A hospital in Idaho is calling out knock-off car seats that put newborns at risk.

car seat buckle
Credit: Odua Images/Shutterstock

February 14, 2019

St. Luke's Children's Hospital in Idaho is warning parents about a disturbing new trend: fake car seats. They note that some car seats being sold online under name brands are actually knock-offs.

Car seat technicians spoke with local news station KTVB to show how the knock-offs compare to the real deal. “It’s pretty terrifying," said St. Luke’s Pediatric Education and Prevention Programs car seat technician Brittany Joplin. "There's no way a child would survive a crash in a seat like this."

Joplin was one of the St. Luke's employees to first note the trend. Joplin told KTVB that during a routine car seat check before discharging a woman and her newborn from the hospital, she recognized the car seat as a phony. It had been gifted by a family member who bought it on Amazon.

The reason she knew it was a fake: “All of the seat parts are made of plastic," Joplin said. "...the harness doesn't even fit our training baby here properly, the straps come out from way above its shoulders. There's no chest clip, which is an item on all car seats in the United States."

Additionally, the harness adjuster on the counterfeit car seat is situated on a loose piece of metal on the bottom of the car seat. “This is the piece meant to hook into the child safety base," she noted while examining the side of the car seat on camera. "You can see it bend here to where it almost snaps with not much pressure. I can also squeeze the thin plastic to where it looks like it can easily snap or break under even the lightest crash force." Seeing just how malleable the materials are proves how unsafe these fake seats are. 

Joplin also pointed out that the fraud doesn't come with a manual, a registration card, federal labels, or stickers, all of which are required on car seats. The knock-off just came with one warning label on the chest straps that doesn't make any sense: "Warning: Please use safety belts immediately after your baby can sit by himself."

You can see all of these troubling differences in KTVB's report.

The faux car seat that Joplin showed KTVB is just one of the two phonies she came in contact with recently. She saw the other while doing a free car seat check event. An expectant mom came in with one fake car seat and a real one. A third knock-off turned up in Tri Cities, Washington, according to St. Luke’s car seat technician Jen Ellis who said it had Chinese lettering on every label, it didn’t come with a base, and was made of cheap plastic.

“It scares me. It scares me for the lives of little children that they have no idea and these are life-saving devices and if they need to work that one time, you need it to work 100-percent,” Ellis said. “I’m concerned these are out in the community, these are only two that we've seen how many more of them are there we have not seen and gotten our hands on.”

The technicians said that parents might be able to identify the fakes online if they're sold by a third party vendor or advertised as "buy one, get one free," or any type of discount that wouldn't apply to a real car seat. 

Second-hand car seats are also ill-advised, because not only could they be fakes, but they may be expired or damaged. “We never suggest purchasing seats off Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace because we just don't know if that seat is going to be safe, or used," Joplin said. "We don't know if it’s been cleaned and cared for properly, we don't know if it's been in a crash, we don't know if it’s damaged in any way."

Read reviews and pay attention to language and grammar on the seat's labels. “If the English used to explain the car seat or any features is jumbled or doesn't use proper grammar it’s another big red flag that it’s likely not a legitimate car seat,” Joplin noted.

In the end, they also note that it may be in parents' best interest to avoid buying car seat online and instead head over to Walmart, Target, or another local brick-and-mortar store. By shopping at the latter, consumers can be sure they're getting a safe, legal car seat.