What Should You Do With An Outgrown Car Seat?

Car seats - proper installation-toddler, NHTSA

When your child surpasses the weight and height limits for his or her current car seat and you’re moving the youngster to the next stage child restraint, what do you do with the outgrown car seat?

There are basically four choices: ditching, donating, trading in, or handing down. A fourth might be repurposing in some other manner, but what are you going to do with a car seat or car seat tray or other part, put it in the garden?

What about trying to resell it? Frankly, this isn’t a good idea. Most child safety experts advise against buying used car seats. Buyers may not know what’s happened with a car seat. It could have been in an accident and sustained hidden damage that even you don’t know about. This means the seat may not offer adequate protection for a child.

Car seats also have “expiration dates” posted on the seat label by the car seat manufacturer. These are a guide to the seat’s expected “useful life.”

In addition, over time, the plastic on car seat parts can weaken. Secondhand seats may also be missing important parts, or could have been recalled for a faulty design. Safety standards for car seats also become more stringent over time, and older car seats may not be in compliance.

Even if the seat is in perfect condition, never has been in a recall, if you try to sell it, buyers will likely demand a steep discount.

Trashing a car seat

Let’s say this particular car seat has seen better days. It’s not been involved in an accident or a recall and still has all its parts, but it’s stained and torn and not looking all that good. You make the wise decision to ditch it. How do you do that?

Don’t just put it curbside for the garbage pickup. That’s an open invitation for parents who are in need of a car seat to snap it up as a freebie. A better way to dispose of a car seat is to take it to a car seat technician for proper handling.

Donating a good car seat

Can you donate a car seat that’s in excellent condition, has never been in an accident or the subject of a recall and still has a good number of “useful” years of life left?

Check with the charitable organization first before hauling the car seat to their site or leaving it on the driveway for pickup. Some, like Goodwill, will not take used car seats.

Some parenting classes may accept used car seats, or pregnancy resource centers. Other recommendations include finding a car seat tech who may be able to use it in demonstrations of car seat installation or donate to someone at a local community center or church who may need one.

When donating, be sure that the expiration date is explained to whoever accepts the donation. If there’s less than three years of useful life left, it’s better to trash the seat.


While not every retailer will do this, some, including Babies “R” Us, will give you a discount (up to 25 percent, according to some sources) toward the purchase of a new car seat, and they’ll take the old one off your hands and dispose of it properly.

Handing down

Most parents will hold onto a perfectly-good car seat to use with their other offspring. As long as the car seat still has a lot of useful life left in it and any recalls have been attended to, there’s nothing wrong with handing down Junior’s car seat to Missy, Junior’s new baby sister, or to your brother’s child and so on.

Be sure that all instruction manuals, parts and documentation of recall action taken are delivered to the other family member if you do decide to hand it down.

Check for any recalls

This is something that should have been done already, but when your child can no longer use a current car seat, make sure you check to see if the seat has been involved in any recalls. Contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Vehicle Safety Hotline at 1-888-327-4236. The latest recall information is also posted on the NHTSA website at www.safercar.gov.

If it has, it has to be fixed or, if the recall was serious, the seat needs to be destroyed.

Safety experts recommend that the only way to safely dispose of a car seat is to take it to a car seat technician to have them destroy it. Why can’t you just toss it in the trash? The reason is that some people will snap up a car seat left by the curb for trash pickup, even if it’s in a plastic bag with a “Do Not Use” note on it.

MORE: car seat costs and car seat tips.


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