Used Baby Car Seats: Better Safe Than Sorry

How to ensure that the used baby car seat you're considering is safe: what to look for, questions to ask, possible risks, safety resources.

Did you know that a car seat that has been in an accident might have miniscule damage, which is not even visible to the naked eye? These tiny fissures or stress points could cause the car seat to fail in the case of an accident, putting your baby at risk!

We called the National Highway Traffic & Safety Association (NHTSA) and they told us that you should never buy a used car seat unless you are 100% positive that it has never been involved in an accident. And unless you are buying it from a very close friend or relative, you may have trouble verifying this. Even a carseat that hasn't been in an accident, though, may no longer be safe. Over time, heat, cold, humidity and sunlight can cause significant damage. This may include corroded plastic, wear or stiffness in the straps. Adjustments can cause uneven wear in the straps and harnesses, as well as damage to the padding and covers.

It's easy to see the appeal - used car seats often sell for far less than retail price at garage sales and consignment stores. However, before you snap up this "bargain" seat, take the following steps:

* Write down the car seat manufacturer, model number and serial number.

* Call the NHTSA Hotline (see below) and confirm that this particular model and serial number has not been recalled.

*Inspect the car seat carefully. Look at the condition of the straps, the joints, and the physical structure for any sign of wear or stress. Don't forget to look under the cover, especially in the strap path, for signs of wear. Remember, though, that you may not be able to see even potentially major damage with your naked eye!

* Confirm that all of the parts are there, including restraining clips and owner's manual. These will provide you with key information on safe installation and use of the carseat.

* Ask the seller to verify for you - in writing - that this carseat has never been involved in an accident. If they aren't willing to do this, walk away.

Some honest resellers will have verified the condition and recall status of the car seat. Nonetheless, unless it was actually their own personal carseat, they will be hard-pressed to guarantee you that this carseat was never in an accident. And do you really want to take that risk, just to save a few dollars?

Think twice before you buy a used carseat. The life you risk may be your child's, and the damage that causes a carseat to fail may not even be visible to the naked eye. Remember that those extra few minutes you spend checking out the safety of a used carseat may make the difference between life and death for your child. A carseat is meant to protect your little one in case of an accident. You can help make sure that your carseat is fit to do its job, just by taking a few extra minutes to check it out. In the long run, you're far better off to be safe than sorry.

For more information on Used Carseats, and Car Seat Safety, check out these resources:

National Highway Traffic & Safety Association, at (888) DASH-2-DOT

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