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The average car seat lasts between 7 and 10 years.
Of course, your kiddo will outgrow an infant or toddler seat within that timeframe!
That means that you’ll need to get a new one-sized correctly for your child.
And, depending on your child’s size, they may need a car seat or booster seat all the way up to age 12.
You could end up needing a few car seats in that time.
And car seats can be a big expense to families already struggling to pay the bills.
That’s why we’ve gathered multiple ways to get a free car seat in your area, from local churches to statewide programs that donate free car seats to families in need.
How to Get a Free Baby Car Seat or Toddler Car Seat: Free Infant Car Seats for Low Income Families and More!
The following tips can help you get a car seat for free.
Most of the options below are for low-income families, but others are for anyone who may want to get their child’s car seat at no cost to them.
Check Your Local Programs
Your town or city may have its own programs put in place by local agencies or the government to help families in need get car seats for their children.
Check with your local department of family services to see what’s available.
A representative should be able to point you in the direction of area services that can help.
You might also ask your local library system, which is often another helpful resource for connecting people to local programs.
If you dial 2-1-1 from your phone, you’ll be connected to a hotline from United Way.
The hotline is devoted to helping people connect with services they need in their area, so it’s another great way to find out about programs that might help you right in your home town.
The hotline can also assist you with finding food help or monetary help if you’re in need of quick assistance.
Craigslist is not a place we’d recommend using to find used car seats because you won’t know for sure where they’re coming from or the condition they’re in.
However, you can sometimes find brand new car seats here for free.
Sometimes, people get multiple car seats and other baby goods for their baby showers, and they list them for free to go to a home that needs the duplicate more.
Just browse the Free section of your local Craigslist to find them.
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Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
The WIC program is offered across the United States, usually as part of your local health department’s programs.
It primarily helps women and children get nutritious foods in their diets, but it also connects women with breastfeeding support and other helpful programs.
Depending on what’s available in your area, your WIC office might have links to programs or organizations that can help you get a car seat for free.
Like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace isn’t somewhere to go searching for just any car seat.
Instead, use it to see if anyone has new car seats that they’re giving away for free.
Again, this usually happens when someone has multiples that they don’t need.
Just make sure the new seat comes with its original packaging, accessories, and manual.
The Baby2Baby National Network helps children get the essential items they need, including car seats.
It’s available across the United States in several major cities, although each program in the network may operate a bit differently.
You can contact the organization to learn more about its available services and see if you can get some assistance.
Churches in your area might be willing to help your family get a seat for your car if you’re financially in need.
If you are a member of a church, try your church first.
It’s likely that it has funds in place to help families in its congregation get the help they need.
If you aren’t a member, check with your friends and family to see if they know of any churches that might be able to help you.
The Safe Kids Worldwide Coalition is available in all states.
The program works to improve safety for children through workshops, programs, and other teaching resources.
Plus, the organization hosts car seat events in which you might be able to win a car seat giveaway and provides free car seat checks to families.
Look into your local chapter to see if any other services are available, like a free seat program.
Your Local Police or Fire Department
Some local police and fire departments have programs in place to help local families get the basic essentials they need.
So, it’s always possible that your departments could hook your family up with an infant or toddler seat or direct you to a local program that can help.
FreeCycle is another place to find free stuff in your area, similar to Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace.
As always, do your own research on a car seat to make sure it’s not used.
Only pick up car seats that are still in their original packaging and have all accessories and manuals included to ensure that you’re getting a new, safe seat.
Your Health Insurance Company
Some health insurance companies offer several resources and forms of assistance to their members, like free health checks and fitness programs.
You can sometimes even find companies that give members free baby essentials when they’re pregnant or after having a baby, and a car seat could be included in that.
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Call your company’s member services hotline to ask about available programs.
Low-income New Mexico families can check with this organization, which focuses on distributing child car seats to families in need.
To qualify, families must have WIC, Medicaid, or be on other similar forms of assistance to prove their low income status.
Your Local Hospital
Did you know that some hospitals send families home with a brand-new infant seat after they have a baby?
Although it’s not super common, it happens.
And even if your hospital doesn’t have a program like this, it likely does offer assistance in other ways to community families.
Check with your local hospital to see if any infant or toddler seat programs are available.
Buckle Up for Life is a partnership between Toyota and Cincinnati Children’s Medical Center to bring awareness to the importance of car seats and their safety.
Not only does the program offer educational resources to families, but it also donates seats to families who need them.
The Salvation Army works to help families within a chapter’s community get the resources they need, including clothing, money, and other essentials.
Each one operates a little differently, but you can check with your local chapter to see what’s available.
If you’re on Medicaid, you might be able to get a free car seat!
Medicaid is a free form of health insurance offered by the government to individuals and families with low incomes.
Medicaid has a free car seat program for eligible families, which usually requires you to go through a car seat safety program before getting the seat.
You can check with your Medicaid caseworker for more information.
Check with Your State
Most states have their own programs in place to make sure that families buckle up their children safely in their vehicles.
The Safety Restraint Coalition has a full list of programs by state, so you can easily find free car seat programs in your state.
Planned Parenthood assists women with multiple services regarding women’s health and pregnancy.
Depending on what your local chapter has available, you might be able to get a new car seat from the organization.
At the least, they could probably help link you to other resources in your area that can get you what you need.
You can find your nearby Planned Parenthood center by visiting the web page and searching by your ZIP code, city, or state.
Many sites offer wishlists that allow you to add stuff you want for others to buy for you.
Amazon, Walmart, and Target are just a few examples of sites that do this — and they all sell baby stuff.
You can make a wishlist for yourself by registering an account and adding the car seat you want to your list.
Then, share the link to your wishlist with others, who might decide to buy some stuff for you from your list for a special occasion or just as a way to help.
What to Look for in a Free Car Seat
A free car seat might look great for your wallet, but it might not always be the best choice for your baby.
After all, a car seat should be something that protects your little one.
It needs to have the necessary features and be in the right condition to do so.
Unfortunately, many used car seats don’t fit the bill, and many free car seats are used.
Most experts advise not to get used car seats if you can avoid it at all, simply because you don’t know what the history of the seat is.
Here are some tips that can help you determine whether a free car seat is one that you should get based on its condition and other factors.
Used vs New
First, why is used a used car seat not the best idea?
When a car seat has already been used, you don’t know what has happened to it, if anything.
You don’t know how well it’s been taken care of (or not) and whether it’s been in any accidents.
Once a car seat has been involved in an accident, its reliability could become compromised, which is why experts say not to use it.
Simply put: If you don’t know whether a car seat has been used or not, then you’re better off avoiding it altogether.
When you get car seats from charities, organizations, and programs, you should be getting a new one.
If you get one off a friend, family member, or site like Craigslist that’s giving it away out of its original packaging, then you’re probably getting a used one.
The car seat’s history says a lot about whether it’s safe to use.
And if it’s used and you don’t know the owner personally, it could have been involved in an accident.
The unfortunate truth is that many people giving away car seats may not disclose the full history of the seat.
And if they got it used, they probably don’t know its history either.
Which is why it’s better to be safe than sorry, and always look for a new seat.
Yes, car seats have expiration dates on them!
They’re usually labeled on the side of the car seat, along with information about the car seat model.
This expiration date notes when a car seat is safe to be used until.
After that time, the seat isn’t guaranteed to live up to its full potential in keeping your baby or toddler safe.
If you can’t find an expiration date on the seat or the label is worn off and unreadable, it’s a good idea to look elsewhere for a car seat.
Does the car seat look old and beat up?
If so, it probably is.
The condition of a seat can say a lot about how well it was cared for.
A dirty seat that’s scuffed up or dented is not only unsanitary for your baby, but it can also be unsafe.
You shouldn’t have to sacrifice cleanliness and safety to get a free car seat, especially if you look in the legitimate places above that offer free seats.
Included Accessories and Manual
Your car seat should come with all included accessories and a manual if it’s brand new. It should also be in its original packaging.
Car seats without their original accessories and manual should be avoided.
Manuals, especially, come in handy when installing your car seat and securing your child in place, so they definitely are important pieces of information you don’t want to skip.
Car seats sometimes get recalled when manufacturers learn about potential safety hazards in their design or functionality.
No matter what car seat you happen to find — old or new — it’s important to check that the seat hasn’t been recalled.
You can check for past and current car seat recalls using The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Child Seat Recall Campaign Listing.
Get a Free Toddler Car Seat Near Me
The program and organization options listed above are some of the best ways to get free car seats, but you might be able to find more in your area.
You can always try a Google search using your location and “free car seat” as keywords for your search.
And, if you’re a low income family, always check with your local resources first.
Your health department or welfare office should be able to steer you in the direction of getting a car seat for free for your baby or toddler.
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