All parents need to understand the ins and outs of the car seat expiration date. Every car seat has one; knowing when a seat's no longer fit for use can save your child's life. Learn how and why they expire, where to find your seat's expiration date, and what to do with your old car seat when you're done with it.
Everything You Need To Know About Car Seat Expiration Dates
Car seats aren't bananas, but they do go bad. When they do, they no longer provide a safe ride for your most adorable—and vulnerable—passengers. Fortunately, car seat manufacturers make it easy to know precisely how much life your seat has left. Read on to learn more about why car seats expire, what happens when they do, where to find your car seat's expiration date, and what to do with your old seat when it finally kicks the bucket.
Why Your Car Seat Has An Expiration Date
Your son or daughter's car seat is one of the most important pieces of kid gear you'll own. A properly installed car seat can reduce the chance of fatality by up to 80 percent. While it's built to last, it isn't built to last forever. With regular use and exposure to the elements, car seats gradually degrade.
No matter what your Aunt Karen the conspiracy theorist says, the car seat expiration date isn't a ploy by “Big Car Seat” to bamboozle you out of extra money. It isn't arbitrary. Even if your car seat has spent its entire life accident-free and safely ensconced in a sticky blanket of grape juice and graham cracker crumbs, there are several reasons why it must be replaced when it hits its expiration date.
Car Seats Aren't Highlanders
In other words, car seats aren't immortal. Constant wear and tear can slowly degrade even the sturdiest, top-of-the-line car seat. You can't see this gradual degradation, of course, but it remains unavoidable nonetheless. The base can develop tiny fractures with regular use, for example. In an accident, these could cause it to splinter. Its plastic shell can turn brittle and become ready to shatter just like that ancient Frisbee you found in the back of Grandma's garage. Belts that get tightened and untightened, threaded and unthreaded, slowly grow slack over time.
Cars are also regularly exposed to the extreme heat of a campground in August, the bitter cold of a ski resort parking lot in January, and the heavy humidity of a southern summer. Over time, Styrofoam stiffens, and metal components rust. Tiny parts can break off and go missing. A used car seat may look fine, but it's impossible for you to see all of its battle scars from years of daily stress—and those invisible scars can add up to disaster if you're in a collision.
Technology Keeps Charging Ahead
It may be odd to think of “car seats” and “technology” in the same sentence, but upgrades aren't limited to your smartphone or cable package. Car seat safety is constantly being improved upon in ways we can see, as well as ways we can't. One example of this is the LATCH system. Since 2002, almost all car seats and vehicles are manufactured to comply with LATCH, which stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. At present, this is the safest way to install a car seat in your vehicle. Given how quickly technology moves, it won't stay that way forever. Research unearths new safety methods on a constant basis.
Another example is side impact protection. While there aren't currently any industry standards for side impact protection, many car seat manufacturers run independent tests to ensure the safest and strongest defenses that they can.
Advances in care seat technology upgrade your kid's comfort level, too. The next time your son or daughter takes a long pull on his or her sippy cup and then complains about riding to the good grocery store on the other side of town, remind him or her that, back in your day, car seats didn't even have cupholders. Oh, the horror.
From plush fabrics to steel frames, car seat research and development is a never-ending process that perpetually improves your child's comfort and security on the road. If you want your kid to stay safe, you need to stay current.
The Older The Seat, The Sparser The Parts
Replacement parts for car seats grow increasingly hard to find as your car seat ages. This makes sense. Why would a company keep pumping out parts for the Snug ‘N' Safe 5000 when they're currently selling the Snug ‘N' Safe 7500, the safest, most current model car seat that they manufacture? Generally speaking, the safest car seat is the latest car seat. If you take a chance on an older car seat and a component needs to be replaced, you'll likely be out of luck. If the car seat was subject to a recall at some time in its past, before you owned it, you may not be aware of that, either. That's definitely not a risk worth taking.
Safety Testing Has Its Limits
Car seat models aren't safety-tested to infinity and beyond. As new models are produced, expired models are no longer crash-tested. Again, why spend big corporate bucks crash testing that Snug ‘N' Safe 5000 when you're shipping the Snug ‘N' Safe 7500 to stores? Understandably, car seat manufacturers invest and stand by their latest models with up-to-the minute standards for safety. If no one can vouch for a car seat's safety, it's not a car seat into which you want to buckle your kid.
How Long A Car Seat Usually Lasts
Most car seats are built to last for six to 10 years from the date of manufacture, not the date you bought it. The window for expiration varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. For example, here are the expiration markers for five of the most popular car seat brands in the United States:
It's worth noting that it doesn't matter how expensive your car seat is: all car seats expire at a similar rate. All car seats built in the United States are required by law to hit safety standards before they can be sold; in other words, an expensive car seat won't resist the ravages of time, a Chicago winter, or your daughter's karate kicking phase any better than a less pricey model will.
Where To Find A Car Seat's Expiration Date
Federal law doesn't regulate car seat expiration dates or how car seat manufacturers make a seat's expiration date known to the consumer. Typically, you can find a car seat's expiration date engraved directly into the plastic on the underside of the seat or printed on a sticker affixed to the side, back, or bottom of the seat.
Just like the expiration date itself, this varies by manufacturer. Here's where you can frequently find the expiration date for the five common car seat brands listed previously:
Be forewarned that some car seats will include only the date of manufacture, not an expiration date, thereby requiring you to do the math and figure out when your seat should be replaced. If you can't find your car seat's expiration date or date of manufacture on the seat itself, consult the owner's manual. Failing that, you should call the company directly to ask.
What To Do With Your Old Car Seat
First things first, don't just chuck the entire thing into a dumpster or leave it at the curb where someone might take it and use it, not realizing that it's expired or about to expire. If you want to safely dispose of it yourself, you should take it apart first. Be thorough: remove and toss the cover and padding, cut the restraint straps, scrap the metal parts, and recycle the plastic ones. Taking a marker and writing “Expired” and “Do Not Use” on it isn't a bad idea, either.
If hacking up a car seat isn't your jam, you can also visit Recycle Your Car Seat to find a car seat recycling program in your neck of the woods. Additionally, many car seat retailers such as Babies ‘R' Us and Target have car seat recycling programs and even trade-in deals where surrendering your used car seat can earn you credit toward your next car seat or other merchandise.
The Bottom Line
It's not explicitly illegal to buy or sell a used car seat. However, given that you can purchase a safe convertible car seat that your kid can use from birth well into elementary school for considerably less than $, there's no reason to gamble on your son or daughter's safety with an expired car seat. You wouldn't feed your child rancid chicken nuggets; don't buckle him or her into a car seat that's gone bad just to save a few bucks, either. If you already have a car seat in tow, now's a great time to scope out its expiration date and set a reminder in your phone to replace it before it bites the dust.