Having a baby brings many joys — and expenses.
It’s tempting to save by buying secondhand or accepting a freebie from a friend, and that may be fine for onesies. But going for secondhand gear is generally not a good idea when it comes to certain infant and toddler products, including three essential investments: car seats, strollers, and cribs.
According to injury data obtained from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, an estimated 46,600 babies were injured between 2016 and 2018 in these three types of products, underscoring the importance of getting the safest one possible.
“Safety standards are constantly evolving, and manufacturers are continually improving their infant and toddler products to make them safer,” says Don Huber, director of CR’s product safety. “Newer gear is almost always safer.”
So even if your friend has kept her 5-year-old stroller spotless through the years, it might not meet the most recent safety standard for strollers that became mandatory in 2015.
Recalls are another reason to opt for new rather than used baby gear. When products are recalled, it’s because they pose serious safety hazards or do not meet current standards. If you fill out the product registration card for a new purchase, the manufacturer will notify you if it gets recalled. But how would you know about the recall if you’re not the original owner? Even the original owner might not know if he didn’t register the product.
And recalls can happen at any time. Just this year, CR uncovered that infant inclined sleep products were linked to dozens of deaths. That ongoing investigation has led to the recall of more than 5 million inclined sleepers, including Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play Sleepers, among others. CR recently reiterated its call for all inclined sleepers to be recalled because they place infants at a substantial risk of injury or death.
It’s illegal to sell recalled products, and the CPSC, which works with manufacturers to recall strollers, cribs, and many other child products, focuses primarily on compliance from major retailers rather than the resale market. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration handles car seat recalls, but based on the agency’s responses to CR, it doesn’t seem to monitor the resale market, either. So there does not seem to be a robust system in place to keep recalled products out of the secondhand market.
For all these reasons, CR recommends buying a car seat, stroller, and crib new. That said, if you have to buy secondhand, or you’re considering reusing a product that you or a friend has had for years, here’s what you need to know to keep your little one safe, and how to find out whether a used product has been recalled.
Did you know that car seats have an expiration date? The reason for that is to keep old car seats out of the marketplace, because older seats may not provide as much protection as newer models. The life span is six years for most car seats. All car seats must pass minimum federal safety standards, but some may provide additional margins of crash protection, and some are easier to install than others, according to our tests. That’s crucial, given that a poorly installed car seat leaves a child vulnerable in a crash.
“Those reasons, along with continuous ease-of-use and safety improvements, make a strong case for investing in a new, top-performing car seat,” says Emily A. Thomas, Ph.D., an automotive safety engineer at CR.
But if you’re still considering getting a used car seat, use our interactive decision chart to find out whether the car seat is safe to reuse. You’ll need to have the seat’s expiration date, found on the label and owner’s manual. You’ll also want to ask the seller whether the car seat has been involved in a car crash, because the crash forces could weaken the seat’s structural integrity beyond what you can see. Our chart will help you determine, among other criteria, whether the car seat has been recalled and whether it’s still safe to use if it was involved in a car crash.
If you decide to buy a new car seat, in our ratings of more than 140 models in five categories you’ll find 16 CR Best Buys that cost $30 to $230. Below, we’ve highlighted three models. And don’t forget about another important safety consideration: installing the seat properly in your car. Find out the common car seat installation mistakes to avoid.
Note: If you end up with a car seat that’s not safe to reuse, don’t haul it to the curb or town dump, because it might tempt strangers to use it for their baby. Instead, strip the car seat to its shell, removing fabrics, harnesses, and buckles. Then mark “Do Not Use” on it, and check with your local authorities to find out whether any components can be recycled before you dispose of the car seat.
Strollers may not have an expiration date like car seats, but you’ll definitely still want a model that was made on or after Sept. 10, 2015. That’s when federal safety standards—covering proper harness placement and the integrity, stability, and strength of strollers, among other factors —became mandatory. Check the label on the stroller that shows the manufacture date; it’s usually on the underside of the frame.
Remember that even if a model is relatively new, always check to make sure it’s not on the CPSC’s recall list.
Then read the owner’s manual to make sure the stroller operates properly. If you don’t have the original manual, look for it on the manufacturer’s website or call the company’s customer service number.
Inspect the stroller, making sure the seat reclines properly and the brakes work. If the stroller has swivel wheel locks, try them out to be certain they do not stick in an unlocked or locked position.
“Check how the seat fabric attaches to the frame—snaps, loops, or the like—and make sure they’re all fastened and none are missing,” says Joan Muratore, the engineer who oversees CR’s stroller tests. “If the stroller came with car seat adapters, try them to be sure they attach securely to the stroller and aren’t cracked or damaged in any way.”
And if you’re considering buying a new stroller, you don’t have to spend a fortune to get one that’s safe, as CR’s tests have found. We put buggies through their paces to find any safety concerns and to determine which are easier to use and more maneuverable. Here are three that rate well in our tests.
You leave your baby alone in his crib at night for—if you’re lucky—hours of sound sleep. And you need to be certain that it’s a safe place for him.
Older cribs have sides that dropped down, but as a result of 32 deaths and hundreds of incidents, some resulting in injuries, the CPSC banned drop-side cribs as of June 28, 2011. These cribs tended to be less sturdy than cribs with four fixed sides—some hardware was prone to loosening or breaking, resulting in the drop-side detaching at one or more of the crib’s corners. If a baby or toddler rolled or moved into the space created between the drop-side and the corner or edge of the mattress, she could be strangled or become entrapped and suffocate.
“Once drop-side cribs were banned, injuries and fatalities dropped dramatically,” Huber says.
The 2011 mandatory safety standard also requires more rigorous durability testing and better mattress support, slat strength, and structural integrity for new cribs.
But there’s another reason not to use a secondhand crib, even if it was made after the latest safety standard kicked in. Over time, a crib’s hardware could be weakened by rough use—imagine a toddler yanking on the rails—or the hardware or glue joints loosening because of changes in humidity during storage.
And remember that the safest crib is a bare crib—no blankets, bumpers, or pillows. Use only a firm, snug-fitting mattress with a tightly fitted bottom sheet. In colder weather, use a zippered sleep-sack to keep your baby warm and safe. And always place your infant on her back to sleep, never on her side or stomach; these positions could press her face into the mattress and possibly cause her to suffocate.
When you shop for a crib, CR recommends buying a new, full-sized one that’s certified by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association. This means the crib has been tested by a third party to ensure that it meets the current mandatory standards. Consumer Reports tested 13 cribs. Click HERE to see the best rated options.