People are always looking for bargain, especially in these tight financial times. While we all realize that a car seat is a necessary expense to provide for a child’s safety, no one can be blamed for wanting to do it on a budget, especially if the used car seat they’re considering looks good on casual inspection.
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In addition, those of us with environmental concerns often favor recycling and getting as much use out of something as possible rather than discarding it when it still has useful life.
However, we are dealing with the child’s safety here. No one wants to take any unnecessary risks. The usual recommendation is not to buy a used car seat. That may be a little harsh as a blanket recommendation. I think there are times when it’s okay to buy a used car seat, but you need to be very careful. Here’s some things to keep in mind.
First, only consider car seats that appear to be in excellent condition. Reject anything with any cracks, discoloration of the plastic, missing parts, etc.
It’s a plus if the original instruction manual is available as well, although you can usually get that online. Make sure you can before you buy. It’s very important that you install the car seat correctly.
Car seats do have a limited life span. Most of them are made out of sturdy plastic and padded with foam to provide protection. Over time, the plastic and foam both deteriorate. The plastic shell becomes stiff and brittle and may not withstand a crash. The foam becomes stiff and won’t offer the padding and protection it did when new.
Also, manufacturers and regulators continually upgrade the performance requirements for car seats as real-world results come in from examining what happened in car crashes involving children. An older car seat may have met past safety requirements, but not the current ones.
Most reputable manufacturers put an expiration date on their car seats. Typically this will be 5 to 6 years. Since they tend to be on the conservative side (I suspect both because they don’t want to be sued car seat under-performed in an accident and also because they wouldn’t mind selling you another car seat sooner rather than later), it might be okay to buy a car seat in excellent condition that year or two past the expiration date. Obviously, I can’t recommend that. You should respect the manufacturer’s recommendation.
Another thing to keep in mind is that on occasion car seats have been recalled because various problems came up once they were in widespread use. You certainly don’t want to buy one of those car seats so be sure to check online or with the manufacture to be certain that the car seat you’re considering is not I’m a recall list.
If the labels are missing and you’re not certain what the make and model of the car seat is, don’t even consider buying it.
You also need to be careful about buying a car seat from someone you don’t know, for example at a garage sale or a flea market. In those situations you won’t know the history of the car seat. Car seats that have been in a significant accident need to be discarded. The stress of the accident may have weakened the car seat and it’s anchors sufficiently that they won’t hold up in a second accident. When you buy from someone you don’t know, you have no idea what the history of the car seat is. It’s a different matter when you gain a car seat from your next-door neighbor or family member.
With these tips in mind it may be reasonable to buy a used car seat. But if you can’t find one that meets this criteria, keep in mind that even the least expensive new car seat meets contemporary safety standards. The differences in price usually relate more to convenience and accessory features rather than performance.