Free car seats are available to some parents — here’s how to know if you qualify for one

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From even before they’re born, kids are expensive. They need all the new baby basics, including a car seat — and that can be pricey, even if you go for a low-budget option. Experts advise against buying a used car seat, simply because they do have expiration dates, and it’s difficult to verify when they were purchased and if they’ve ever been involved in a collision.

Caring for an infant is challenging enough without worrying about not having enough money for necessities like a car seat. The good news is that a free car seat may be available to you: you just have to know where to look! We’ve done the research, and here are some of the best places you can go for an infant or convertible car seat to keep your tot safe when you’re on the road.

National Car Seat Programs

If you’re already on Medicaid, it’s almost guaranteed that you’re eligible for a free car seat. All you have to do is attend a short course on car seat safety. You can apply for the seat through the Health Insurance Marketplace website, or apply directly to any Medicaid state agency.

If you’re enrolled in WIC (the supplemental nutrition program for Women, Infants, and Children), you may also be eligible to receive a free car seat. WIC may provide vouchers that can be used toward purchasing a car seat, or could offer assistance in other ways depending on what state you’re in. Again, in most cases you’ll need to take a short class on car seat safety first.

Baby2Baby

National organization Baby2Baby aims to help children who are living in poverty, from birth to age 12. By partnering with several organizations around the country, they help to provide essentials to families.

Depending on where you live, you may be able to get a free car seat through one of Baby2Baby’s partner organizations. You may also want to look into other local and national charities as a potential way of finding a cheap or free car seat.

211

Anybody struggling to make ends meet can dial 211 and ask for help — and that includes help getting a car seat. (Other basic needs, like food and rent assistance and paying bills, are covered too.) The beauty is that you don’t have to get referred to other programs, since all the help you need is right there. When you call 211, you’ll get connected to your nearest 211 call center, which means you receive local assistance.

211 services are available to 309 million people, or 94.6% of the U.S. population, throughout all 50 states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico. In 2020, they responded to 20 million calls from people seeking help with urgent needs.

Statewide Car Seat Programs

As well as national programs, every state has its own programs to provide free car seat education, installation and safety checks. And some of them might provide free or reduced-price car seats if you’re in need. The blog Safe Convertible Car Seats has links to the right department in every state.

Your Hospital

Hospitals don’t typically offer car seats for free, but some of them may have a program in place to ensure that all families have access to a safe car seat for their newborn. Others might not provide them for free, but could have them available at a greatly reduced price or even allow you to borrow them.

Alternatively, they may be able to help you find a local organization that does provide free car seats. To be discharged from the hospital after giving birth, you’re required to have a car seat installed, so hospitals do need to take into account your budget when they’re helping you source a car seat. Contact your hospital ahead of your due date, or ask your OB/GYN for advice. Just remember that eligibility requirements will be different for each organization.

Church, Fire Department Or Police Station

You might be able to get a free car seat from your local police station, fire department, church or other religious institution. Police officers and firefighters are professionally trained and often offer programs for free installation of car seats, at the very least. Your local church will do all they can to help, including putting you in contact with a local charity or program that provides essential supplies to families in need.

Unfortunately, there’s no convenient single source for free car seats, so you’ll have to do some research to find one that’s right for you.

Claire Gillespie

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