#childsafety | 4 reasons you should avoid buying a second-hand car seat

Being a parent is a costly proposition, no matter how you slice it. There are walls to paint and closets to stock. You’ll need to invest in cribs, bassinets, pack ‘n plays, and strollers. And if you intend to drive anywhere with your child — including just getting home from the hospital — you’ll inevitably need a car seat.

With many of us facing uncertain employment prospects and increasingly strapped budgets in recent months, parents may be tempted to cut corners and pick these items up second-hand wherever they can. That’s fine in most cases, but as far as second-hand car seats are concerned, experts have one word of advice: don’t.

“If you’re going to buy one thing new, make it your car seat,” says Katherine Hutka, president of the Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada (CPSAC), a national not-for-profit association that provides child passenger safety advocacy, education, and training. “You really need to make sure that (your car seat is) up to safety standards and has not been misused or damaged in any way before your child goes in it.”

Transport Canada, the government entity responsible for testing and monitoring the safety of car seats sold across the country, confirms this assessment.

“Transport Canada strongly encourages parents to buy a new car seat,” says Frédérica Dupuis, the department’s media relations advisor.

But sometimes, budgets are just too tight, or an offer of a hand-me-down from a sibling or trusted friend is too good to pass up. Transport Canada publishes an online checklist to walk parents through mitigating the risks in these instances, as does the CPSAC. Both of these are excellent resources, and if you find yourself going down the road of seriously considering a used car seat, you should refer to both in extreme detail.

More generally, though, before you respond to that Facebook Marketplace ad or call your sister back, read through these points. They might convince you that using second-hand car seats is often a very bad idea.

Crash damage, expiry dates, and seat integrity

Crash damage or expiry dates can compromise a car seat’s integrity, sometimes in ways that aren’t visible. If you’re not personally familiar with a car seat’s entire history, then you don’t know with complete certainty whether it’s been in a car during a crash. And that’s a big problem.

“A seat that’s been involved in a collision may no longer be safe to use,” Hutka says. “On some car seats, their manufacturers say even (after) a minor collision, you need to replace this car seat. Others will say if the crash was minor, you may not need to replace it necessarily if it meets all of five criteria.”

Some of the damage that can occur to a car seat in a crash isn’t obvious just from looking at it, she adds, such as compressed foam inserts or an overstretched harness.

“Often times, car seats look perfectly usable, even after a crash,” she says. “But you can’t see that the harness, for example, is meant to stretch in ways to protect a child, to absorb those crash forces. There wouldn’t be any way to know on most car seats that that’s happened.”

Car seats also have an expiry date, after which certain components can be more prone to failure or a seat’s safety standards may not be sufficiently up to date. The expiry date is usually printed somewhere on the outer shell and may be found underneath the upholstery. If there is no date visible and the manufacturer is not able to confirm the expiry date, the seat should be discarded.

You might be missing important parts or recall notices

Hutka says having the correct model name and instruction manual is essential to ensuring that you’re using the seat properly and you have all the parts you need. And this isn’t something you want to try to search up yourself online.

“Maybe (the seat) was handed down to you by your sister. Did she lose the infant insert that you might now need for your newborn?” Hutka asks. “The only way to know is to look in the manual.

“If you don’t have one, it’s best to contact the manufacturer directly. You wouldn’t want to just Google because there’s a million different car seats with almost the exact same name. You may end up finding the instructions for the U.S. version or a version that was out three years before yours. You want to make sure you have the exact instruction manual.”

Armed with this information, you can and should check the Transport Canada site for recall notices.

“Some recalls are big: don’t ever use this car seat, it’s been recalled,” Hutka says. “Others are, ‘we’ve made some changes, we’re going to send you a repair kit to fix up your car seat, to make sure that it meets the standards.’ You can always check the Transport Canada website for recalls to find that information.”

Some manufacturers will allow you to register a seat as though you were the original buyer, which means they’ll alert you to future recalls. Do this if you can; it’s critical information you don’t want to miss.


From left, Michelle Hodder, health promotion facilitator with AHS, shows Kim Koenen how to check the tightness of 10-week-old Alexander Verreault’s car seat straps at a car seat clinic at the Pete Eagar Fire Hall in Grande Prairie, Alta.

Alexa Huffman

Car seats sold in other countries don’t conform to Canadian standards

Canada has some of the most rigorous car seat safety standards in the world, and Canadians are expected to comply with them. This means if you live here, it’s against the law for you to use a seat that doesn’t bear the national safety mark.

“Whether you buy new or used, you want to make sure the national safety mark is there,” Hutka says. “This is a circle with a maple leaf on it that lets you know that that car seat is certified, has met all of the Canadian requirements for safety, and can be used legally in Canada.”

People do crazy things to car seats

Hutka says she’s seen some heavily compromised used car seats at installation clinics that you would never want to trust with your kid’s safety.

“I’ve seen car seats that parents have brought to me where the previous owner didn’t know how to properly adjust the harness, so they just cut the harness and tied it in a big knot behind the car seat,” Hutka says. “The parent came to me to say, ‘I can’t figure out how to adjust the harness.’ I had to say, ‘wow, this car seat is really damaged, and I’m glad we found this out before you put your baby in it.’”

Hutka says it’s also not unusual for profiteers to pick up discarded car seats from curbsides, clean them up, and resell them on Kijiji or Facebook Marketplace where their origins can’t be traced. This is why it’s a good idea to cut the belts when you leave a car seat out for collection, if you know it’s compromised in some way.

“It looks perfectly good on the side of the road or in someone’s trash,” she says. “Is it being put in the garbage because it was in a collision? Is it in there because it’s expired?

“You don’t know that it’s never been damaged or misused.”

There are also certain chemicals or other cleaning products or processes that should never be used on some seat components.

“Some current car seat parts aren’t able to be washed in a washing machine or even soaked in water,” Hutka says. “Car seats aren’t generally able to be cleaned with harsh cleaners like bleach without degrading the integrity of that car seat. If you don’t know if it’s been mistreated in this way, it may no longer be safe to use.

“We want to make sure that parents and families, when they buckle their children up, can be confident that that is a safe seat.”


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