Is It Safe to Buy Used Car Seats?

mother fastening daughter into car seat
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My daughter is soon going to outgrow her infant car seat carrier. I've seen many affordable used car seats for sale. What should I look for when buying a used car seat?


The first thing I will do is commiserate with you. I am a self-professed penny pincher. I love the thrill of great finds at yard sales and thrift stores. I browse places like Craigslist and Freecycle regularly. I absolutely take no shame in collecting hand-me-downs.

I have written more than my share of articles on the topic of how to save money on baby items. When it comes to saving money, I am right there with you.

However, when it comes to car seats, that is one area where I am not so quick to jump on the "used" bandwagon. Let me first explain why you may want to consider buying a new seat over a used one, and then follow it with some tips if you are committed to buying a used car seat.

Why It Is Safer to Buy New Car Seats

First, for me, the biggest reason to buy new is that all car seats expire. Most only have a six-year life span. After that point, for the safety of the child, the seat should no longer be used. If you buy a used car seat, more than likely you are only going to get one to two years out of the seat—if even that. Where is the savings if you will need to buy another seat before your child is ready for a booster seat?

Second, if you are purchasing the seat from someone with whom you have not developed a trust, you really cannot be sure of the seat history.

Why is seat history important? The National Highway Traffic and Safety Association (NHTSA) recommends that any seat that is involved in a "moderate or severe" crash be replaced and never used again. If you cannot know beyond a shadow of a doubt what sort of stress the car seat has been subjected to, you should not use the seat.

Third, if you are going to be responsible in the use of your previously-owned car seat, you should go through the hassle of making sure the seat has not been recalled, and check to make sure you have all the parts and manuals that you need to use the seat properly.

If you are not willing to go to these efforts, don't buy used.

Finally, consider hidden shipping costs. Particularly on sites like eBay, you can get gouged on shipping fees when you could have gone to your local store and purchased an affordable, new seat instead. There are even several online car seat stores that offer free shipping.

Put all those pieces together, and it would seem that buying a less-expensive new car seat is the all-around better road to go.

Tips for Buying Used Car Seats

If you are certain that you want to buy a used car seat, then be selective when you pick it out. Here are a few insights:

  • Don't be seduced by a typically expensive car seat that you find used for cheap. A new affordable seat is, hands-down, better than a used name brand seat.
  • Only buy a used car seat from someone you know, and whom you trust to give you the facts about the seat.
  • Double check the expiration date (located on the car seat itself). If it only has the date of manufacture, assume a standard car seat lifespan and add 6 years to that manufacture date to find out when it will expire—or if it already has.
  • Register the car seat with the manufacturer.
  • Make sure you have all the parts and the manual. Often you can download online manuals from the manufacturer's website.
  • Inspect the car seat carefully for cracks in the shell and the EPS foam.
  • Check the harness straps (see link for details on what to look for).
  • Once you have the seat installed, take it to a car seat checkpoint and have it assessed by a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician.


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