The Deal With Used & Expired Car Seats

The Deal With Used & Expired Car Seats

So you’re having a baby, or maybe you’ve already had one and it’s time to look into purchasing a convertible car seat. You’re shopping around and weighing the pros and cons of the different car seats on the market when you stumble across an ad for a used car seat. Sounds like a crazy good deal. It’s probably safe, right? WRONG. What’s the deal with used and expired car seats anyway? Why does it matter if the car seat you bought was used by someone else? Aren’t car seat expiry dates just a marketing ploy? I’ve spent some time chatting with CPST Jennifer from Calgary Car Seats to try to get to the bottom of the issue of used and expired car seats. I’m going to answer some common questions parents have about used car seats and explain why purchasing used is not recommended when it comes to your child’s car seat. 

Let’s start by talking about expiry dates. Yes, car seats expire, all of them. How long a car seat is good for will depend on the make and model of your particular car seat. Every car seat has the manufacture date written/stamped on it somewhere, and every car seat manual will tell you how long after that manufacture date it will expire. It could be 6 years or it could be as long as 12 years. Regardless, it will expire. Why? Because the plastics and components that make up a car seat degrade over time. A car seat will spend a significant portion of its life installed in a vehicle. It will be subjected to high temperatures and indirect or direct sunlight all summer, and low or freezing temperatures all winter. Every day (or most days) you will be buckling a child in and out of that car seat. You’ll tighten and loosen the harness, you’ll clip and unclip the chest clip, you will install and uninstall it many times. Try to imagine the number of times you’ll have adjusted the harness or done up the chest clip on that car seat over just SIX YEARS. Even if you’re only doing it once a day, that’s over 2100 times that the car seat has been buckled and unbuckled. The car seat manufacturers have not put an expiry date on your car seat so you have to buy more car seats; it’s there for your child’s safety. If your car seat has expired, it may no longer function as the manufacturer intended and it may fail in the event of a collision. Six to twelve years (check your car seat manual for the life of your seat) is a LONG time to use a car seat. The odds are good that if you have more than one child within 4 years, you’ll be able to use the same car seat for at least two children.

The Deal With Used & Expired Car Seats

All car seats will have the date of manufacture and the life span of the seat printed on it.

 

What about used seats? I’m all for purchasing some baby items used, really. But when it comes to car seats, I would NEVER buy a used seat. Why not? To put it bluntly, it’s not safe to purchase a car seat when you don’t know the complete history of that seat. Was it in an accident? Even a minor fender bender? Most car seats need to be replaced if they’ve been in an accident, even if a child was not in the seat at the time of the accident.* How do you know that the car seat from that Kijiji or Craigslist ad wasn’t in an accident? You can’t know for sure. As much as I’d like to believe that everyone selling used baby equipment is an honest person who cares deeply for the safety of all children, the reality is that this is just not the case. Just recently a friend happened upon an ad for multiple used car seats on Kijiji. The seats looked pretty old and when she asked about the manufacture dates on them, the seller responded with a rant about why that shouldn’t matter. Guess what else that same seller had listed on Kijiji… Salvaged car parts from an assortment of wrecked vehicles. How much do you want to bet that every single used seat that person was selling came from a crashed car? Would you knowingly put your child into a car seat that had been in an accident? Didn’t think so.

 

Maybe you’ve found a used car seat at a garage sale. Maybe the family selling it seemed trustworthy when they said they’d never had an accident with the car seat in the vehicle. Does that make it okay? Nope. Why not? Well, you have no way of knowing how that seat was stored when it wasn’t in the vehicle. It’s possible that it was stored in such a way that the components were degraded or damaged. Maybe the safety notices and labels on the seat are faded beyond recognition, or no longer on the seat at all. You wouldn’t have any way of checking if that particular seat was the subject of a recall, and the manufacturer would have no way to reach you, a second owner, in the event of a recall notice. It’s even possible that the car seat manual (required to ensure proper installation) is missing.

The Deal With Used & Expired Car Seats

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (image 977)

It’s also really important to understand the Transport Canada regulations for selling used car seats. It is illegal to list for sale, sell, or donate/lend/give away any car seat manufactured before January 1st, 2012. This is because the regulations for car seat safety in Canada changed for 2012. Seats manufactured before 2012 may not comply with the new 2012 regulations and therefore cannot be sold. If you already own a pre-2012 seat that you bought brand new, you can continue to use it with your own children until the seat expires. You cannot, however, sell it, donate it, give it away, or lend it to a friend.

If you don’t have children yet, let me fill you in on a little known fact about them. They’re messy and gross. I know, I know. When you have kids yours will not be that way. Yeah yeah, I’ve heard that before. But what does that have to do with used car seats? Car seat covers can be pretty tedious to wash, so that used car seat you’re eyeing on Kijiji or at the garage sale a block over could have years of ground up cheerios, milk, juice, and even baby barf on it (or god forbid, poop from that poopsplosion back in 2014). Maybe the previous owners of that seat thought they’d be extra diligent when they cleaned the car seat to sell it and they submerged the harness straps in soapy water to give them a good scrub. Submerging car seat straps (even in plain water) compromises them and can result in the harness failing to properly restrain your child in a collision. How can you be sure that wasn’t done when the owners tidied up the seat for sale?

The Deal with Used & Expired Car Seats

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Isn’t there some way to get a car seat “re-certified” or confirmed as safe by an expert somewhere? Absolutely not. It is impossible for anyone to look at a car seat and tell you that it hasn’t been in an accident or hasn’t been compromised in some other way. There are just too many hidden safety components in a car seat to ever be sure.

 

Look, I get it, a car seat can be an expensive investment for any parent. Did you know that ALL CAR SEATS in Canada, regardless of their cost, meet all the exact same safety standards? Every seat on the market has passed the same testing. They are ALL safe when used correctly every time. None is safer than another. Why the cost difference? Ease of use and comfort features. The more expensive the seat, the more ease of use features it will have (premium latch connectors, a no rethread hardness, additional padding in the seat, etc.). The best car seat is the one that is installed correctly and used correctly every time. So regardless of your budget, read the car seat manual, read your vehicle manual, and understand how to properly install the car seat and buckle your child into their car seat. If you aren’t sure you’re doing it right, contact a Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) in your area and get your seat checked. In Canada, you can find a local CPST by following this link. In the USA, you can find a local CPST by following this link. If you’re in Calgary, you can contact Jennifer of Calgary Car Seats by following this link.

The Deal With Used & Expired Car Seats

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (image 190)

Remember how I said that car seats expire somewhere between 6 and 12 years after the date of manufacture (check your car seat manual for the exact life span of your seat)? Try to think about the cost of your car seat over its total life span. Even if you’re spending $350 on a car seat, that’s still only $58 per year if the expiry date is just 6 years after the date of manufacture (less if the seat has a longer life span). In my mind, that’s a worthwhile investment when it comes to keeping my child safe in the car.

I want to take a moment to draw a clear distinction between buying a used 2012 compliant car seat at a garage sale or off of Kijiji/Craigslist and buying one from a trusted friend or family member. If a close trusted friend or family member has offered you their used car seat, it’s a completely different thing than trusting a random stranger to tell you the truth about their car seat’s history. You’d know if your sister had a car accident with the car seat in the car. You’d know if your best friend stored their car seat outside in the rain. Moreover, your close trusted friend or family member wouldn’t sell or give you their child’s car seat if they knew it was compromised or expired.

Now you know what the deal is with used and expired car seats!

Additional information:
Transport Canada on Useful Life of a Car Seat
Health Canada on Second Hand Car Seats
Common Mistakes When Purchasing & Installing a Car Seat

*Consult your car seat manual and contact your car seat manufacturer for guidance before continuing to use your car seat after even the most minor of accidents.

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47 Comments on “The Deal With Used & Expired Car Seats

  1. Thanks for all this info! It’s illegal as well where I live to use an expired car seat so that’s good. Our infant seat is good for 6 years and we are on the second use of it now 😉 Not sure I want to have another as close as the other 2 are though!

  2. Wow! Thank you for this blog. It was very informative. I am guilty if purchasing a used car seat, however we knew the people we bought it from and know its history. I agree with you that an investment in your child’s safety is worth the money!

  3. I really want to encourage low income families, too, to check out community resources for help getting those big ticket baby items, like safe car seats. In my city there’s a program called “NeighbourLink” that helps families in need 🙂 I found them by googling “Low Income Family, infant car seat, Calgary,” so if you’re elsewhere a similar search would probably yield results. If you live in my city, though, here’s the link: http://www.neighbourlinkcalgary.ca/home/about-us/

  4. Some really great information. I know I’ve questioned why car seats have expiration dates, but it definitely makes a lot of sense to me now. Thanks for sharing!

  5. So important!! Great article! I know it will be really helpful to so many people. They keep changing the car seat laws over here- they are becoming more and more strict about how to use them and how old the babies have to be before you can change them out.

  6. Omg great info here!!! It is crazy to me how many people are clueless about this kind of stuff. Then again I am googling obsessed where most normal people aren’t lol….

  7. We had to get into a big battle with our car insurance company when we had a car accident. They didn’t want to replace our car seat. So frustrating when even car insurance companies do not know the laws, and what is expected, and what is covered.

  8. I’m so glad I read this. I was thinking about getting a used carseat. And my sister in law has an old carseat she said I could have, but it’s very old and it has been in a wreck. If I hadn’t read this post I would have never known that a carseat that has been in a wreck isn’t safe anymore. Thanks so much for the post =]]

  9. It’s always nice to read up on current car seat info.it all changes constantly. Most certainly night and day between my first and my 3rd baby (12 year span). Thanks for the great post!

  10. I completely agree with this! My daughter came early and I wasn’t able to have a baby shower. We were able to scramble around and get most of the items used, but the car seat was something we were not going to buy used! I would only use a used car seat if it was from a really really close friend or family member who I could trust completely, and only if it was not expired. We got our daughter a Graco Milestones so that hopefully, she can use it for the entire time she needs a car seat.

  11. Thank you for this. You’ve convinced me not to use the hand-me-down seat that is supposedly good until the end of 2016, and instead I’ve purchased a new one. Baby’s not due until the end of April so they’d need a new one for 2017 anyway.

  12. We just replaced two car seats for being expired . Lots of money but I’m happier knowing the kids are safe!

  13. Some really great information. I just sent to my MIL who couldn’t comprehend why car seats have expiration dates, but hopefully she understands why we can’t reuse her 35 year old car seat now! Thanks for sharing!

  14. Wow. I’m really glad I read this. I had no idea about some of this stuff. I wonder though what do you do with an old car seat after? Would it be recycleble I wonder…

    • Some cities have car seat recycling programs, but you should always cut the harness straps of an expired or crashed seat before recycling/disposing of it.

  15. This is all awesome information! Most people don’t believe this but the more it’s talked about, more people realize! Thanks for sharing.

    Also commenting for a giveaway.

  16. Thanks for all of the great information. I always cringe when I see used car seats for sale…there’s just no way to know for sure that they are safe.

  17. Thank you for all of this information. I was aware of most of it, but not about submerging the straps in water. I have done this before, to clean my kids’ car seats. Luckily I haven’t done it with the one I currently own. I’m definitely going to pass this on!

  18. We are still in infant seat,but soon need to buy another one;agree the amount sounds big but when you divide on 6-you feel better and it’s safe!

  19. I’m so happy more and more people are talking about this! Car seat safety, for some odd reason, isn’t something talked about enough. There is so much that people lack the education regarding this subject. Whether it’s expired car seats, height and weight limitations, benefits of rear facing, etc. Keep these articles coming!

  20. The only used seats we have have had came from close, trusted-friends, and were only used as secondary seats for the both of us, stored in a closet in the house unless needed.

    Thank you so much for this informative article. 🙂

  21. Really informative and informative post! So much food info to consider.

  22. First off, love the pic of the really old car seat with the extremely happy baby in it. Good reminders here. Now I better get off here and good check the expiration date on our infant car seat!

  23. Thank you for this article. We always thought car seats expired due to insurance purposes for the car seat manufacturers. Now I can knowledgeably inform hubby on the reasons why. I am all for second hand everything, but a car seat was the one item I did not feel comfortable buying used.

  24. Wow! Super informative! Now i can better explain to his grandparents that the seat they tried to give us isnt safe. (they thonk i think its just ugly lol)

  25. Great information! So many factors that can compromise the different components. Certainly not an item that you should have any questions about. Also, thank you for the links to CPST’s. Have it checked for peace of mind.

  26. Well I wish I had known how they degrade when my children were little but really we never even stopped to think about it. It all makes perfect sense.

  27. This makes perfect sense, but it is so awful from an environmental perspective. Upsetting!

  28. Thanks so much for this post. My husband and I were just discussing where we could go to have the baby seat checked once we install it.

  29. Love this post. Not only do the components of a car seat wear down over time, but after 6 or so years you can bet that companies have come out with better designed (and safer?) seats since.

    So many people don’t understand the why’s and pass expiration dates off as no big deal.

  30. Yes!! Plus, on top of the clear safety issue and not knowing the history, what about just the cleanliness in general!!?!? Most seats can only be washed in super light detergent and wiped clean with sensitive baby wipes. I don;t know about you but my sons seat has had food in it, puke, and poop lol. Ew, to passing that onto another person or having my child use ANOTHER seat with possibly the same history!

  31. I understand your passion for this. I think parenting in general needs a lot more common sense. However, The sheer waste is mind blowing to me. I have used a hand-me-down carseat from a family I knew, and it was a decision I felt good about.

    • There are car seat recycling programs in many communities. I know here in Calgary there’s a car seat recycling drop off somewhere in town almost every weekend.

  32. I am glad that you wrote this. Even though I was aware myself there could be many more parents that are not. My only question and it might be different in Canada is what do you do with expired car seats?

    • There are car seat recycling programs in many communities. You cut the harness straps first, and then you can recycle the seat. A quick google search should pull up a recycling program in your area.

  33. Great information! It always makes me cringe when I see people purchasing used car seats. Safety needs to be the number one priority, even when you could have saved a little bit of money.

  34. I love that Baby’s R’ Us will take the car seats back and give a discount on another. I feel like it makes it much easier for people to dispose of expired ones.

  35. This is great!! I used to work in the maternity ward and do carseat checks before families left. It was sad how many people had no clue. It’s why we did the checks but it seemed like no one thought it was an important part of having a baby.

    One day I went in to do a check on this new family, they had a 3 point harness manufactured in 1992 (it was 2014) and made in Mexico. I couldnt believe it. We had to scramble to help her find a new carseat before she was able to leave the hospital.

  36. I have an unusual situation. I was pregnant in 2012 and we lost the baby but my dad had already bought us the infant seat/stroller combo. We unfortunately had to go through infertility treatments for years. We are expecting now. Car seat has been sitting in the box in the nursery for 5 years. It “expires” next year which means we won’t even get to use it for a year before it expires. Seems such a shame. It’s been in a box. Do the rules of expiry apply in this case?

    • The car seat still expires on the date stamped/engraved on the seat and outlined in the manual. You can certainly use it until it expires and then move baby to a convertible seat (rear facing/forward facing) at that time. I moved Petit Prince to a convertible seat (rear facing) around 6 months old.

      Which car seat is it (brand and model) and what’s the date of manufacture?

  37. Great article. I’ve certainly always wondered this exact thing. Any tips for how to dispose of the car seat once it’s expired?

    • Hi Sherrill!

      The best way to dispose of a car seat is to remove the fabric cover, cut the harness straps, and write “EXPIRED” with a permanent marker on the shell of the seat. There are recycling programs in some areas as well. A quick google search should pull it up if one is available in your area.

      You can also contact CPSTs in your area as sometimes we are looking for training seats (and no child would ever ride in those seats).

  38. Lots of good information in this article. Thanks for explaining the why nots of used car seats!

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