST BEFORE BUYING OR BORROWING A USED CAR SEAT YES NO
The entire history of the car seat is known to the seller
The seat has not been in a crash and if the crash was minor, does the manufacturer allow for continued use of the car seat?
All original parts are available and in good working order
The car seat has not been recalled and if it was, the recall was addressed.
The car seat has enough years to serve your child safely before its expiry date

You can read more on the resale of car seats by The Consumer Product Safety Commission here : Handbook for Resale Stores and Product Re-sellers

So now that you know what to look out for when you are selling, buying or borrowing a used car seat, we hope that your child’s safety will be number one on your checklist.

Happy Parenting! 🙂

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