Babies are lovely and cute and many other things, but they’re expensive. According to Bloomberg, the estimated cost of childbirth in the United States seats somewhere north of $18,000. And the cost of raising the same child? A typical middle-income family should expect to spend $310,000+ to raise a 2015-kid through their 17th birthday.
Related: How to Install a Car Seat
With these crazy baby costs to contend with, getting any kind of free baby gear starts looking like a really good idea. But wait, are there places one can get a free car seat these days? Yes! And in this post, you’ll meet a nice list of 11 ways to get a usable car seat for absolutely FREE.
11 Ways to a Get a FREE But Usable Car Seat
Let me first hand you the list and then say a thing or two about each free car seat-getting strategy:
1. Talk to the local fire department.
2. Talk to a local Safe Kids coalition.
3. Ask your local CPST or online if they have any idea how you can find a usable car seat for free.
4. Talk to the department that handles children’s and women’s issues in your location.
5. Call the 211 call center close to where you’re at.
6. Leverage the Baby2Baby National Network if you really need to.
7. Miracles happen every day! Talk to Everyday Miracles if you’re based out in Minnesota.
8. Ask your obstetrician or gynecologist.
9. Talk to hospitals. They may not offer a free car seat, but they may know organizations that might. And if they can’t do this, they can at least make suggestions for low-cost infant car seats that are safe.
10. Ask your minister or priest.
11. Your health insurance provider might offer a free infant car seat.
Let’s take a closer look at how you might go about finding a free car seat for your coming baby.
Related: Best Compact Car Seats Ever
1. Talk to the Local Fire Department or CPST
Not every local fire station police officer or firefighter knows how to install a car seat. But they can connect you with a free car seat resource. They normally don’t have car seats to give away, but they often know of organizations that may be able to help. So, talk to the local fire station and see how it goes.
Someone whispered this to me a while back: some of the unsafest car seat installations ever seen were done by well-meaning folks from the fire department.
A local CPST can also lead you to the no-cost car seat you seek. They’re constantly in contact with organizations and individuals who might help you out. So get talking.
2. Your Health Insurance Provider Might Help
If you’re a first-time mom, many health insurance providers will offer you a free car seat. And if you ever get involved in an accident with your little one (praying it’ll never happen), your insurance provider should replace the damaged car seat. According to Auto Insurance Org, comprehensive insurance policies provide coverage for car seats.
3. Talk to a Local Safe Kids Coalition.
Just in case you didn’t know, Safe Kids Coalition is the organization that trains CPSTs (Child Passenger Safety Technician). To become a competent safety car seat technician, one needs to do 40 hours of really thorough training. But you’re here to know about how to get a functional free car seat, right?
According to this organization’s website, a needy family might be able to get a free car seat from them. But there’s no guarantee approaching them will yield a positive result. They’re also quick to add that those who get free car seats may or may not have to pay a fee. Whether you pay or not depends on the policies of the particular coalition partner you’re dealing with.
Speaking of coalitions, Safe Kids Coalition boasts at least 500 individual coalitions spread out across the vastness of the United States. Also, the entity has presence outside of the US in at least 25 countries at time of writing.
But gifting car seats to those in need isn’t the only good thing this organization does. It performs up to 8 car seat checkups in the US alone. Plus, they dole out helmets, carbon monoxide and smoke alarms.
Open this link to find a Safe Kids Coalition in your state.
4. Join the WIC Free Car Seat Program (A National Free Car Seat Program)
The WIC program is a national free car seat program that supports families who may not afford a car seat for their babies. WIC stands for Women, Infants, and Children, and most counties have people working for this program.
Walk into the Human Services building in your county, and there’s a good chance you’ll find the WIC office there. And if you can’t seem to locate this office, ask Google where the WIC office in your area is located.
WIC is run by the US Food and Nutrition Service of the Department of Agriculture. It’s a supplemental nutrition program for women, infant, and children between age 0 and 5. It cares for nursing moms and pregnant women and their unborn ones by providing nutritious food items to them.
These moms get vouchers for fresh supplies in farmers markets, and one often needs to apply in the spring so the voucher is ready when the season arrives. You’ll want to find WIC-approved stores in your area though.
Not everyone qualifies to get a WIC program free car seat. But if you qualify for WIC (meaning you’ve proven to be a low-income family), it’s almost certain you’ll qualify for a free infant car seat.
How do I get a free infant seat from WIC Program? Well, it doesn’t happen automatically. You need to talk to your caseworker in advance about your need. Learn how to apply for WIC program here.
The specifics vary across states, but you’re looking at one of 3 possible scenarios:
- If you’re in a state where tons of moms and families need a free car seat and the supply system is overwhelmed, they’ll likely loan you the car seat rather than let you keep it. For the most part, you’re supposed to have obtained your own car seat by month 6, and you should then return the car seat so others can use it.
- In some states, you may be required to raise a certain amount of money depending on your ability. In most cases, $20 gets you a car seat, and you get to keep it.
- In other states, you can get an infant car seat for absolutely free. You pay nothing, and you get to keep it. It all depends on where you’re at.
To be clear, WIC relies on sponsors to get car seats to donate to those in need.
5. Call a 211 Call Center Close to Where You’re At.
211 call centers run sort of like 911. You place one call, and whole set of things happen to provide the assistance you need. United Way runs 211 call centers in all 50 states.
When you make a call to 211, the serve finds the nearest call center where you’re at and hooks you up with it. It’s quick, and it eliminates the need to call everyone and their grandma just because you’re in a tight financial spot or need a little help for whatever reason.
What I like about 211 is that the service also supports struggling families to sort out rent and get basic essentials including free or low-cost food.
211 Org partners with not-for-profit organizations, businesses, and even big corporations such as IBM and others.
Oh, and if you’re new to the US and can’t afford an infant car seat or place food on the table, 211 is who to call.
6. Leverage the Baby2Baby National Network.
Baby2Baby works with an entire networks of sponsors and organizations and distributes the resources they amass through a different organizations nationwide. This network has presence in at least 40 cities across the US, and you can visit their website now to find a partner near you.
Lots of families have obtained free car seats and many other free gifts from Baby2Baby Network partners over the years.
It was heart-warming to learn that this entity has so far given out somewhere in the excess of 200 million items! These gifts have gone to kids in domestic violence situations, foster homes, underserved schools, and hospitals.
Visit the Baby2Baby website here. And when things change hugely in the future for you, remember to contact this organization to donate.
7. Talk to Everyday Miracles If based Out in Minnesota.
Are you based out in Minnesota and have a state-funded health plan? If the health insurance plan you have is state-funded via UCare (Ucare Individual Family Plan is also eligible), HealthPartners, or Blue Plus, Everyday Miracles knows how to help you get a free car seat.
Once you get approved, you get an absolutely free car seat. The Everyday Miracles works with car seat technicians (CPSTs ) to deliver the gifts to qualifying parents and caregivers.
It takes about 3 weeks from application to car seat delivery. The car seat also teaches you how to properly use the restraint. After you apply, the organization might need more information during decision-making, and they’ll contact you about the same. They may also get back to you and say they’re unable to help you for whatever reason.
Note: you won’t get an infant car seat. Instead, you’ll get a convertible car seat. And sadly, you can’t choose the color or car seat style you want. Also, you need to be at least 7 months pregnant before you can get approved for a free car seat.
8. Talk to Hospitals.
Depending on where you are, you can get a low-cost infant car seat at the hospital where you deliver. And in some areas, moms who don’t have a car seat and just got a newborn may get a free car seat. But don’t count on this because it’s kind of rare. In most cases, you’ll get a cheap but still safe bucket car seat rather than a free one.
While hospitals may not give you a free car seat, they might help you connect with places that do.
9. Ask your obstetrician or gynecologist.
Your obstetrician or gynecologist may not offer you a free car seat, but ask if they know where you might find one. So, talk to them and see where that little conversation might lead.
10. Engage With Your Local Minister.
Ministers and priests know quite a few people and charity organizations. They might know someone or organization who might help. I know one or two moms who got a car seat this way. But it does mean opening up about your struggles to your minister, which may or may not be easy depending on your personality.
11. Engage Other Moms in Parenting Communities or Buy Used
Some of the most helpful people on the planet are folks you’ve never met yet. It’s not uncommon for people to offer assistance to others even when they’re complete strangers. Of course, you want to be sure you’re comfortable with the person offering help.
If the kind mom or dad is in your area, you can arrange to meet with them in person so you can inspect the car seat for safety. You may want to have a car seat technician accompany you for competent advice as to the soundness of the restraint as well as help with the installation.
And if all else fails, you can always buy a used car seat. But you don’t want to do this if you’re not sure how to go about it. Here’s tips to help you when buying a secondhand car seat:
- If it’s been involved in an accident, definitely don’t purchase it or accept it as a gift. Since there’s no way to know for sure, buying used isn’t always a good idea. Perhaps the best approach is to buy from people you know personally.
- If there’s no instructions manual as well as care and expiration date labels/stickers on the used car seat, don’t buy it. It might a fake car seat, and here’s how to identify a counterfeit car seat.
- If there’s noticeable wear and tear on the used car seat, you shouldn’t buy it since wear and tear weakens the structural integrity of a car seat over time.
If you must purchase an old car seat, I suggest asking a CPST to give it a look-over before cleaning it and installing it.
How to Get a Free Car Seat in All US States
I came across what I believe is the most comprehensive list out there on where to get a free car seat no matter where you’re in the United States. Here’s the resource, and there you’ll find links leading to specific places or offices that might help you get what you seek, a free or subsidized car seat for your little one. Whether you’re trying to get a free car seat in Virginia, Ohio, NC, Texas, or any other US state, this resource got you covered.
How Do I Get a FREE Car Seat? Conclusion.
If you’re dealing with a financial constraint of some sort or can’t afford a car seat at this time, there’s quite a few ways to get a free car seat to ferry your little one from the hospital. Click through the links to the resources listed and see if you can get a car seat for absolutely free.
If you can’t get it at no cost, you may at least be able to get it at a substantially subsidized price. And if you’re able to confirm that a used car seat is still in good condition and hasn’t ever been involved in an accident, you can definitely buy used.