Is it Safe to Buy Used Car Seats?

There are a lot of baby goods you can save money on by buying second hand or accepting hand-me-downs, and car seats are no different. But there are some caveats to consider before deciding to go used. The first is you won’t know the history of the seat. Has it been in a crash? Is there a chance there’s some unseen damage? Secondly, does the seat have all of its parts? The easiest way to find out is to search for an online owner’s manual and compare it to the seat. Most manufacturers allow you to order individual parts. Thirdly, has the seat been recalled? To find out, locate the date of manufacture and the model number and check The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Child Seat Recall Campaign Listing which lists recalls from 2004 to the present day (I don’t know of any organization that recommends using a seat more than 6-8 years old). To be sure, also check the manufacturer’s website. Most manufacturers like Graco have Recall & Safety Notifications available on their site. Once you’ve verified the age of the seat, that it’s complete and not recalled, and have looked it over thoroughly, it’s time to install it.

How to Install a Child’s Car Seat

I read so many times people offering the advice to visit a fire station for help when it comes to car seat installation, but let me tell you, most fire fighters know less about your car seat than you do. They’re not trained in how to install the many different lines of car seats into the thousands of cars and trucks available. Their job is to find your child safely strapped into one after an accident and while most will likely be happy to help, they’re going to read your manuals or refer you to a specialist. Sure, there are some fire departments have specially trained personnel who do keep up on the latest car seats and car models, so do check your local department’s website to see if they offer assistance, but your safest bet is to use the manufacturer’s installation videos to be sure you’ve installed yours correctly before you put your child in it the first time.

Graco offers in-depth video instructions for all of their child and infant car seats and bases. Visit the Graco Car Seat Video Demonstration pages to view the instructions for your model. This information, along with your vehicles owner’s manual should be all your need to assure proper installation. It’s the same information anyone trying to help you is going to need you to provide as well.

Get Expert Help to Install Your Car Seat and Car Seat Inspections

If you’re still unsure after viewing the video and checking your car owner’s manual, there is expert help available. Safe Kids Worldwide runs a national CPS Certification Training program which works with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Through them you can attend an event sponsored by a Safe Kids Coalition in your area where they inspect car seats at no charge. They’re specially trained child passenger safety technicians who will let you know if your seat is installed correctly and answer any questions you have about how to use your seat. If there isn’t an event in your area any time soon, you can request a contact in your area.

How to Buy a Used Car Seat (1)

When should you schedule your car seat inspection? At least 1-2 months prior to your baby’s arrival date. You can request an appointment with a CPS Technician by visiting their website.

Another option is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Through their directory of inspections stations, you can find a list of inspection stations which have certified technicians who can provide the service. Many offer them at no charge, but as when you’re making the appointment to be sure. In Washington State there are 73 Child Safety Seat Inspection Stations. Many are in Police Departments, Health Departments, and Medical Centers and yes, there are a few Fire Departments as well.

It’s a shame new parents don’t spend as much time picking out and choosing a car seat as they do other baby equipment. First and foremost a car seat’s purpose isn’t to be cute, trendy, or even comfortable. It’s not to keep your baby entertained. It’s to protect her in a crash. But it can’t do that if it isn’t installed properly. It probably the most important safety choice you’ll make as a parent – choose carefully and make sure your seat is up to industry safety standards. It’s the one piece of baby equipment I personally wouldn’t scrimp on.