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When you’re looking for a car seat for your baby, knowing what to look for can make all the difference.

When it comes to safety, you take precautions by wearing seatbelts, refrigerating your food and using eye or ear protection. And when your baby is in the car, you protect them with a car seat. That’s why paying attention to car seat safety matters. 

You might not realize it, but not all car seats are created equal. In fact, knockoff versions are cropping up online.

“We’ve recently seen an uptick in counterfeit car seats,” explains Carol Hanson, pediatric trauma program manager at Geisinger Medical Center.

What are counterfeit car seats?

Fake car seats are car seats made to look like certified ones. They may have similar colors or patterns. And their labeling may look authentic to the untrained eye. They’re often cheaply made, looking and feeling flimsier than their real counterparts. Knockoffs are frequently listed by third-party sellers online — sometimes at very low prices.

Because they’re uncertified, they’re not crash tested or safety rated. This means they can’t withstand the forces that happen in an accident, and they won’t protect your child. 

How to spot a fake car seat

These copies can be challenging to detect. That’s because many of them look identical to name brand versions. Here’s how to recognize a fake.

Check for missing parts

When you’re looking at the seat, start by giving it a thorough inspection. If it’s missing anything, or if parts are in different places than normal, it’s likely counterfeit.

“Often, fake car seats will be missing parts, like the five-point harness or a chest clip,” Hanson says.

Read the labels

Every standard car seat includes safety information on the label. Car seats are required to have clearly visible labels that include:

  • Proper spelling, grammar and punctuation.
  • Seat make and model number.
  • Manufacturer information with name, address and phone number.
  • The seat’s production date and location.
  • The statement, “This child restraint system conforms to all applicable federal motor vehicle standards.”
  • Minimum and maximum height and weight requirements.
  • The statement, “For recall information, call the U.S. Government’s Vehicle Safety Hotline at 1-888-327-4236 (TTY: 1-800-424-9153), or go to NHTSA.gov.”

Look for registration info

When you open your car seat, it should include an owner’s manual and a registration card. This is for you to send to the manufacturer. Fill out the card with your personal information and make, model and manufacture date before you send it back.

Registering your car seat is the best way to find out about any recalls or safety concerns right from the manufacturer.

Counterfeit items typically don’t include registration information. So, if that’s missing, consider it a red flag.

How to choose the right car seat for your baby

“Before you make a purchase, first understand what to look for,” Hanson says. “This helps you find the safest possible option.” Identifying the real versions from the fakes takes vigilance. To be sure you’re getting the safest possible car seat for your child, start here.

Consider the source

Start by doing your research to compare brands and features. And before you hand over your hard-earned money, consider where you’re buying it. And be careful online. Stay away from brands or websites you don’t recognize.

“To avoid getting a fake, always buy your car seat from a reputable retailer,” says Hanson.

Not sure about the seat you’re buying? Check the manufacturer’s website for a list of authorized retailers.

Another thing to keep in mind? Cost. If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Take caution with used

Purchasing a used car seat may save money, but that’s where many of the benefits end. You don’t know a used car seat’s history. “Used car seats may be expired or have been in an accident,” Hanson says.

You also may not be aware of any recalls on the seat or what’s happened to it. So, if you’re thinking about purchasing a pre-owned car seat, carefully consider the source. If it’s not from someone you know and trust, it may be a good idea to pass.

What to do if you buy a knockoff?

If you suspect your car seat is counterfeit, call the manufacturer to verify product information. The manufacturer can help you identify if your seat is fake. If it is, visit stopfakes.gov to report it.

Contact the retailer where you purchased the seat and let them know the item is counterfeit. 

You can also search online for free car seat checks in your area. 

If your seat does turn out to be a knockoff, don’t panic. You may be able to return it to the retailer. If you can’t, simply remove all fabric and the seat belt. Then recycle or dispose of the rest.

And if you have questions, talk to your child’s pediatrician. They can help you find the safest possible seat.

Next steps: 

What to know about co-sleeping and bed-sharing
RSV? Know the symptoms
Find a pediatrician

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