Are Used Car Seats a Good Idea? Yes and No.

I hate to break it to you, but buying used car seats is almost never a good idea. I know that's not what you wanted to hear. You want to keep your child safe, but new car seats are so expensive. And so you're trying to do the right thing by shopping for a used seat.

But the fact is, you can never be quite sure of what you're getting. Here are some of the reasons to avoid used car seats:

Accidents. What if that car seat was involved in an accident but the seller forgets to tell you (or purposely conceals this information)? The seat could be damaged in ways you can't see.

Wear and tear. Did the previous owner take good care of this seat, or has it been stored in a dusty garage with junk piled on top of it? Even if the owner was careful with the seat, its straps and plastic shell may be getting worn out due to years of use.

Recalls. Car seat manufacturers do issue safety recalls from time to time. Unless you meticulously check the web for recalls, it's possible you'll buy a seat that has, in fact, been removed from the market.

There are, however, a few situations in which you should consider used car seats:

If you're getting the seat from a relative or close friend. You can generally trust these folks to be honest about accidents. In fact, you may even know offhand which of your friends have been in crashes lately and whether they had car seats installed at the time.

If the seat was clearly never used (or used only very lightly). Sometimes a family will receive a car seat as a gift after they've already purchased a different model. So, they'll keep the gift car seat around as a "backup," but then never use it. That's not a bad seat to get your hands on.

If you have no other option. As we said at the outset, we know car seats are expensive. If you simply can't afford to buy even the cheapest model of new seat, then yes, you should buy the best-conditioned used seat you can find.

The bottom line is that used car seats aren't the automatic "no" that some car seat nerds might make you think - but you also shouldn't automatically buy one based solely on price. Do your research to help you determine whether you've truly found a bargain.

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