Parents Beware: What You Need to Know Before Buying or Selling a Used Car Seat

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Published Sunday, May 27, 2018

If getting rid of an old car seat is on your spring cleaning to-do list, or if you're an expectant parent hoping to save a few bucks by obtaining a secondhand seat, there are a few things you need to know. While reusing car seats may seem economical and environmentally friendly, Car Seats Colorado wants to remind parents there are some very serious safety risks involved.

"A car seat is one of the most important things you will buy for your child," said Colorado State Patrol (CSP) Trooper Tim Sutherland, Child Passenger Safety Coordinator for Car Seats Colorado. "I've seen car seats save children's lives, and, unfortunately, I've also seen too many car seats that failed because they were compromised or not properly installed."

During the Colorado Department of Transportation's (CDOT) three Click It or Ticket enforcement periods in 2017, 362 citations were issued for an improperly restrained child under the age of 16 -- 81 of which involved children under the age of four. The top five offending counties were Garfield County (50 citations), Mesa County (31 citations), Jefferson County (29 citations), Adams County (27 citations), and Weld County (24 citations).

Whether you're looking to sell, give away, borrow or buy a used car seat, keep in mind these questions that could save your (or someone else's) child's life:

  • Has the car seat expired? Car seats expire, just like that sour milk in your fridge. This is due to several factors -- materials wear down over time, models are only safety-tested for a typical lifespan, and technology and safety standards change. The same is true for booster seats. You can find the expiration date stamped on the manufacturer label on the side or base of the seat. Generally, car seats expire six years after the date of manufacture.
  • Has it ever been recalled? If so, was the recall addressed and resolved? To check for recalls, you will need the make, model, model number and date of manufacture for the car seat. You can search for recalls online by going to CarSeatsColorado.com.
  • Has it ever been involved in a crash? The quality of a car seat is compromised after it has been in a moderate or severe crash -- even if you can't see evidence of damage to the seat. Avoid using a used car seat unless you know its entire history.
  • Can you verify the car seat has all its original parts? This includes hardware, harnesses and tether straps. If you're not sure, get out the owner's manual and check that all the parts are present. Otherwise, you may not realize a part is missing or damaged until it's too late.
  • Does it have the original owners manual? Car seats are not always the most intuitive products to install. Without an owners manual and instructions, you run the risk of improperly installing the car seat. This also includes any special care instructions for the seat, as these are not typically universal.

If you can't confidently answer any one of these questions about a used car seat -- do not buy or attempt to sell or donate it.

A modern, intact car seat is a child's best protection in a crash. Don't let the price of a car seat discourage you -- more expensive does not mean safer. All car seats -- whether they're $40 or $400 -- must meet the exact same safety standards.

While many people have good intentions in wanting to donate or pass down a free, used car seat they no longer need, it's important that any potentially dangerous seats (those that don't meet the criteria above) are removed from circulation. For this reason, Car Seats Colorado created a free recycling program for expired, damaged or unusable car seats.

"When in doubt, recycle the car seat," said Sutherland. "It's free and we have convenient drop-off locations throughout Colorado to make it as easy as possible."

Car Seats Colorado works with more than 20 partners across the state that will accept car seats on the organization's behalf to be recycled. Car seats can be dropped off at any time during business hours. To see a list of recycling program drop-off locations, visit CarSeatsColorado.com.

Car crashes are a leading cause of death among children under the age of 13 nationwide and, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), three out of four children are not properly restrained when riding in vehicles.

Law enforcement hopes increased enforcement will help reduce that number. The annual statewide Click It or Ticket enforcement period is currently underway. CDOT, Colorado State Patrol and 80 statewide law enforcement agencies are participating. The increased enforcement began May 21 and runs through June 3.

Colorado's Child Passenger Safety Law is a primary enforcement, meaning the driver can be stopped and ticketed if an officer sees an unrestrained or improperly restrained child under age 16 in the vehicle.

Car Seats Colorado provides education and resources to help parents ensure their children are riding safely, as well as recycling programs for used car seats and training courses for safety technicians. Car Seats Colorado is comprised of the CSP, CDOT, local car seat technicians, law enforcement, emergency services and other professionals who are dedicated to implementing child passenger safety programs.