Is It Illegal to Sell a Used Car Seat [Including Recalled Seats]

Car seats are a major investment, so you may be hoping to resell yours after your kids outgrow it. Most parents know that using a secondhand car seat is frowned upon, and that may leave you wondering whether it is actually illegal. 

It is not illegal to sell a used car seat, but it is illegal to sell a recalled car seat. According to the CPSC, selling recalled products is unlawful as their use is unsafe for infants and toddlers. Before selling a used car seat, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration database to check if your car seat has been recalled.

The real concern about buying and selling used car seats is that they are only meant to protect from one, non-minor accident. Just like bike and ski helmets only protect against one accident, so to do car seats.

Car seats are designed to absorb the force of the impact, and doing so changes the internal structure. This renders it less supportive for any subsequent accidents.

Read on to learn about the concerns related to selling a used car seat and what to look out for if you are thinking of buying one. 

Why Do People Buy and Sell Used Car Seats?

Car seats are significant investments. Families with multiple children will spend several hundred dollars on new car seats. 

The least expensive federally approved car seats retail for about $80. Unless you purchase an all-in-one car seat, which is more expensive upfront, a child will need multiple seats. 

As they grow, children transition from a rear-facing infant seat to a convertible car seat. That car seat faces backward and forwards. 

At around age 4, children move up to a booster seat which helps them fit in regular car seats. Depending on how quickly they grow, they will be in a child restraint of one type or another until they are 8 years old. 

Naturally, it would be wonderful to recoup some of that money spent when your kids are all ready for seat belts. Or, even better, purchase all these seats second hand at a fraction of the new cost. Unfortunately, both of these are bad ideas. 

What’s Wrong with Used Car Seats?

Safety experts strongly recommend against the use of previously owned car seats. The concern is that the seat may have already been in an accident. 

Like helmets, car seats should be replaced after every accident. The internal protections of the seat may have been compromised even if it looks fine on the outside.

The National Highway and Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends that car seats be replaced after all but minor accidents. Minor accidents satisfy ALL of the following criteria: 

  • The vehicle was able to be driven away from the crash site.
  • The vehicle door nearest the car seat was not damaged.
  • None of the passengers sustained any injuries.
  • The airbags did not deploy.
  • There is no visible damage to the car seat.

Child safety seats mitigate the risk of death and injury to children in car accidents. Accordingly, the seat that you are relying on should be fully effective rather than already weakened. Properly used car seats reduce the risk of fatal injury in infants by 71 percent.

Is It Illegal to Sell a Used Car Seat?

No state laws prohibit the sale of a used car seat. In fact, some children’s consignment shops will take used car seats to resell.

However, it is illegal to sell a car seat that has been recalled. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA) places the burden on the seller. 

The seller must determine that the seat is not recalled or expired prior to selling it. If it has, and it cannot be repaired, the only option is to destroy the device. 

Can Someone Sue Me Over a Car Seat?

If you sell your car seat via a consignment shop, you may have to sign an affidavit. The affidavit will describe the condition of the car seat and whether it has been in an accident. 

If you intentionally make a false representation regarding the safety of a car seat, you may be liable if it fails to protect a child. While it is unlikely criminal charges would be brought, the parents of the child may sue you for money. 

This would be because they relied on the information you told them. Had they known the car seat was in a previous accident, they may not have purchased it. Perhaps their child would have been less injured had they been in a non-damaged car seat.

How Do I Know if My Car Seat Was Recalled?

There are several ways to determine whether a specific car seat model was recalled. First, you can check the NHTSA database online

Additionally, you can sign up for emails regarding child safety recalls from the NHTSA.

Most baby product manufacturers include a product registration card with the purchase of a new product. Do not throw this away.

Fill it out and return it, and the manufacturers will automatically notify you if there is a problem with your product. This way, you do not have to regularly check the databases. 

What if I Cannot Afford a New Car Seat?

If you qualify for public benefits, you may qualify for a free or discounted car seat through Medicaid or WIC

Look for local organizations that offer free or discount car seats. In some states, local health departments or county health agencies have a few car seats to give out.

Unfortunately, there is no one consolidated government program for finding free car seats. Instead, one must search through a variety of local resources to try to find one.

Some states have more resources than others. SafeConvertibleCarSeats.com compiled a list with some good places to start the search in each state.

Are There Regulations about Selling Car Seats?

All car seats sold in the United States are supposed to meet federal safety regulations. However, many car seats sold online do not meet these standards. 

Seats that do meet federal safety regulations will have the following label with this exact wording:

“This restraint system conforms to all applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards. This restraint is certified for use in all motor vehicles and aircraft.” 

This labeling means that the device in question has been tested to comply with the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213. FMVSS 213 establishes construction and safety criteria. 

The regulation establishes minimum requirements for car seat performance. To do this, child safety seats must demonstrate the protection of test dummies in simulated accidents. 

The simulations test to ensure that the seats prevent children from being ejected from the car, among other things. Special attention is paid to the protection of the head and thorax in accident scenarios. 

If you use a car seat without this testing, it may not adequately protect a child in an accident. If you already have a car seat, be sure to check for the testing label. 

You can find a list of federally approved car seats online at healthychildren.org.

What if I Sell a Non-Approved Car Seat?

If you sell a used car seat that is not federally approved, you could be violating state law. Many states, including California, make it illegal to sell a car seat that is not federally approved as described above.

For example, you may receive a car seat that does not meet federal regulations that a family member bought on Amazon. If you then resell that car seat, you could be subject to penalties. 

What Type of Car Seat Should I Get?

There are so many car seats available on the market that it can be really challenging to choose only one. It doesn’t help that they are pricey investments, so there is added pressure to get it right the first time. 

The NHTSA has a handy visual chart to help you identify which stage your child is in. 

Some people prefer to get multiple car seats with each one being specialized for the child’s current age. This often works best for people who have multiple children who can use the seats as hand-me-downs.

Alternatively, you can invest in a single, convertible car seat. It has different functions to meet your growing child’s safety needs. These seats are usually more expensive than single-stage seats. 

Infant Seats

Infants seats are portable carriers with a handle that you often see parents of newborns using. These seats can be buckled into the back seat of the car or snapped into a stroller as part of a travel system.

These seats are meant to be rear-facing only. They are popular with parents who use out-of-home child care and need an easy way to transfer the baby. 

Many children grow out of these at around age 1.

Convertible Car Seats

These seats are sometimes marketed at Stage 2 seats. They can be either rear or forward-facing. 

Keep the seat rear-facing as long as the child meets the seat’s rear-facing parameters. Then, keep your child in the seat in the forward-facing position until they exceed the weight and height limits. 

Booster Seats

Around age 4, or when your child surpasses the weight or height limits of the previous seat, it is time for booster seats. They elevate little bodies to make regular seat belts safe. 

All-in-One Seats

Manufactures make all-in-one seats to last a child from birth through the booster seat phase. This is done through inserts that can be removed or adjusted for the different stages.

These seats will have a minimum weight, often 8 pounds. As a result, they may not be appropriate for some babies at the time they leave the hospital.

All-in-one seats are often wider than regular car seats, so be sure it fits in your car before purchasing. 

What to Look for in a Used Car Seat?

If you do need to proceed with a used car seat due to cost, there are some inspections you can do. While you will not be able to determine internal damage, you may be able to weed out some types of damage.

The Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada created a used car seat checklist. Go through the questions with the seller to determine whether you want that seat. 

Always do your own search to determine the expiration or recall status of a second-hand car seat.

How Do I Get Rid of a Used Car Seat?

After a car seat has been in a car accident or has expired, there are a few options for properly disposing of it. 

Recycle it.

Various organizations and retailers provide free car seat recycling. Find a site near you at recycleyourcarseat.org

Local car seat safety technicians may need donated car seats for safety demonstrations.

Target usually has an annual event where you can drop off your old car seat. They may give you a coupon or a store credit as an incentive. Wal Mart also recycles car seats and gives $30 gift cards for each car seat.

Consult your local waste services to determine whether any part of the seat can be put in local recycling. If you decide to throw it in the trash, clearly write ‘EXPIRED’ or ‘UNSAFE’ on the seat. 

Takeaways Regarding Used Car Seats

The large investment and then lack of reselling options for car seats creates a major financial hit for new parents. Unfortunately, there is no good system in place to ensure the safety of used car seats.

If your only option to get a car seat is a used one, just be sure to vet it as closely as possible to make sure it really is better than nothing. 

For those selling or giving away their old car seats, be completely honest regarding the history and condition of the car seat. Not only could fail to do so be personally risky to use, but it also puts a child in harm’s way.

Author

Welcome to my car seat blog! As a mom of 3, I put together with other hard-working moms a highly informative one-stop car seat resource, full with many reviews and buyer guides. I hope you find it invaluable. Thank you for trusting me & my team! - Keren