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Secondhand Car Seats: Can I buy one? Can I sell one?

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Question: Are used carseats safe to use?

Answer: Maybe.

There is nothing inherently wrong with a used child safety seat.  The main concern is if you don’t know the history, then it is possible it may have been in a crash or damaged.  It may be fine to take a gently used car seat from a sibling or good friend.  Buying one used at an auction site or second-hand store can be risky.  Here are some questions to consider even if you are just borrowing a seat:

  1. Do you trust the previous owner(s) with the life of your baby?
  2. Is the seat in good working condition with minimal wear and no loose parts?
  3. Do you know that the seat was never in a crash, dropped or otherwise damaged?
  4. Do you know that cleaners and solvents were never used on the harness system?
  5. Are all parts present and working correctly?
  6. Are the manual and labels all present?
  7. Is the seat approved for use in your country?
  8. If there is a recall on this car seat has it been resolved?
  9. Did you check that the car seat is not expired?
  10. Did you answer “YES” to all the questions and do you feel comfortable that it will protect your baby in a crash?

It should also be fine to sell or pass along your own used car seat to a friend or relative, provided you can answer “YES” to these same questions and know that you’d trust the seat for your own baby.  If you aren’t certain about one of the questions, anything is possible.  That eBay listing for an “open box” or “like new” car seat may have been returned after a drop or crash, you just never know if you don’t know and trust the previous owner.

While we generally recommend that you buy a new carseat, we understand they can be expensive.  We do list models in every budget category in our Recommended Seats Guide.  Budget convertible and combination child safety seats can be found for under $50 and boosters from $15.  In some areas, local health departments, Safe Kids organizations or other non-profits may distribute free or low-cost car seats.  We also recognize that a used car seat is very likely to be safer than no car seat at all, but the questions above are still very important to the safety of your baby.

If you have any questions about the safety of a used or expired car seat, please contact the manufacturer for more guidance.  Here are some other resources:

NHTSA Used Car Seat Safety Checklist

IIHS: Purchasing a child seat

American Academy of Pediatrics: Used Car Seats

SafeKids: Is it Okay to Use a Second-Hand Car Seat?

CarseatBlog: Buying and Selling Used Carseats

Child Passenger Safety advocates are not out to terrify you into buying a new seat when a perfectly good used one is available.  We just want to make sure parents and caregivers know how to identify a second-hand car seat that may be safe to use for your most precious cargo.

Does My Car Seat Expire? Do I Really Need to Buy a New One?

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Car Seat Expiration Questions Answered, Plus a Used Car Seat Check List

Question: Can I Use My Expired Car Seat?

Answer: “NO,” not according to the manufacturer.  Always follow manufacturer instructions, including expiration dates.  Only the manufacturer of your car seat can advise you to do something other than what is printed on your car seat labels or instruction manual.

There are many reasons that manufacturers have expiration dates for car seats:

  • Plastics and materials weaken with age from prolonged exposure to light, oxygen, humidity, extreme heat, temperature cycles or even vibration
  • Damage like cracks and stress marks can result from drops or crashes
  • Parts can go missing, including essential ones for switching modes
  • Vomit, cleaners & oxidation can damage harness and adjustment mechanisms
  • Labels peel and wear, making it more difficult to find limits, instructions, model number information to check for recalls and if the seat was actually certified for use in your country
  • Manufacturers want to sell you a safer new seat with the latest technology

It’s that last reason that leads some caregivers to believe in conspiracy theories.  Are all the manufacturers and retailers colluding with each other to fill our landfills with perfectly good [used] car seats just to profit by selling you a new one?

Car seat manufacturers are, after all, for-profit companies.  They do want to make money.  They also genuinely want to keep your kids safe and, of course, avoid lawsuits.  Some shorter expiration dates seem overly conservative even to me.  Many today have a reasonable lifespan of 8-10 years.  Consider that there is simply no way for a manufacturer to know what conditions or abuse a car seat may endure in one year, let alone six years!  Yes, individual parts of a car seat may well last much longer than 10 years, maybe even 20-30 years, but the question is how long will ALL the parts together protect a child in a crash?  While it’s obvious that they don’t last forever, how long a car seat is usable depends mostly upon the owner.

Consider a rear-facing-only infant seat that was manufactured 6 years ago.  Perhaps it sat on the shelf and was sold a year later, being gently used with baby for about a year; then it was stored away in a cool, dry basement for 4 years.  Now, baby #2 is on the way but the seat just expired.  Must it really be thrown away or recycled, if car seat recycling is even available in your area?  Despite the light use, we must officially advise that you still follow the manufacturer’s instructions or contact the manufacturer for guidance.

But what if?

  1. If you are the only owner or trust the previous owner(s) with the life of your baby
  2. If the seat is in good working condition with minimal wear and no loose parts
  3. If the seat was never in a crash, dropped or otherwise damaged
  4. If cleaners and solvents were never used on the harness system
  5. If all parts are present and working correctly
  6. If the manual and labels are all present
  7. If the seat was approved for use in your country
  8. If there were no recalls (or any recalls were resolved)
  9. If the seat was unused in a box at a retailer or stored properly for a long time
  10. If you are also convinced it will protect your baby in a crash

That’s a lot of “ifs“, and they may also apply as a Used Car Seat Checklist if you are considering a secondhand car seat. 

It’s simply impossible for a manufacturer, a certified child passenger safety technician, journalist or online advocate to say if your own car seat or a used car seat meets all these “ifs.”  We all advocate for what is safest for your child and there are just too many unknowns with an older car seat that is owned by someone else.  Only the owner can decide if all these apply and if they are willing to accept any risk.  A secondhand or expired car seat may well be safer than no car seat at all if you absolutely cannot afford a new one and cannot find a free distribution program in your area, but the concerns above are still valid.

Letting Your Teen Drive Your Newer Car: Difficult or Easy Choice?

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National Teen Driver Safety Week 2019

October 20-26 is National Teen Driver Safety Week.  Keeping kids safe in cars has been our focus at CarseatBlog for over a decade now.  That doesn’t stop when they move out of a booster into a seatbelt!  Did you know that the risk to older teens is much greater than the risk to younger children in motor vehicles?  In fact, driving and riding with other teen drivers is simply the most dangerous routine activity that many teens will ever do in their life.   Unlike kids in some younger age groups, car crashes are still the #1 killer of teen drivers.  There were almost 2000 deaths and over 230,000 injuries to teens age 16-19 in car crashes in 2017 in the USA.  By comparison, there were 270 deaths and roughly 41,000 injuries to children age 5-8 in the same period according to CDC Data.

For young children, child passenger safety advocates have a guideline that we prefer to put the least protected occupant in the most protected seating position if possible.  For example, a child in a rear-facing carseat generally is very well protected from side impacts, so they could be placed in an outboard seating position, while an older child in a backless booster might ride in the center seat if appropriate.  Is the same principle even more important for teen drivers, given the much higher number of injuries and fatalities?

Of course, teen drivers are always in the driver seat, but what vehicle are they driving?  Are they in mom’s newer SUV with the top safety ratings and crash avoidance features?  Maybe they don’t get to drive the newest car in the family, so they use dad’s sedan from five or ten years ago that still has good safety ratings.  Or, are they in a used compact car from 15-20 years ago that may have been in a crash with frame damage?  Is putting the least safe driver in the safest vehicle available to them a mantra we should be teaching?

 

 

Yes, it’s tough to let your 18 year-old drive that shiny newer car, knowing that it’s more likely to get some dents and scratches.  It’s even tougher to let your new teen driver take the wheel of the newest car in the household, with a much greater risk of it being wrecked in a crash.  The problem is that inexperienced teen drivers also have a far greater risk of being severely injured.  Those advanced crash avoidance features may be what can keep them out of a crash.  If they do crash because of inexperience or distractions, those top safety ratings may be exactly what they need to avoid serious injury.  We have a list of safe and more affordable used and new cars for teen drivers.

If you are worried about your children in carseats being injured in a car crash, consider this table below.  In 2017, about 1,200 children age 0-14 died in motor vehicle crashes.  With any contagious disease, that would be considered an epidemic with immediate public outcry and government action.  Nearly 6,700 young adults age 15-24 died in crashes the same year.  For any cause of death, this is nothing short of a crisis.  According to the CDC, “Per mile driven, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are nearly three times more likely than drivers aged 20 and older to be in a fatal crash.

You did your best keeping your young kids in carseats and safe in crashes.  It’s so much more important to do the same once they start driving and riding with other teens!  Please, consider the risks before making your teen drive the least safe vehicle available to them in the family.

More fon Teen Driving rom NHTSA

2019-2020 Update: Safest Affordable Used & New Cars

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Safest Used Cars Deals for $10K or Less, & Best New Car Safety Picks Under $25K for Teen Drivers and Families

Many families put a high priority on safety for their kids.  Unfortunately, for various valid reasons, most are not able to go out and buy a brand new car with the latest safety features.  Perhaps others are buying a car for a teen or college student and want something safe, but are concerned they might wreck a new car.  Earlier this year, the IIHS evaluated hundreds of cars to produce an updated list of recommended models for teens.  A similar list was created by Consumer Reports.

NHTSA: Teen Driving

I have somewhat different criteria for my teen drivers, with the most emphasis on actual crash test results and crash avoidance safety features.  For example, while I also exclude the smallest sub-compact and “micro” vehicles, I have no issue with my teen driving a compact sedan, but only if it has very good crash test results.  Compact sedans are less expensive to buy and maintain, plus they are generally easier to maneuver and park, especially for an inexperienced driver.

Unfortunately, the IIHS excludes compact sedans from their list, even top performing models with many safety features and good all-around crash test scores, including their own small overlap test.  In fact, some models they have recommended in the past do marginally or poorly in this newer crash test.  Like Consumer Reports, many of their recommendations are well over $10,000 even with very high mileage.  Speaking of Consumer Reports, they omit many very safe choices if the vehicle didn’t do well in their proprietary reliability rankings.

For this list, the requirements are very objective and focus only on safety with a price threshold.

Safe Used Vehicle Requirements:

  1. 5-star NHTSA overall rating
  2. IIHS Top Safety Pick
  3. Around $10,000 or less to buy
  4. Good visibility and handling
  5. No sports cars, minicars, sub-compacts or any model under 2,700 lbs
  6. No “2-star” or “1-star” ratings in any individual NHTSA crash test or rollover rating
  7. No “Marginal” or “Poor” IIHS crash test results in ANY crash test, including the newer small overlap tests

Safest Used Vehicle Preferences:

  • IIHS Top Safety Pick+
  • No 3-star NHTSA ratings in any test
  • Midsize or larger, 3,200 lbs. or more
  • Stability Control and Side Curtain Airbags standard
  • 2011 or newer.  In 2011, the NHTSA began crash testing with its improved crash test system that doesn’t compare to models before 2011

Safe Vehicle Wish List: