What to Do with Your Old Car Seat
If your car seat expires or your child outgrows it, here’s how to get rid of it responsibly
If you’re transporting little kids, safe car seats are an absolute (and legally required) necessity. Your children, of course, will eventually outgrow the seats — and the seats themselves will age out, too.
“Every seat has an expiration date these days,” says Stephanie Tombrello, executive director of SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A. “Some are as long as 10 to 12 years, but the average is somewhere between six to eight.”
So what can you do with a car seat once you’re done with it (or it’s done with you)? Here are your options.
Recycle it. Since car seats are made up of several different types of materials, finding recycling outlets that take them can be a bit of challenge. “It’s rather like electronic waste,” Tombrello said. “There are complex materials in the product.” The recycling process, then, is almost the same — check in with your town’s recycling program (you can usually find it through your town’s website) to see if they will accept the car seat. If not, go online. Consumer Reports has a state-by-state list of centers that will recycle old car seats (for states that have them).
Don’t just put the seat in the trash, especially if it has expired or been in a crash. An opportunistic young parent or parent-to-be passing by could snatch it up (car seats are expensive!). You don’t want them using an unsafe seat.
If you do put an unsafe seat on the street, make it unusable. “Put it out piece by piece every week. Write all over it in English and in Spanish that it’s dangerous and it’s not to be used, with indelible ink. Rip the covers off, cut the straps — there’s a whole bunch of things you can do to make it less attractive,” says Tombrello.
Give it to another parent. “You might have a one-year-old car seat, that’s never been in a crash, for which you have instructions, that isn’t on recall, and you might have a good friend who has a child who could use it,” Tombrello says. “That’s an appropriate passing-on.” Check for recalls in SafeBee’s recall center.
Try to trade it in. There may be some retail outlets that offer trade-ins for your old baby seats. Babies “R” Us, for example, does a yearly trade-in for older baby items, including car seats. With any luck and a little research, you may be able to get a few dollars for your older car seat.
Donate it. This can take a little more digging, since many charitable organizations don’t accept car seats (Goodwill, for example, puts it on the list of “frequently recalled items” and therefore won’t take them.) But there are organizations that may be able to use those old car seats — for example, groups that teach classes for young or first-time parents could use the seats to show parents how to safely buckle in their children. Just make sure the recipient doesn’t plan on taking the old car seat on the road. “If the organization will commit to using the seat as a demo only, it’s fine,” Tombrello says.