“Another post about used car seats?”
Yes. Another post about used car seats. Like much of parenting, there’s the inherent instinct to dismiss professional advice as being overly-cautious or self-serving. And babies can be expensive, so clearly it’s all a scam to get parents to pay more money for more junk that they don’t need, right?
If this post didn’t convince you that used car seats should be used with caution, here are 6 things I want you to think about:
- That used seat may be hard to install or use correctly- Over time, manufacturers make upgrades to the design of their car seats. In theory, as they get smarter about design and use, they make the seats easier to use. Some older or inexpensive car seats may be very hard to adjust the straps so that they are tight enough, which means your baby wouldn’t stay secured in the car seat in the event of a sudden stop or crash. It’s also VERY common for used car seats to have stuck or difficult lower anchor adjustments, making it so you can’t tighten the seat’s install enough.
- That used car seat may have gone through an unreasonably high amount of wear and tear- Something we look for as CPSTs when looking at used seats to to see if the shell of the seat has been weakened or compromised in any way. It’s pretty common to find that a seat has gone through an excessive amount of stress and has weak points in critical parts of it. These weak points may mean that the shell breaks at the belt path or at the harness slots if placed under any extreme force.
- Seats get recalled- When a family has a used car seat sitting in the basement or garage, they may not notice if a recall has been issued on a seat (this is why registering products is critical). It’s not uncommon to come across recalls when using previously used seats. Some recalls render the seat useless, some require a fix, and some just address seat usage. Whatever it is, these are key to take into account.
- The previous owner didn’t care for the seat properly- Car seats can stop working if not cared for in the correct manner. Using bleach on webbing can lead to the straps breaking down, causing them to be very weak. Failure to clean moving parts according to manufacturer’s instruction can cause them to seize up and no longer work. Clips and tabs can break off over time. It’s important to take these possibilities seriously.
- The car seat has been put together incorrectly- I don’t have any hard and fast statistics on this, but it’s VERY common for a seat that’s been used over a length of time to have the various straps and buckles twisted, threaded through the seat the wrong way, or to have parts of the seat backwards or in the wrong place. Without a thorough knowledge of how seats should work, you may not be able to determine if a seat has problems that need to be fixed.
- The car seat is too dirty to salvage- Babies are messy. Spit-up, vomit, poo, crumbs–lots of things end up in a car seat. Usually, the car seat cover can be removed and washed (usually on delicate, but always follow the manufacturer’s instructions), but other things like buckles and straps often can only be cleaned with warm water and mild detergent.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I can understand that the expense of a car seat can seem very overwhelming. However, there are good ways to spend those dollars in a way that is both wise and safe and that is useful for a long length of time. After all, it’s better to spend $200 on one seat that your child can use until he’s 6 or 7 years old than to buy 4 seats at $75-$100 or more each time to get to that same age. We’re talking about something that can protect your child from the leading cause of death for kids. That’s something to value.
The National Highway and Transportation and Safety Administration has some very good resources that can be helpful to understand the complicated topic of car seats. Check it out, and let me know if you have questions!