Secondhand child's car seat may not be bargain, EMT says

Mike DeDoncker

So, you’re at a garage sale and there’s this child’s car seat on one of the tables and you think “bargain.”

Think again, says Lifeline Ambulance EMT-B Kevin Monahan, a certified child passenger safety technician instructor with the Winnebago County (Ill.) Safe Kids Coalition. If the seat is more than six years old, he said, its safety recommendation is likely to have expired, although a few are certified for up to nine years.

“With the garage sale season really coming on,” Monahan said, “we really try to focus on secondhand sales of seats. It is not recommended in any way, shape or form to sell or to buy a car seat at a garage sale. I went garage saling over the weekend and found several seats that were expired.”

Among the reasons that seats are considered expired, he said, are that safety standards change over the years and that the plastic used in the seats can deteriorate and become brittle from exposure to high heat inside a closed car in summer and low temperatures in winter.

“A lot of what happens with car seats is unintentional. It’s just a lack of knowledge,” Monahan said, “but statistics show that as many as eight out of 10 car seats are installed incorrectly or used incorrectly. It can be anything from not being in the vehicle tightly enough, to the harness not being used correctly, to being the wrong seat for the child.”

If the seat being used is not new, Monahan said, another consideration should be whether it has ever been recalled and, if so, was the recommended repair properly made.

“You want to see if there are parts missing, has it ever been in a crash,” he said. “Once a car seat has been in a crash, it’s just like an air bag or a seat belt. Under most circumstances, it needs to be replaced because of the stress that is put on the plastic and the straps in a crash.

If a parent still isn’t convinced against using a secondhand car seat, Monahan suggested these additional precautions from SafetyBeltSafe USA:

Identify the seat by exact model name.

Get a copy of the manufacturer’s instruction booklet, and read and follow the instructions carefully.

Check all parts that are present, including hardware, straps, shields and plastic clips. Don’t use the seat until everything is in place as shown in the instructions.

Find the individual “birth date” of the seat, it should be on a computer-printed label. Also look for a sticker stating the seat was made for use in automobiles.

Check the seat carefully for evidence of cracking, twisting, worn harness webbing or broken buckles.

“The one thing I can’t stress too much,” Monahan said, “is that people will go to a garage sale, pick up a car seat for $30 and think they’re saving money.

“Every car seat on the market has to meet the same federal safety standards, so whether it’s a $30 seat or a $300 seat, it has to meet those standards. The only differences your going to see in price is in the features — it might have cup holders, it might have a softer fabric or it might have thicker padding than what the federal standard requires for comfort, so buying the brand-new safety seat may be the real bargain.”

Rockford Register Star staff writer Mike DeDoncker can be reached at 815-987-1382 or