How to Buy a Safe and Affordable Car Seat

by Tracy · 0 comments

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration “Crashes are the leading cause of death for children from 3 to 14 years old.” If you’re like most families in America, your child will take several trips via car almost every day of their life, so it’s crucial to not take any shortcuts with their safety.

Many parents do not realize that car seats come with expiration dates (typically 5-7 years from date of manufacture). While some will argue that this is to encourage parents to trash perfectly good car seats, the truth is that the plastics and fabric used to manufacture car seats can degrade with time and exposure to the elements and are not guaranteed to hold up in a crash. Car seat technology is also improving every year and some outdated car seats are no longer considered safe. Seats that have been in accidents are generally considered no longer safe for use and should be destroyed.

Is it okay to buy a second hand car seat? Basically, you should never buy a used car seat from somebody who isn’t as invested in your child’s safety as you are. Never buy a used car seat from a stranger, only very close friends and family members who you can rely on to tell the truth about the seat’s history.

Here are a few more things to keep in mind before buying or accepting a car seat:

Do check the car seat’s expiration date to make sure that it’s within dates. This is printed on almost every car seat, although the location varies by manufacturer. Check the manufacturer’s website to find out where it should be on your model. Be aware that some clearanced-out seats might have a shorter time until expiration as they’ve been in the warehouse for some time; this is could be a concern if you are purchasing a seat that can conceivably be used until your child is four or five.

Make sure that it will fit properly in your vehicle (this goes for a new seat, too). While all car seats approved for sale in the USA meet standards, not every seat will install properly in every car. has an active forum where many experienced car seat safety technicians can help you narrow down your choices (note: not every poster is a certified child passenger safety technician so be sure to ask about qualifications before taking advice).

Speaking of certified child passenger seat technicians (CPST), it’s worth the time and small fee to find one who can teach you how to properly install and use your new car seat. The NHSTA has a tool that can help you find a certified CPST and/or a local car seat inspection event.

Don’t assume that the most expensive car seat will automatically be the safest choice for your child and vehicle. Do check Consumer Reports safety ratings for the car seat(s) you are considering (note: many public libraries have accounts that you can access for free if you are not a subscriber). All current car seats will meet minimum safety ratings – the most important thing that you, as a parent, can do to ensure your child’s safety is to properly install the car seat and use it correctly each and every time your child is in the vehicle.

If you can afford the initial investment, look for convertible car seats that have higher weight limits for rear-facing (some go up to 40 lbs rear facing) and forward facing (some will allow children to sit harnessed forward-facing up to 70 lbs). The AAP now recommends that infants ride rear-facing until 2 years of age, which is well beyond the point most children will have passed the 20lb rear-facing limit that some seats have. A seat with higher weight limits will be a larger up-front investment but can save you the hassle and expense of buying a replacement when your child meets the weight limits. It might seem strange to those of us who were children when car seats were not common, but any children now ride in harnessed seats until kindergarten (or even beyond if they are small for their age).

If you are unable to afford a car seat, know that there are options to get a free car seat for your child. In most areas, you can call 211 to be connected to social service agencies in your area who can help. Your health insurance provider or Medicaid program might also have a program that can assist you in getting a car seat.

Do know that most auto insurance policies will provide you with a new car seat if yours are damaged in an accident or are stolen. Contact your insurance agent to verify coverage before you need it and what documentation you’ll need if you ever need to make a claim.

Buying a car seat can be expensive, but it’s one cost that new parents can’t afford not to make. There are many other ways to save on your children stuff. Even a lower-priced car seat can save your child’s life if installed properly and used correctly each and every time.

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