Everyone is looking for a deal. I love getting a good deal on things, though I’m terrible at finding deals. Terrible! But, sometimes you have your eye out and catch a good one. With carseats, how can you tell if it’s truly a deal or a dud?
We had a family come through a carseat checkup event that prompted me to think of this. They were the last car—as all techs know, the last car at an event is usually the one that takes the longest, lol. They were a lower income family of 3 children: a 40 lbs. 2 year old, a 20 lbs. 1 year old, and a 14 week old infant. Since they didn’t have much money, mom went to Craigslist to find carseats for her children. She found a backless Cosco booster for her 2 yr old and a Safety 1st combination seat (with a harness that converts to a booster) for her 1 yr old in used condition. Unfortunately, she didn’t understand that carseats can be recalled, missing pieces, or inappropriate for a particular child. A 2 yr old should NEVER go in a belt-positioning booster seat because they don’t have the maturity to sit properly. So while her backless booster choice was appropriate for a 4-5+ year old (and really, for backless boosters, we prefer much older kids in them because of the lack of side protection and for sleeping), it wasn’t good for her 2 year old. The combination seat is an appropriate choice again for an older child: a 1 yr old should still be rear-facing. The 1 yr old’s seat was under a recall and it was missing a top tether and labels. All things that made us gasp under our breaths. But mom and dad didn’t know any better and we were so glad that the family stopped by so we could help them. From what I’ve seen at our mandatory events—parents are pulled over, they don’t willfully come to an event—buying used carseats is commonplace.
How do you know if a carseat on CL or at a garage sale is a good one? Truthfully, you can’t ever know. The person selling the seat can tell you that it’s never been in a crash and that it’s been cared for properly, but do you trust that person with your child’s life? Carseats *do* save lives, but only if they are in their best shape and appropriate for the child’s size and age.
Our friend Jennifer came up with one of the best used carseat checklists I’ve seen. It’s a step-by-step question sheet that takes even the most carseat-clueless through whether to use a previously owned carseat. You can use the checklist for a carseat that you’re borrowing from a friend or family member or for that CL seat. But behind it all, the best question you can ever ask yourself is, “Do I trust this person with my child’s life?” If you don’t trust that the person selling or giving you the carseat is truthful, don’t use the seat. There are plenty of options for new carseats ranging from inexpensive/near-CL-prices to $$$$ that there’s one for you.
(Is this seat safe?)
Used child safety seat checklist
|Do you know the history of the seat?||Yes – continue||No – DESTROY|
|Does the seat have a label with date of manufacture and model name/number?||Yes – continue||No – DESTROY|
|Is the seat less than 6 years old (unless otherwise specified in manufacturer’s instructions)?||Yes – continue||No – DESTROY|
|Does the seat have a label showing that it meets all Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards?||Yes – continue||No – DESTROY|
|Has the seat been recalled for a safety defect?||Yes – continue to 5b||No – continue to 6|
|Has the defect been corrected?||Yes – continue to 6||No – do not use until defects are corrected or DESTROY|
|Has the seat been involved in any vehicle crash (even a minor one)?||Yes – DESTROY||No – continue|
|Are there any cracks, bends or breaks in the plastic shell?||Yes – DESTROY||No – continue|
|Has the metal frame rusted, bent or broken?||Yes – DESTROY||No – continue|
|Do you have a copy of the manufacturer’s instructions?||Yes – continue||No – obtain new instructions and continue or DESTROY|
|Does the seat have all its parts – harness straps, harness clip, seat cover, tether, padding, shield and bolts?||Yes – continue||No – obtain replacements and continue or DESTROY|
|Are the harness straps worn or frayed?||Yes – Obtain replacements and continue or DESTROY||No – continue|
|Does the buckle or any other metal part show signs of rust?||Yes – Obtain replacements and continue or DESTROY||No – continue|
|When buckled, does the mechanism lock securely? Does it remain locked?||Yes – USE SEAT!!!||No – Obtain replacements and continue or DESTROY|
Since I’ve alluded to inappropriate seats and seats missing parts, what does that mean? You want a carseat that appropriate for your child’s size and age. A 2 yr old child may fit in a belt-positioning booster, but definitely isn’t mature enough to sit properly without slouching or moving the shoulder belt. The child may do OK for one ride, but I guarantee it won’t stay that way (and I don’t make many guarantees, lol). A proper carseat for a 2 yr old is either a rear-facing convertible (most preferable) or a forward-facing harnessed carseat.
How do you know if a carseat is missing parts? Well, unless you really know a carseat inside and out (and do most parents?), you’d want to consult the manual. Many times manuals are long lost and stickers pulled off the sides of the carseat. Do you know the difference between a locking clip and a splitter plate and which should be used on a harness? Many parents don’t and ask any tech—we’ve all see a locking clip used instead of a splitter plate. That’s a deadly mistake. And it’s super easy to rethread a harness strap wrong or machine wash a harness (Huh? You’re not supposed to wash the harness? Nope.) and make it an ineffective carseat in a crash. I’d venture to say that unless you are a carseat expert, you shouldn’t buy a used carseat. And chances are that if you are a carseat expert, you know not to purchase a used carseat.
So while you can find great deals on baby items on CL and at garage sales, don’t count on them for carseats. You may end up actually spending more to buy a safe carseat than you would have if you’d gone straight to the store. If you’re unsure about which carseat to buy, don’t be afraid to contact a child passenger safety technician (either online at www.car-seat.org or through your local Safe Kids). We’re here to help!