Grocery store shopping is often an effort with picking the freshest food possible and avoiding the expired food that may have been left on the shelf. Many consumers do this without even thinking about the consequences of food waste because they do not want to inadvertently make their families sick by guessing whether food close to an expiration date is still good.
However, many people find the expiration date on a car seat to be much more confusing. This article will help give you a better idea of why car seat expiration dates are important and where to find the expiration date on a car seat.
Why Car Seat Expiration Dates are Important
When you break car seats down into their parts, they are nothing more than metal, fabric, padding, Styrofoam, and plastic. None of these pieces alone seem like they would need expiration dates.
In fact, some of these items take so long to break down in a landfill that recycling them is mandatory in some places.
Plastic is known to require thousands of years to break down, and Styrofoam, a petroleum-based product, must have proper recycling even to have a chance of not being around in 10,000 years.
Most car seat manufacturers will tell you that the seats will not begin to break down for at least 10 years physically. However, most expiration dates start at six years post-production. So why the four-year discrepancy? Understanding this concept requires knowing the life cycle of a car seat.
Improved Car Safety Equipment
Car seats are placed in vehicles, which have a constantly evolving interior and exterior, especially where safety is concerned. Car manufacturers are always trying to make cars safer than the ones they previously created. These upgrades include car seat safety.
Years ago, cars added the LATCH system, which stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children.
Now, every new vehicle comes with these anchors as standard issue. Instead of just using seat belts to restrain children, car seats could be attached to the car frame through these anchors, thus making them much safer.
Cars now come equipped with a LATCH anchor behind the seats so that the car seat cannot make any sudden forward movements in the event of an accident. With the constant improvement in car safety, car seat safety needed to improve as well.
Improved Car Seat Safety
When manufacturers create car seats, they use the most advanced technology that they have available at the time.
In the past, car seats were nothing more than plastic buckets secured using the seat belt. Today, car seats have a myriad of safety features added to them.
For instance, most car seats come with a three-point or five-point harness, compared with just a two-point for a standard seat belt. The seat will have multiple slots to adjust the straps as children grow. The car seat comes with its side impact padding and headrest cushioning to absorb impact. The plastic seat itself is designed to absorb the energy of a crash rather than transfer it to the child passenger. This list continues with every new iteration of a car seat.
As safety features continue to improve, older models seem less safe and will also have two additional problems: lack of parts and recalls. Since manufacturers make new models, they will ultimately discontinue older models and stop making the parts for them. Consumers that own these old seats will no longer be able to purchase pieces that might wear out.
Expiration dates help ensure that manufacturers are no longer responsible for maintaining an adequate supply of replacement parts. If the seat is out of date, it does not need these parts. A similar problem with older models is that defects are found over time with extended use that went noticed before.
Some car sear recalls are simple and may require just a different part, such as a broken clip on the harness. Other recalls can be more difficult and need a complete recall of the seat. Once a seat reaches the expiration date, the manufacturer is no longer responsible for recalls on it since consumers must stop using the seat and dispose of it anyway.
The longer a car seat is in use, the more chance it has to be involved in a crash. After an accident, the original owner may need to get a new car seat. The old car seat should be destroyed; however, some damaged car seats find their way onto the secondary or resale market.
When cars are in an accident, the vehicle identification number or VIN is placed into a database to let future buyers know the history of the vehicle.
Car seats have no such database of accidents. Therefore, there is no way to know if and when an older model car seat has been in a crash.
As you can see, if we follow the lifecycle of the car seat from manufacture to expiration date, many changes may have occurred, which makes the expiration date a logical step for manufacturers to take.
Where To Find the Expiration Date on a Car Seat
Car seat expiration dates can be found in three different ways. First, you can see the expiration date embossed or printed directly on the seat itself. You should find this date near where the manufacturer information is on the back or side of the seat. By embossing or molding the number right into the seat, there is less of a chance that the number will be removed or scratched off. Someone would have to work very hard to remove the expiration date found near the model number and production date.
The second way to find the expiration date is to look in the manufacturer's manual for your specific model. This document will often list the production date or expiration date.
If you can only find a production date, then it would be safe to assume that six years from that date is the expiration date.
Finally, you can contact the company and provide the model number by phone or by email. A company representative should be able to tell you the exact expiration date for your particular car seat.
Car Seat Laws
Laws in every state require the use of car seats. However, each state has slightly different rules and regulations that determine the height and weight requirements for children to be either front- or rear- facing. The laws, however, are vague on the use of expiration dates.
Most likely, a police officer will not stop to check the expiration date on your car seat. If you are involved in a car accident and have an expired car seat, you may receive a citation.
The laws state that car seats must be used as directed in the manual. This vague explanation allows police to adapt to changing car seat laws without having to change everything regarding the issue.
If you use the car seat as directed by the manufacturer for front- and rear-facing height and weight requirements, and you abide by the model expiration date, you will have no legal problems.
Car Seat Disposal
If you have a car seat that is expired, you can only do one of two things. If you need a new car seat, you can take the old car seat to a retailer that collects expired car seats and provides you with a discount on a new seat.
The second alternative is to dispose of the seat legally. You should completely disassemble the seat and then recycle any relevant parts.
For instance, the seat has metal and fabric components that can be sent to metal or textile recyclers.
Also, the plastic bucket seat can be recycled. You should check with your plastics recyclers to ensure that the seat can be sent there. If it cannot be recycled, you can simply write the word "expired" on the seat. Be sure to put it on the front and back using a permanent marker. Finally, you can place the seat in the trash once all the parts are removed.
While expiration dates on car seats may seem odd, many other products contain expiration dates besides food. For instance, cosmetics should not be kept for longer than a year since bacteria can grow and cause infections in people that use it.
Sunscreen is another common product with an expiration date. The active ingredients in many medications reduce or become inert after a while, making the product much less effective. Running shoes wear out over time with prolonged use and should be replaced after six months or 300 to 500 miles.
Therefore, car seat expiration dates should always be heeded since the safety of the children that ride in them is the most important part of using a car seat. It makes no logical sense to use an expired product if your key reason for using it is safety. You can be confident that even the lowest-priced new model car seat is safer than an expired car seat.