Used car seats: Are they safe?

used car seat

When parents face the arrival of a new baby, the number of things they feel like they need to buy can be overwhelming.  Things like clothes, diapers of some sort, and a safe place to sleep are a must.  Lots of things, like bouncy seats and jumperroos seem necessary, but are actually just extras that are nice to have.  If you can get those “nice things” for free as hand me downs, that’s great.  But what about car seats? Can you use used car seats?  Well, best practice is always to get a new seat.  Typically, newer seats have more safety features, they are usually easier to install, and they are just cleaner, for goodness sake.  But of you REALLY are dead set on using a previously used car seat, you must keep all these things in mind:

  • Can you ABSOLUTELY verify the history of a seat? If your sister is giving you a car seat she used, you would probably know if she was ever in a car crash with that car seat. You would have heard about the car accident when it happened.  However, if you are getting a seat from a friend of a friend? Maybe not.  And buying a seat at ANY garage sale or from a thrift store? Horrible idea. It’s amazing what people will rationalize when it comes to selling used car seats at a garage sale.  Your child is more important than saving a few bucks.
  • Are all the pieces there and in working order?  I have had people bring in previously used seats that are missing buckles, with cracked shells, or broken chest clips.  Sometimes you can order these missing pieces, but let’s get real:  If the seat is broken, it’s not safe.  Simple as that. You’ve worked really hard to heave a healthy baby, so don’t put thriftiness ahead of your child’s safety.  If the seat you have isn’t safe, get a new seat. Period.
  • Does the seat have labels you can read? If you can’t read the model name, number, or manufactured on date, you simply have no idea if the seat is too old to use, nor can you check if the seat had a recall issued.
  • Is the seat too old to use? Most seats have an expiration date 5 or 6 years after the date of manufacture. (A few brands have a 7 or 9 year expiration date.) Always check with the manufacturer, but if it’s expired, the manufacturer had determined that the seat can’t be assured to work in a crash.  Don’t use an expired car seat.  And if the seat will expire before your child will grow out of it, keep in mind, you WILL need to purchase a new seat when that seat expires.
  • Has the seat been recalled? When you get a new seat, you should take the little postcard it comes with, fill it out, and send it in. If it’s someone else’s seat, you will want to go online and check to make sure there wasn’t a recall issued since the seat was purchased.
  • Lost Manual? Check online. Car seat manuals are easy to lose.  Whenever there is a question on how and where to use a seat, a tech’s answer is to always check the manual. We can’t do that if it’s not there. So go find the manufacturer’s website and print out a new one…and don’t lose it.

If you do end up with a damaged or expired car seat, you have two options. You can destroy the seat and dispose of it in your normal garbage (as you see in the photo above).  You can also go to a recycling facility that will accept car seats. There may be a fee for this, though.

Lately, I’ve had some push back from parents and pediatricians when it comes to the subject of using used, unsafe seats.  I hear that “a used seat is better than no seat”….but no. There are plenty of resources for families who TRULY can’t afford a new seat.  We are happy to help families figure out their options, and can even be a resource for care providers who don’t know what options families have. If you have a used seat (or a new seat) and want to make sure it’s being installed and used correctly, schedule your individual car seat check with us today.  It’s worth every penny!



Veronica Jacobsen, BA, CLC, CPST, LCCE, FACCE
Birth Doula, Certified Lactation Counselor, Child Passenger Safety Technician, Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, Fellow of the Academy of Certified Childbirth Educators

Opening BabyLove in September of 2011 has allowed me to build a space where all families can come to get good information in a caring, welcoming environment. I have found that not only do I love teaching more than ever, but I also really love running a business. Hopefully my passion for every aspect of BabyLove shines through.
I live in Richfield with my husband, and I am a mother of a two great children. When I can steal a few free moments, I love to go on adventures with my family, cook, garden, thrift, can, and craft.


  1. […] Car seats are one of the more expensive baby items you will need to get before your baby arrives, yet the most important.  Car crashes are still the leading cause of death for children under the age of 12.  Somehow, though, they also become one of the least considered items for many families.  Why?  I don’t know– because they aren’t fun, or because they are hard to use, or overwhelming to think about, maybe.  And while many parents try to be cheap and get their hands on a used seat, this isn’t always a really good idea, as I’ve written about in a previous blog post. […]

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