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No one told you that having children would be easy – or cheap! From formula to diapers, and from a new wardrobe every three months to complex safety equipment issues, baby items seem to be made to break the bank. So, when you run across a good deal on baby gear, you may be tempted to take it, but beware! Used baby gear may not be all it’s cracked up to be, and in some instances, it may even be dangerous for your little one. This is especially true of used car seats.
Believe it or not, but car seats have expiration dates, just like that box of cereal in your cupboard and gallon of milk in your fridge. However, unlike food expiration dates, which are more of “Best Used By” recommendations, car seat expiration dates are pretty hard and fast, and it’s not recommended that you stick your bundle of joy in a seat that’s well overdue for the dump. If you’re skeptical about the expiration of a non-food item, this guide is here to provide some clarity.
Why Do Car Seats Expire?
If you’re like most people, you assume that car seat expiration dates are just a marketing strategy to get parents to shell out more dough for baby gear. While this is a very valid assumption, it’s incorrect. Babies are born every day, and Graco does not need your $200 every six years to stay afloat, and nor does Britax, Chicco, Cosco or Evenflo. Car seats have expiration dates because, after several years of wear and tear, they become unsafe. Seriously.
Think about it: car seats are comprised of mostly hard plastic, which is known to weaken over time, especially in climates prone to extreme temperatures. If you don’t believe this, think of children’s plastic tables that you find at garage sales or old sandboxes that were never put away for the winter. Bad hard plastic is brittle and prone to shattering upon the slightest impact. The last thing that you want to do is stick your pride and joy into a safety restraint that restrains but doesn’t protect.
Deterioration isn’t the only risk car seats face. There are several other reasons for car seat expirations. Those include the following:
- Rust: You may not leave your car seat out in the pouring rain, but you’d probably be lying if you said you didn’t let your little one sip a bottle or drink some juice during a long car ride. Bottles and sippy cups spill, and if drips of liquid hit the metal components and aren’t cleaned properly, those metal components can rust. Rusted materials affect how car seats ultimately perform in crashes.
- Deteriorating Materials: Extreme hot and cold temperatures, humidity, sun and old age can all contribute to the deterioration of the hard plastic, safety restraints and other materials. After a while, your child’s car seat will be more of a safety hazard than a protection.
- Advancements in Technology: Children are our future, which is why there is ongoing research in all sectors about how to keep them safe. Chances are that next year’s studies will reveal that forward-facing car seats aren’t safe until age four instead of two, or that seats restrained by just seat belts aren’t safe enough. Car seat expiration dates are in place to ensure that every child is protected by the best safety measures available.
- Discontinued Models: If a model is discontinued, it’s for a good reason. Car seats that have been discontinued have been deemed “unsafe,” or not as safe as newer models. Moreover, spare parts aren’t available for discontinued models, which means if something is broken, you won’t be able to fix it.
- Missing Pieces: Over time, safety seats can go through significant wear and tear. Padding gets washed, belts rips, fasteners become weak. As more and more pieces go missing, the car seat becomes more ineffective.
Car Seat Expiration Dates To Know
Not all car seats are created equal, and generally, the rule of thumb is that the more you spend on a device, the longer it will last you. It also depends on when your particular seat was made. You can find the expiration date printed on the seat itself, or on the box that it comes in. That said, some manufacturers guarantee that their seats will last for a given amount of time. If you want to know when your kid’s car seat expires, use the following guide of car seat expiration dates for big name car seat brands:
- Evenflo SafeMax: 10 years
- Maxi-Cosi: 10 years, unless noted otherwise
- Graco: 10 years, unless noted otherwise
- Diono: Eight years for seat harnesses, 10 years for booster seats
- EvenFlo Symphony: Eight years
- Safety 1st: Six to eight years, depending on the model
- Britax: Six years for infant seats, nine years for booster seats
- Cosco: Six years
- Chicco: Six years
- EvenFlo: Six years, except when noted otherwise
- Recaro: Six years
Britax Specific Expiration Dates
If you’re reading this because you either have a Britax car seat or are considering buying one, you likely want a little more specific information on Britax car seat expiration dates. Here is a brief guide to Britax specific dates:
Britax Car Seats Manufactured Through June 2010:
- Any Britax infant car seat (including the base), older infant/child car seat, youth seat or belt-positioning booster seat manufactured through June of 2010 has a service life of six years.
- The Frontier Harness-20Booster seat that was manufactured from 2008 to 2010 has a service life of nine years.
Britax Car Seats Manufactured During or After June 2010
- Infant car seats have a service life of no more than six years.
- Convertible car seats have a service life of no more than seven years.
- ClickTight Convertible car seats have a service life of no more than 10 years.
- Harness-2-Booster seats have a service life of no more than nine years.
- Belt-Positioning Booster seats have a service life of no more than six years.
Keep in mind that if a car seat looks like it’s ready to retire, it probably is. This is true whether the expiration date has arrived or not. If a car seat is missing pieces, or if parts are broken, you should upgrade it to ensure the utmost safety for your child. If your car seat has been in a crash, you should also replace it, even if it does not necessarily appear to be damaged.
How To Tell When a Car Seat Has Expired
Unless, as mentioned above, your car seat is visibility damaged, it can be difficult to tell if the seat has expired. The best way to tell is to locate the car seat expiration date. Some manufacturers include a small white sticker on the back or bottom of the car seat that has the date stamped across it, along with the manufacture date, model number and serial number. Other manufacturers include this information on the plastic itself. To save you the headache of investigating every inch of your child’s car seat, use this guide to easily locate the expiration date of your child’s safety seat:
- Britax: The Britax car seat expiration date should be on a white sticker near the top of the seat, under the fabric and near your child’s head.
- Chicco: A white sticker should be pasted to the back of your child’s car seat.
- Cosco: Look for an imprint on the base of the seat or a sticker on the back of the seat. The location will vary depending on the type of the seat you purchase.
- EvenFlo: Depending on the model of the seat, you should be able to find a sticker on the back or bottom of the car seat.
- Graco: Look for an expiration date imprinted on the plastic on the bottom of the seat.
- Maxi-Cosi: Depending on which seat you buy, you should be able to locate the expiration date on the bottom or back of the seat.
- Recaro: Check for a white sticker on the side near or under the seat’s padding.
- Safety 1st: You should be able to locate the date on the back of the seat. This brand typically uses an imprint
How To Retire Your Old Car Seat
Not only is it wrong to sell an expired car seat to an unsuspecting buyer, but it is also illegal. That said, you don’t just want to chuck the whole seat in the trash, as that leaves the opportunity for someone to come along and save it. So, if you can’t sell an old car seat and you can’t get rid of it, what can you do with it? Dismantle it.
Dismantling a car seat may seem like a lot of extra work for something that you’re just going to get rid of, but it’s worthy work. After all, a child’s life could be at risk. When you’re done with a car seat, remove and discard the fabric, padding and foam. Some parts may be recyclable, in which case, you should place those in the recycle bin. Next, cut the harness and straps. Take out any metal pieces and recycle those as well. Finally, take the plastic pieces to your nearest recycling center, as it will likely find a good use for them.