Why New Car Seats Are Safer Than Secondhand Seats

parent buckling baby into car seat

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You can save a lot of money on baby items by buying used. However, when it comes to car seats, it's much better to stick with new. Purchasing a used car seat might save you a few dollars upfront, but in the long run you might have to replace it sooner than you would if you purchased a new one.

Additionally, you want your car seat to be as safe as possible for your little one. But a used car seat may have expired, been recalled, have missing or broken pieces, or been involved in a crash. It's always better to buy a new seat over a used one, and there are ways to find inexpensive or even free car seats.

Why New Car Seats Are Safer

A car seat's primary job is to keep your child safe when they are riding in a car. With a used car seat, you can't be sure that it will fully protect your child.

Car Seats Expire

The biggest reason to buy new is that all car seats expire. Most have a six- to 10-year lifespan, with a few lasting less than six years. After that point, for the safety of the child, the seat should no longer be used.

Although there are no set government rules on these dates, manufacturers establish expiration dates based on safety testing and typical use. Car seats also must adhere to regularly changing safety regulations provided by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the National Highway Traffic and Safety Association (NHTSA).

Car Seats Experience Wear and Tear

Just like your baby's crib, a car seat is probably one of the most used pieces of baby equipment. This means the straps are going to be buckled and unbuckled and the car seat installed and uninstalled quite a bit. Eventually, parts can break, straps can fray, or pieces can get lost. When this happens, the car seat is less effective.

Also, car seats often sit in a hot car during the summer months and in a cold car in the winter. This exposure to extreme temperatures—as well as direct sunlight in some cases—can cause the plastic to degrade over time.

Purchasing a new car seat ensures that the seat is in the best condition. If you buy a used car seat, more than likely you are only going to get one to two years out of the seat—if even that. There is not much savings if you will need to buy another seat before your child is ready for a booster seat.

Newer Models Feature Improvements

One of the benefits of purchasing a new car seat is that manufacturers are continually improving their safety features as well as making design improvements. Because your car seat is holding precious cargo, you want to ensure you are using a car seat that is as safe and sturdy as possible.

Crash History Is Important

If you are purchasing a used car seat from someone you do not know or have never met, you really cannot be sure of the seat history, especially with regard to use and accidents. If you cannot know beyond a shadow of a doubt what sort of stress the car seat has been subjected to, you should not use the seat.

The NHTSA recommends that any seat that is involved in a moderate or severe crash be replaced and never used again.

Some manufacturers indicate that their seats must be replaced even after a minor crash. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions if a car seat has been involved in a crash. Even if the seat looks visibly safe, the integrity of the structure could have been compromised even in minor fender benders.

Car Seats Are Subject to Recalls

It is not uncommon for car seats to be recalled. If you are committed to buying used, you must determine whether the seat you are considering has been recalled. Many recalled seats are still usable and do not look like there are any issues, but this is not always the case.

New Car Seats Have All Parts

A used car seat may not come with all of the original parts and pieces. This includes manuals, warranties, and other materials that you need to use the seat properly. If you are not able to ensure all of these things are included, you should not buy used.

How to Find an Affordable Car Seat

When most people consider buying a used car seat, it is usually because of budget concerns. After all, car seats are expensive and when factored in with everything else you will need for your new baby can be overwhelming to plan for if your budget is tight.

But aside from a crib, a car seat is one of the most important pieces of baby equipment you will need. Use these strategies to find a car seat you can afford.

Access Community Resources

Start by checking with your local Women, Infants, Children (WIC) office. If you qualify, you may be required ‎to take a short class to learn about car seat safety and usage, but once you complete the program you get a voucher that ‎can be used to buy a car seat. If your local WIC doesn’t have such a program, you can ask them about ‎other local programs that might be able to help you.

State-run programs, local charities, and even some businesses have programs that help people get car seats for their little ones when they cannot afford them. You may have to ask around, do some online research, and make a few calls, but with a little legwork, you may be able to find an organization that is giving away free car seats or vouchers to qualifying parents.

Ask a Hospital or Police Department

Some local hospitals and police departments provide assistance when it comes to finding an affordable car seat. Hospitals may provide vouchers for car seats after you complete their prenatal program, and some police departments do community drives so that they can provide car seats to people in their community who are in need.

Keep in mind that the law requires your baby to be in a car seat. In order to be discharged from the hospital and leave with your baby you have to have a car seat already installed in your car. Because of this, many hospitals do what they can to help you find a seat that will fit your budget. Your OB/GYN may also have resources to help you find what you need to.

Call 211

This service can be a lifesaver for people who are struggling. It is run by the United Way and is designed to put people in touch with the help and resources they need.

The folks answering the phone lines can help with finding an affordable car seat, and they also are trained to help with other basic needs like food and rent as well. Many people find that dialing 211 keeps them from having to make a lot of phone calls looking for help. It is available in all 50 states.

Research and Shop Around

When looking for a car seat for your little one, take some time to shop around. Compare prices—including shipping costs—to determine which car seat makes the most sense for your needs and your budget. Many retailers offer free shipping if you buy online.

You also might want to consider style, weight requirements, and safety features. Ideally, you want to find a car seat that will work for your baby for some time before you have to buy a new one. That said, buying a large car seat for a newborn may not be the best route to take. Look for one that starts at a newborn weight and goes up.

Why Car Seats Are Vital

Injuries from car crashes are a leading cause of death among children in the United States. Every day, three kids die in car crashes and 502 are injured.

Buckling children in age- and size-appropriate car seats and booster seats reduces serious and fatal injuries by up to 80%.

A Word From Verywell

Buying a car seat—and using and installing it properly—is one of the most important steps you will take in caring for your baby. It also can be one of the more expensive ones. For this reason, it is often tempting to purchase a used car seat. Despite the appeal of saving a little extra money, in the long run this might not be the safest—or even the least expensive—option you have.

While it may require a little legwork and a willingness to let others know you need help, there are resources out there that help you ensure you are getting the safer option for your baby without breaking the bank in the process.

6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Nemour's Children's Health. Car seat safety.

  2. Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association. Useful life of car seats.

  3. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Car seat use after a crash.

  4. United Way 211 Program. Help starts here.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Child passenger safety.

  6. NHTSA’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis. Traffic safety and facts: 2019 data.

By Jennifer White
Jennifer White has authored parenting books and has worked in childcare and education fields for over 15 years.