Can You Use a Secondhand Car Seat?

In the March issue of ShopSmart, put out by the publisher of Consumer Reports, experts analyzed used baby gear to determine “when you can gratefully say yes and when you should gracefully say no thanks.”  I am devoting several posts to discussing their findings.  (I wrote about used  baby bath tubs here.)

ShopSmart has this to say about hand-me-down car seats:

Safe: A car seat that has all its original parts and labels, has never been in a crash, and fits your car and child is OK.

Not Safe: Products more than six years old are outdated, and most likely too run down to be considered safe.

Now for my own story: We found a car seat in a dumpster, dusted it off, buckled it in, and used it ever since.  Kidding!  I had heard all the warnings about using a secondhand car seat, so we got a brand new one.   If someone I trusted had offered me a car seat, I would have happily borrowed one.  Unfortunately for me, I did not have many (actually, any) friends with kids who lived nearby.  But, to assuage my eco-guilt, I did pass the infant car seat along to a friend’s baby.  That baby outgrew it in just eight months, and by then my cousin had a baby, so now she’s using it.  I hope that as many babies as possible use the seat before it “expires.”  (This idea really worked for me.  For more Works for Me Wednesday tips, check out Rocks in My Dryer!)

If I had to do it all over again, I may have considered the car seats that work for infants and convert to boosters for older kids.  The whole car seat issue was so overwhelming.   Does anyone else have some green ideas for car seats?  Let us know!


  1. I borrowed an infant car seat from a friend whose child had recently outgrown it. Eventually I will return it to her to be used for her next baby. that I know a lot more about all this baby stuff I’ll probably just buy one of those convertible seats that you can use forever with the next kid, like you mentioned in the article. I will do a lot of things differently with the next one, in fact…

  2. We were one of the first to have babies in our group of friends. If i had a friend to borrow from I would have. I tried to get my Sister in law and a few friends to use ours since we will have a baby that are in between but she wanted the new one to match the baby. Oh well we are working on getting them to see how it saves money and isn’t wasteful.

  3. Rebecca, you really had me going with the dumpster gag – especially having written the baby bath post in the same manner!

  4. Personally, I think it’s a good idea to buy a new carseat unless you are sure it has not been abused. Save money on other things and spend a little more on the carseat.

    Keeping your baby safe in a crash is priceless.

  5. After doing my research, I had decided that a car seat was one of the few things that we would *not* try to buy used. From what I had read, you should not use a used car seat that is more than 5 years old, and you should not buy one from a second-hand store, because you can not be sure that it was never in a car accident. I figured this was one case where spending money, and not being “green” was worth it.
    I even picked out the one we wanted and registered for it. The very next day a dear friend offered to pass on hers, which happened to be a fancier version of the one we registered for. Her son just turned one, so I know that it’s fairly new. And I trust her completely, so I know that it’s never been in an accident. I thought it interesting that the once I put that energy out into the universe, a car seat appeared that was perfect for us! Maybe I’m reading too much into it!
    BTW, I’ve since read a three-year rule, that you should not use a used car seat that is more than three years old.

  6. We purchased an infant travel system that included the carseat new, my fiance really put a lot of time picking out the right stroller system for us. He wouldn’t dare put our new baby in a used car seat. I on the other hand was all for a craigslist purchase. So we have the new one but after a few months we were given a hand me down seat from my cousin and we put that in our other car that isn’t driven so much.

  7. Heather, I never said I wanted to buy a used car seat to save money; my issue has always been about buying something made of eleven pounds plastic that has an expiration date of just five years. As I wrote here, I ended up getting a new seat, but my “green idea” is to pass the seat on to other babies. We never got in a crash while using the car seat, so I feel good about this.

    Jennifer, I haven’t heard that three year rule! This ShopSmart issue just came out–it’s March 2009–and as you can see (above), it is saying six years. I think my car seat, which my cousin’s baby is using now, should be able to work for a couple more babies yet!

  8. I too have recently heard three years. Prior to that I had heard five. It seems like the recommendations are always changing!

  9. If you Google “return car seats for recycling” you will get some links to where you can send your car seat to be recycled. Here is one web site:

    When you are done with it, or it’s in an accident, this is one option!

  10. Thank you so much, Diana! I can’t tell you how relieved I am that someone is recycling car seats. Seriously, I put a little too much time into worrying about this. . . .

  11. Just wanted to say that I work with very poor parents and sometimes the only way they are going to get a car seat at all is to get one used. its not always about choosing where to put the money — i.e. get new clothes or not. These are parents that have the child in a cloth diaper and blanket until it hits 10 pounds because that is what they can afford. For things like that, it would be nice if there were better options, and fewer people passing judgement. My clients have to chose between eating and buying a carseat, not between the $75 one and the $35 one. For the latest client they had been saving up for her entire pregnancy in order to be able to afford to buy diapers!

  12. Great point, Ti. I have a friend who works in a shelter, and she was surprised to hear that some baby guides say to never, ever accept a used crib (or car seat, or whatever). Where she works, ALL of their cribs are used because they are donated. I obviously don’t believe that all used items are dangerous (or that all new ones are not!). It seems like a shame to throw baby gear away after one baby has used it, especially considering all the people who may not be able to afford something new.

  13. Hello, all. I read with interest all of your posts. I am a nationally certified child passenger safety technician whose mission it is to educate about car seat safety. The reason why car seats “expire” is because the plastic is subject to extreme weather conditions and can become brittle over time so that the harness will not be able to do its job in a crash, nor will the plastic shell be able to absorb the impact of the crash forces. While it is OK to pass on a seat to a friend if you have not had a crash, be aware of the expiration date which is either molded in to the seat on the bottom, or else on a label on the side or bottom. Count on it being good for 5-6 years from that manufacturing date. An important part of what I do involves education; it is not enough to hand an indigent family a car seat, we do so but then educate them on how to use it properly as it varies with the child’s age, weight, height, and even type of vehicle. There are indeed car seats for those who cannot afford them. Please help get the word out about used seats being unsafe when in a thrift store/consignment sale situation. I have seen many that made me cringe, knowing how potentially dangerous they were if that child were to be subjected to a crash while riding in it.

  14. I too have been very interested in all the feedback, I am currently investigating the possibility of redesigning a more environmentally friendly car chair that is safer for children by making use of fabrics and manufacturing materials that are not toxic for our children, and equally importantly safer to travel in. I would like to know if anyone has specific points that I can help problem solve in the design process.

  15. I never get tired of reading your articles- good things, that i find and you write about them

  16. Somebody explains to me how an infant car seat which is removed from its base with baby inside, brought inside house….brought back in the car only for rides with baby in it would become so brittle by sun. Base constantly left in sunny car could be changed and buckles could be changed as well.
    can we put back some good sense to that issue?

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