Booster seats, like car seats, have expiration dates. While most parents are willing to do anything to keep their littles safe, it is not uncommon for parents of older children to grow lax when it comes to car seat use.
Once a child “looks” old enough to ride in a car without a safety seat, a parent may decide that he or she doesn't need to ride in a booster all the time, or even if a seat is expired, that the child will be safe. These misconceptions can result in the serious injury or even death of the child.
Booster seat expiration dates are just as important to abide by as car seat expiration dates are. If you have a booster seat that your oldest child used and that you want to hand down to your youngest, check the expiration stamp or sticker before using it.
If the date has passed, dispose of the seat and invest in a new one. This guide will inform you of why expired car seats are dangerous, how to tell if your child's booster seat is past its prime and how to dispose of old car seats in a way that will prevent other parents from trying to use them.
The Reason for Booster Seat Expiration Dates
There are countless rationales that individuals use to not spend hundreds of dollars on a new safety seat for their growing child.
"The old one is still in perfectly good condition," "My parents didn't have car seats at all, and they're still here" or "My oldest barely used his seat – it should be fine for my youngest" are all common excuses uttered by many a parent.
Parents who use these excuses aren't bad parents – just parents who have a budget and want to stick to it. While there is no shame in being thrifty, your child's safety seat is one area in which you shouldn't cut corners.
Booster seat manufacturers assign expiration dates for a reason – or actually, several reasons:
Standards Are Always Changing
A lot of people view safety standards as a way for manufacturers to pump more money from them, but the truth is that safety standards are in place for a very valid reason: to protect people.
Back in the day, cars didn't have three-point belt systems, they merely had lap belts, which may have kept individuals from flying through windshields, but they did nothing to prevent their faces from hitting the steering columns.
Before the 1930s, vehicles didn't have brake lights, turn signals or hydraulic brake systems, but when manufacturers discovered how helpful those features were, they became standard.
The point is, standards aren't standard until their benefits are fully realized. When car seat's standards change, it's for a very good reason. And change they do – often.
Manufacturers anticipate that car seat standards will evolve very five to 10 years, which is why most assign a lifespan of about five to 10 years to each make and model of their car or booster seats.
For instance, before 2002, car seats were not secured with the LATCH system or the Lower Anchor and Tethers for Children system.
Today, however, such a system is standard on all car seats, and many car manufacturers have even revised their standards to ensure that all back seats contain the necessary anchors.
Materials Break Down
Another reason that booster seats expire is because the materials they're made from aren't designed to last forever. Most booster seats are made of hard plastic and cotton or some other material that is prone to deterioration.
While it's expected that any child's seat will undergo significant wear and tear over the course of its lifetime, there are certain issues that should not be overlooked because of the safety implications they present.
For instance, crumbling hard plastic could render a car seat virtually ineffective in an accident. Frayed safety restraints could snap under little pressure, and exposed foam could pose a choking hazard for a curious little one.
As standards and models change, manufacturers eventually stop making replacement parts for older models. If you want to be able to find a replacement part for your child's safety seat, you need to make sure that it's still relevant.
The best way to ensure that your child's safety seat is up-to-date is to adhere to the manufacturer's booster seat expiration date.
Older car seats often get recalled. This is especially true as older safety standards are deemed unsafe or ineffective. If your child's car seat is a few years old, it may have been recalled for a very legitimate reason without your having realized it.
Models Are Only Safety Tested for a Limited Time
As long as a model is still relevant manufacturers will continue to test it. However, as manufacturers design newer and safer booster seats, they'll stop testing older models completely.
Once models are no longer tested, it becomes impossible for manufacturers to attest to their safety.
How To Tell if a Booster Seat Is Past Its Prime
There are a number of ways to locate a booster seat's expiration date. For one, you can refer to the manufacturer's website. Look up the model number and manufactured year to locate the information for which you're looking.
If you cannot find the information on the website, or if you're out and about and want to locate it the old-fashioned way, look under your child's seat or on the back of it (if there is a back).
Most manufacturers place a white sticker or a stamp in one of these two locations that inform parents of the expiration date. Others stamp the expiration date into the plastic near the manufacture date.
Some manufactures include a strict "Do Not Use By" date, while others have parents calculate the date from the date of manufacture. Most car seats are good for anywhere between five and ten years.
You may have to move aside some material to find the information. If the car seat does not include a sticker or stamp, assume that the seat is unfit for use.
How To Dispose of an Expired Car Seat
It can be difficult to get rid of a car seat that, for all intents and purposes, appears to be in great condition. However, dispose of it you must. If you donate the seat, you risk putting another child in danger.
If you place the seat in a dumpster, there is the risk that a strapped-for-cash parent might find it and use it for his or her child.
There is also the risk that someone might discover it and try to sell it for quick cash. The point is, there is no really good way to dispose of a whole car seat.
The best way to ensure that the expired booster seat won't be used again is to disassemble it. Remove the cover and harnesses, write on the plastic with a sharpie, and place the components in separate waste bins.
Place the hard plastic in a black trash bag so that no one can know what is inside of it. If you don't want to piece meal the seat, take it to a place that specializes in recycling car seats.
Date of Manufacture Is Not To Be Confused With Date of Purchase
You may have purchased a car seat this year, but it could be three years old. That does not mean that the seat is good for the next five to 10 years. Rather, it is now only good for the next two to seven years.
The clock for booster seat expiration begins on the date of manufacture, not the date of purchase. For this reason, it is important that you check a make and model's manufacture date before committing to a purchase.
While it doesn't hurt to buy an older model infant seat, as infants outgrow their original car seats within a year or two, you may be upset to discover that the forever car seat you purchased is only good for the next three years and is therefore not a forever car seat.
A Final Word for Booster Seat Expiration
Manufacturers put expiration dates on their booster seats for a reason: to keep your child safe. The date is not there to convince you to buy new seats every five years or so, or because the government said it has to be there.
In fact, the government has no such regulation regarding booster seat expiration. It is there as a precautionary measure, and to ensure that your child has the most up-to-date and effective safety seat available.
Before buying a car seat, always check the expiration date, and if there isn't one, find a different model.
You can also register your car seat at the manufacturer's website. Doing so will ensure that you receive the most up-to-date information regarding your booster seat and that if there are any recalls, you will be the first to know about them.
For more information regarding your child's safety seat, reach out to the manufacturer directly.
Featured Image via Flickr