With the average price of a new convertible car seat hovering around $175, there is real budget impact to families moving their children through the various car seat stages. Fortunately, significant savings can be found through sales and more especially trade-in events, like those offered by Babies "R" Us now through Feb. 20, 2017. Such events provide an opportunity to trade-in older child seats or other gear, and apply their value toward buying the next level of seat.

The old seat could bring a 25 percent, or more, discount on a purchase. Plus, these events are a convenient way to dispose of an expired or unusable child seat.  

When to Trade In?

There are several key factors to consider when determining if it is time to trade-in a seat. Probably the most important tip is to not advance your child too soon. It isn’t a race to progress your child through the seats quickly. Rather, the real contest should be how to keep the little one as safe as possible. Consumer Reports' car seat buying advice and ratings can help you through the selection process, and below are key tips for making the decision to upgrade.

Your baby is too big for their infant seat. Though many rear-facing-only infant seats have weight limits of 30 lbs. or higher, most don’t have height limits to match. So don’t be surprised if your baby outgrows their infant seat and the convenience of the carrier long before they reach the advertised weight limit. Trading in that infant seat for a rear-facing convertible will not only allow them to stay rear-facing longer (the safest orientation), but you may get the best bang-for-your-buck on a more pricey convertible.

Your baby is a year old. Based on our most recent recommendations and tests results, if your child has reached their first birthday and still fits in their rear-facing-only infant seat, moving to a rear-facing convertible seat at age 1 offers the safest transport. Our newest crash-test methodology for child seat includes a surface that simulates a front seatback.

Comparing tests of both infant and convertible seats, we found that a dummy simulating a 1-year-old child was far more likely to hit its head on that simulated front seatback in an infant seat than in a rear-facing convertible seat. If your child is getting close to their first birthday, a move to a convertible seat may allow you to take advantage of some cost savings.

Your seat has expired. Many parents don’t realize that child seats carry expiration dates. For most seats, the manual or a label on the seat indicates a date from the seat’s manufacturing date for when that seat should be discontinued; a typical service life is six years.

Expiration dates are set to make sure that key components of the seat haven’t degraded and that it meets contemporary safety standards, which are always improving. (Learn more in "When to retire a child seat, how to recycle an old one.")

Your seat has been in a crash. Though most seats can be reused after a minor fender bender, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends replacing a seat if it has been involved in a collision that involved injuries or required the vehicle to be towed; deployed airbags; or damaged the seat or nearest door. If you’ve had such a circumstance and haven’t yet replaced the seat, a trade-in may offer a good time to do so.

Your seat is damaged. Daily use, heat and cold cycles, and less than careful storage can take a toll on a seat’s structure. Check for cracks, loose parts, and worn straps and fasteners. If the seat is damaged, it may not offer as much protection in a crash. Even if you’re trading for the same type of seat, one with new, undamaged components will provide better protection than a worn one.

It’s simply time for the next step. If your child has outgrown any of their child seat stages or is close to doing so, a trade-in event may be the time to make the move. But don’t rush the process, even if the savings are tempting. Other than moving from a rear-facing infant to a rear-facing convertible seat, other transitions may actually prove less safe. For example, a forward-facing seat is less safe than a rear-facing seat and a booster is less safe than a forward-facing harnessed seat.  

So whether your child’s ready to make a key transition or if your seat just needs an upgrade, a trade-in event may be just the time to make a move. The national Babies "R" Us event runs through Feb. 20. Also, check with your local baby products retailer to see if they have an event planned.  

Gear That Qualifies for a Trade

Qualifying gear that Consumer Reports evaluates includes car seats, high chairs, strollers/travel systems, and cribs. Infant swings, walkers, entertainers, bouncers, play yards, bassinets, and toddler/twin bed are also eligible. Bring your trade-in item to the store and the discount is applicable to in-store and online items.

Of our top-rated car seats, you'll find the following available at Babies "R" Us

Infant Seats
Chicco KeyFit and Chicco KeyFit 30
GB Asana 35 DLX
Combi Shuttle
Cybex Aton 2
Maxi-Cosi Mico AP
Safety 1st OnBoard 35 and Safety 1st 35 Air

Convertible Seats
Chicco NextFit
Britax Marathon ClickTight
Evenflo Sure Ride
Graco Contender 65
Graco Size4Me 65
Graco My Ride 65

All-in-One Seats
Graco Milestone
Graco 4Ever
Evenflo Symphony

Booster Seats
Evenflo Big Kid Amp Highback
Evenflo Big Kid LX
Cybex Solution X-Fix Plus

Toddler-Booster Seats
Graco Nautilus 3-in-1
Evenflo Secure Kid DLX (400)