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What to Do With Old Car Seats: 4 Clever Things You Can Do

Medically Reviewed by Kristen Gardiner, CPST
We'll help you say goodbye to your much-loved car seat.

With so many warnings about used car seats, it can be hard to know what to do with yours when you no longer need it. However, there are many routes you can take.

A big part of the decision will depend on the seat’s condition and expiration date, but there are a few other deciding factors about the various things you can do with your car seat. We’ve got the latest information and recommendations, so we’ll cover everything you need to know and more in this article.

With our help, you can reclaim the space in your home your child’s old car seat is taking up.

Key Takeaways

  • Check the car seat’s expiration date and condition before reusing, donating, or recycling it.
  • Trade-in events, like those at Target, allow you to exchange old car seats for discounts on new baby gear.
  • Donate car seats in good condition to women’s shelters, local charities, church organizations, or child passenger safety technicians.
  • If the car seat is expired or damaged, follow proper recycling or trash disposal protocols to ensure safety.

Is It Expired?

If the car seat is expired, it shouldn’t be used again with a child in it. Its parts will weaken and break down from wear and tear over time, so it isn’t safe to use. Car seat expiration dates are in place to give you an idea of the seat’s lifespan.

To find your car seat’s expiration date, flip it over and look at the back or the bottom. The expiration date is usually printed on a sticker or embossed into the plastic. Some manufacturers print it inside the instruction manual.

Can You Reuse a Car Seat?

There may be some cases where a seat can be reused. We don’t recommend reselling or purchasing used car seats because you can’t be 100% sure of the quality. However, if you’re using it again for your own family, it may be fine.

So, when can you reuse an old car seat?

  • It isn’t expired: A car seat is technically still good up until the date manufacturers give. We recommend not using it within a month or two of the date to give yourself plenty of time to replace it.
  • It hasn’t been in an accident: Minor accidents don’t automatically destroy a car seat’s integrity. However, if the seat has been in a moderate to severe crash, it’s recommended to replace it immediately (1). Some car seat manufacturers require you to replace the car seat after any crash, even if it was only minor. Check with your vehicle insurance company, as they will sometimes cover the cost of a replacement seat.
  • It’s clean: Of course, you don’t want your second (or third, fourth, etc.) child to have to use a dirty car seat. If you want to reuse the seat, give it a good scrub down. Be sure to follow the cleaning instructions in your car seat manual. This is especially important if it’s been packed away for a bit.
  • It’s still in good condition: Check for broken pieces or other wear and tear. Be sure to look under the fabric cover to fully inspect the seat. Even the smallest nick can render a seat unusable.

It’s important to take extra care when using a secondhand car seat. Give the seat a thorough review to ensure there’s no damage before using it. Ensure you register the seat so you can be informed of any recalls. You can check for any current recalls here.

How to Get Rid of a Used Car Seat

If you find that the car seat is expired or it’s been in a moderate to severe car crash, there are still things you can do.

how to get rid of used car seats

1. Trade-In Events

Some stores, such as Target, hold car seat trade-in events throughout the year.

These trade-in events allow you to bring in an old or unusable car seat and get a coupon in return. Target offers 20% off a new car seat, stroller, or another piece of baby gear in place of your car seat. They started this program in 2016, and it’s gained major popularity since then.

All old car seats traded in at Target are recycled and turned into products like pallets, buckets, and construction materials (2).

Trade-in events are the most convenient option, and we recommend this the most. Not only can you get rid of your old car seat, but you get a good deal on an upgrade for your child, too.

2. Donate It

Most places are really picky about used car seats, even if they’re still in excellent condition. However, you may find that some organizations accept them. Be upfront about the condition of the seat so they know what they’re receiving. After all, you don’t want to compromise anyone’s safety.

  • Women’s shelters or other local charities: Many organizations provide resources to families in need. Foster families and women’s shelters are often in need of car seats.
  • Church organizations: Church organizations are always looking to help. Some may have ministries where they give away car seats to needy families. This is another good option to consider.
  • Local CPSTs: Child passenger safety technicians are trained on car seat safety and how to install car seats (3). They teach parents the ropes. Reach out to a CPST to see if they’d like to have your old seat for demonstration purposes.

3. Proper Recycling Protocol

Rather than throwing the old car seat in the trash, you can recycle it yourself. You should first call your local recycling center to see if they accept plastics from old car seats. If they do, here is what you should do:

  • Locate your nearest recycling center: Ask your local recycling center whether they accept car seats and how they would like to receive them. Find a center that accepts car seats here.
    Check recycling guidelines: Call the center and ask for their guidelines for car seats. Some may want you to bring the naked frame, while others may want it completely broken down first.
  • Remove the extras: This includes any fabric, padding, or straps on the car seat. Remove the cover, and use scissors to cut the harness straps out of the seat. These parts probably won’t be recyclable, so they can go in the trash.
  • Remove all metal pieces: You’ll probably need a screwdriver for this. It’s important to remove as much of the metal as possible from the car seat. This will only need to be done if your recycling center requires you to. Some centers may do this part themselves.

4. Proper Trash Protocol

If you can’t recycle, donate, or trade the seat in, you can throw it away with the trash. There are, however, a few guidelines to follow before doing so. The guidelines are similar to car seat recycling guidelines and are there to ensure it can be disposed of efficiently:

  • Remove all extra padding and foam.
  • Cut away any straps.
  • Remove all metal pieces from the seat.
  • Mark the seat. You should clearly mark it as “UNSAFE” or “EXPIRED” on the bare plastic seat so nobody will be tempted to reuse it. Then you can set it out with the rest of your garbage.
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How Often Does Target Do the Car Seat Trade-In?

Target’s car seat trade-in event typically happens twice a year, usually in April and September. It’s a great time to recycle old seats and get a discount on a new one.

What Can You Do With Expired Car Seats at Walmart?

Walmart doesn’t have a regular trade-in event like Target, but you can check for local recycling programs or special events. Otherwise, disassemble and recycle parts as your local waste management guidelines allow.

Do Backless Booster Seats Expire?

Yes, backless booster seats do expire. The materials can degrade over time, and safety standards may change. Check the manual or seat for the expiration date.

Why Should You Not Use Expired Car Seats?

Expired car seats may not meet current safety standards and can have weakened materials, making them less effective in protecting your child during a crash.

How Many Years Until a Car Seat is Expired?

Car seats typically expire six to ten years from the date of manufacture. Check your car seat’s manual or labels for the specific expiration date.

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Medically Reviewed by

Kristen Gardiner, CPST

Kristen Gardiner, CPST is a writer, wife, and mother to three boys. Kristen became certified as a Child Passenger Safety Technician by Safe Kids Worldwide in 2015 and loves to volunteer and help educate parents about car seat safety. She has a passion for all things related to child safety.