The Boulevard describes a line of convertible car seats manufactured by Britax. With built-in customization and an easy installation design, it may be tempting to use this product repeatedly as your family grows. However, keeping this or any car seat after it’s expired can lead to both safety and legal risk. Here’s a guide to why these dates are necessary and how to determine your Britax Boulevard expiration date.
What the Expiration Date Means
Expiration dates are determined by the manufacturer and describe the amount of time a car seat can be expected to meet safety standards. At first glance, this may seem like a corporate scheme to dupe parents into buying unnecessary products, but an expiration date is actually valid—and, in fact, supported by legislation in a number of states.
Understandably, many parents opt for secondhand car seats, which are often more affordable than brand-new models. However, there’s no regulation when it comes to this kind of second-hand purchase between private parties, so it’s entirely possible that the car seat you find at a yard sale may be past its expiration date. Always make sure to check the date before purchasing secondhand. The original Britax Boulevard, which is no longer in production, is also subject to this rule.
There’s also the common misconception that a more expensive car seat, even if secondhand, will provide better safety for your child. All child safety restraint manufacturers are held to the same standards, so a cheaper brand can protect your child just as well as the priciest option on the market. It may not come with as many customization options, but it won’t compromise your child’s safety. A car seat past its expiration date, however, can put your child at risk no matter how expensive its original purchase price.
Why the Expiration Date Matters
Manufacturers consider a number of factors when setting expiration dates, and those dates may vary by product and year of production. Over time, companies may also re-evaluate their own systems for assigning expiration dates to better align with industry standards or new regulations. For example, the Britax Boulevard has an expiration date of seven years, while older products had previously been assigned 10 years.
New Research and Resources
There are new studies constantly in the works to improve child safety, and the effectiveness of car seats is no exception. As the scientific community learns more about the physics of car crashes, how child safety restraint designs respond to these physics, and as vehicles themselves become safer, best practices on the subject are revised.
There may also be further advances in technology regarding materials or the inclusion of digital components that contribute to safety. As these advancements become standard, old car seats are made obsolete.
Updated Performance Standards
As the ability to keep children safe during collisions increases, so do the legal obligations to which companies are held. New research can influence regulators and legislators to require higher standards for new models. Manufacturers list expiration dates on their car seats with the understanding that these once top-of-the-line products may not meet the most updated safety standards in the future.
Discontinued Replacement Parts
As of now, replacement parts are still available for the Britax Boulevard. However, due to its discontinued status, eventually these parts will stop being made. It may become uneconomic for the manufacturer to keep producing parts after a few years and inadvisable to do so past the expiration dates of the last batch. Once the parts become unavailable, you’ll no longer be able to keep your car seat compliant with safety standards.
Even if parts are still available, you may not know that you need to replace a component. Over time, car seats suffer damage from being installed and uninstalled, and if you’re in an accident, there’s likely damage you’ll never physically see.
There’s also the danger of materials degrading due to weather. Metal pieces may rust, and plastic can become brittle after repeated or long exposure to heat, cold or humidity. These compromised pieces may appear fine, only to give out under the powerful impact of a collision. Small chips or cracks may undermine the design structure. The bottom line is when a car seat is old enough to reach its expiration date, you can’t know for sure if it still retains its original integrity.
All of these factors boil down to one thing: keeping your child safe. The expiration date exists because manufacturers can’t guarantee that their products will perform to the intended standards after a certain amount of time. When that product is a car seat, failure to perform can have deadly consequences. Saving money is an understandable concern, especially when those saved funds can be used to meet your child’s other needs. However, there are alternative options to save money, such as purchasing a cheaper model brand new that won’t put your child at risk.
How To Find the Expiration Date
Depending on the model, the expiration date may not be immediately visible. This is true of the Britax Boulevard. The date will be located somewhere on the car seat itself, either as a sticker or imprinted directly into the plastic.
The Britax Boulevard has its expiration date printed on a white sticker. The sticker is usually located at the top of the seat. You may have to remove the padding in order to see it.
At times, the printed date may not be the expiration date, but the manufactured date. The sticker or imprint will indicate which it is. If the date is in fact the date of manufacture, you’ll need to consult the car seat’s user manual to calculate when it will expire. The manual will give a length of time the product is considered effective, which you can then add to the printed date. For example, if the printed date is “JUL 9 2010,’ and the manual says the car seat is effective for six years, the expiration date would be July 9, 2016.
This brings up another hurtle you may face if buying secondhand: no user manual. Luckily, many companies, including Britax, have their user manuals available as PDF downloads on their websites. Most companies also have their products’ expiration dates somewhere online as well. Be sure to note the car seat’s model to ensure you find the right information.
When Your Car Seat Expires
Car seats are meant to protect children from injury in the case of collision. Using any child safety restraint past its expiration date can undermine that safeguarding function. It may also be illegal, depending on your state.
Some states have laws on the books that, when interpreted a certain way, may make the use of an expired car seat illegal. For example, your state may require parents to abide by manufacturers’ instructions when using child safety products. Using a car seat past its expiration date is considered not following instructions.
Using an expired child safety restraint may even result in a penalty. In Virginia, parents may have to pay a fine.
In Michigan, the state considers use of an expired car seat or booster to be in violation of laws that require children under a certain age to be properly restrained when in a moving vehicle, meaning law enforcement can issue tickets if this is found to be the case. Since each state has its own laws, what may be considered fine in one state may be illegal once you cross the border, so if your car seat is expired, you’d need to check out child safety restraint legislation before going on any inter-state road trips.
When a car seat is expired, the best thing to do is dispose of it. The Britax website suggests simply crossing out the printed expiration date, writing “Expired, do not use,” on the seat, and setting it on the curb. However, someone else may pick up the seat as a free item, not realizing or caring about its expired status. Since this can put other children at risk, many child safety advocates advise dismantling the seat before you put it out for pick up.
To dismantle a car seat, cut the straps and harness, and remove all of the foam padding. If possible, separate the metal and plastic parts, which you may be able to recycle. Check with your local recycling center to see what they accept. Otherwise, you can dump the pieces in the trash or put them by the curb according to your city’s waste management protocol.
Choice and Consequence
As a parent, protecting your child is your number one priority, and when it comes to selecting the car seat meant to safeguard your child in the event of an accident, your decision can literally mean life or death. Whether you choose to buy new or go secondhand, be sure to check the expiration date. While you hope you’ll never have to test your car seat’s strength and durability in a real-life scenario, you want to know it’ll do its job no matter the circumstances.