Updated on March 6, 2016
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
*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.