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Fake Car Seats Are a Real Threat

Learn the risks of counterfeit car seats and how to ensure your car seat is legitimate

Car seats

Making decisions is a major part of being a parent or guardian. Some of the biggest decisions you’ll make will occur during the first few years of your child’s life – one of which is choosing a car seat, as motor vehicle crashes are one of the leading causes of injury and death for children in the United States. However, the right car seat can save your child’s life.

Unfortunately, as some parents are finding out, the car seat they’ve chosen to keep their child safe isn’t so safe at all. That’s because they’ve unknowingly purchased a counterfeit (“fake”) car seat. Being sold by third parties through major online retailers, these fake car seats only resemble authentic and federally approved car seats in appearance, but when it comes to safety, they’re lacking in important features that protect children.

“Counterfeit car seats do not meet the United States federal safety standards,” explains Bill McQuilken, nationally certified child passenger safety technician instructor with Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN), “which means no one knows what’s going to happen with these counterfeit car seats during a crash.”

Did you know?

If children use the wrong type of car seat for their age and size, or ride in a counterfeit seat that doesn’t meet federal safety standards, they are at risk for injury or death in a crash.

At Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital, we are committed to making sure parents get the information they need when purchasing a car seat that is designed to protect their child during an accident.

What families need to know about counterfeit car seats

When shopping for a car seat, there are various types of car seat models to choose from. However, from the most affordable car seat on the market to the most expensive, all federally approved car seats have met the same U.S. crash safety standards.

“The difference in price of car seats has nothing to do with the safety of the car seat,” McQuilken says. “What people are paying for is the convenience of the seat and the bells and whistles. All car seats must meet the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213, which requires the seats to go through and pass a series of testing and other safety requirements.”

If children use the wrong type of car seat for their age and size, or ride in a counterfeit seat that doesn’t meet federal safety standards, they are at risk for injury or death in a crash.

How to spot a counterfeit car seat

It may be very difficult to tell the difference between a legitimate and counterfeit car seat – unless you know what to look for. Some obvious red flags include:

  • Improper labeling – missing labels on the sides or bottom of car seat that include basic use information, warning labels and height and weight limits, and manufacturing information that includes model number and manufacture date
  • Missing the instruction booklet or manual and the registration card
  • Harness strap issues and missing retainer clip 
  • Extended shipping times
  • Discounted rates of more than 50% off the "original" price

Improper labeling

“Missing labels can be a major clue as to whether your car seat is counterfeit,” McQuilken says. “Counterfeit car seats typically do not have the warning and informational labels that appear on approved car seats. Reviewing these labels is especially important when buying from third-party vendors or distributors.”

Labels should be informative, and in English and Spanish only. It’s required that car seats have a label indicating the seat meets Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213, which regulates child seats, along with:

  • Installation and use instructions with pictures and diagrams
  • Manufacturer’s name and contact information, model number and date of manufacture
  • Weight and height guidelines
  • Air bag warning on rear-facing car seats

If there are no labels or the seat is missing one of the required labels, that’s a red flag and a clear indication that the car seat isn’t legitimate. Another red flag is labels that have a foreign language or a language other than English and Spanish.

Missing proper paperwork

By law, it’s required that every car seat comes with:

  • A registration card. All safety-approved car seats have a registration card so if there’s a recall, the manufacturer knows how to contact the owner to replace the seat or send them the parts kit.
  • An instruction booklet or manual. A safety-approved car seat comes with a booklet (60-70) pages written in both English and Spanish.

Counterfeit car seats often do not come with a registration card, and instead of an instruction manual, there’s a very basic flyer explaining how to use the car seat. The flyer is often written in improper English or a foreign language (other than Spanish), and usually has grammatical errors and misspelled words.

Harness strap issues and missing retainer clip

Certified, safety-tested car seats have wide harness straps that create a five-point harness system protecting the shoulders, hips and between the legs. Fakes commonly have narrow harness straps and a three-point harness system – which means the harnesses are lacking a retainer/chest clip.

In safety-approved car seats, the harness covers are designed for the retainer clip to be placed at the armpit level on the child. In counterfeit car seats, the harness covers are longer, and if there is a retainer clip, the covers make it difficult to place the retainer clip at the armpit level. If the retainer clip is not at armpit level, it allows for the child to be ejected from in between the harnesses. It can also cause serious injuries to the stomach area (including the liver, spleen and intestines) because forces from the crash would be borne by those soft tissue areas instead of the stronger chest bones.

What to do if you’ve bought a counterfeit car seat

If you suspect the car seat you purchased might be fake, McQuilken recommends you “don’t use the car seat until you receive confirmation that the seat is legitimate. The best way to do this is to contact the car seat manufacturer, providing them with the product’s information, including the model or serial number, date of manufacture and any labels. They can then verify whether it is legitimate.”

Also, make sure to keep detailed records of where, when and how the seat was purchased. If the seat does turn out to be fake, send an email to, at, to report it.

How to avoid purchasing a counterfeit car seat

Following these tips will help to protect you from purchasing a fake car seat:

Do your car seat homework

If you’re not familiar with using car seats, do your homework. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration websites are great places to start. These sites provide valuable resources and information about car seats, including how to find the right car seat or booster seat for your child, and how to use a car seat properly.

The AAP keeps a list of all federally approved car seats on the market that meet federal safety standards. If you don’t see the make and model of the car seat you are considering purchasing on the list, odds are the seat is a counterfeit.

Check out the seat before checking out

If you have a car seat in your online shopping cart, don’t proceed to check out until you do research on it. Search the web for information on the car seat and read other customers’ reviews. It’s also wise to check the American Academy of Pediatrics’ approved car seats list.

“If you can’t find any information about the car seat you are interested in purchasing or the only information you are able to find is on a foreign website, that’s a major red flag and a clear indicator that the seat is a counterfeit,” McQuilken says.

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is

Car seats are designed to protect children’s lives – not to fit parents’ budgets, unfortunately. So, when there’s a great deal on this pricey necessity, you may be tempted to act on it. However, odds are what you’re getting is a great deal on a dangerous product.

Often when legitimate car seats go on sale, it’s because they are nearing the end of their shelf life. You may only get two years or less time before the car seat reaches its safety expiration date and you must discontinue using it.

“This information isn’t revealed online,” McQuilken says. “That’s why we encourage families to make a trip to the store to examine the available car seat options in-person. There’s a manufacturing label on the box that states when the seat was manufactured. Car seats are good for a minimum of six years – which is why you want to look for a seat that was recently manufactured to get the most bang for your buck.”

Purchase car seats in the store

“Every single car seat we have identified as counterfeit was bought online,” says Deanna Shisslak, nationally certified car seat technician and manager, Parent Education Program, LVHN. “That’s why we highly encourage you to make a car seat purchase directly from in-person retail stores. Not only are you able to see the car seat in person, but you can rest assured that the car seat is legitimate because it’s coming from the actual retailer rather than a third-party vendor.”

Get your car seat checked

Success begins by being prepared. “Get your car seat checked at an LVHN car seat check event before the baby arrives,” Shisslak advises, “so a counterfeit car seat doesn’t prevent you from taking your new bundle of joy home from the hospital safely.”

“A car seat check takes one hour out of your day to ensure your baby’s ride will be a safe one,” Shisslak says.

Come to a car seat check event

At LVHN, we offer in-person car seat checks once a month. If you need additional help, call 610-402-5700. You can find a complete list of all certified car seat checks in our region here.

Find a family medicine doctor or pediatrician who specializes in newborn care.

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