Do Car Seats Have Expiration Dates? Know Car Seats and Their Laws

do car seats have expiration dates

People expect to find expiration dates on food, but a surprising number of non-food items also have expiration dates: sunscreen, running shoes, biking helmets, bug spray, and cosmetics to name a few.

Some people may ask, “Do car seats have expiration dates?” The quick answer is yes. While it may seem difficult to believe, car seat expiration dates are very important for the safety of children. Read on to find out why these expiration dates are essential for the safety of your children.

Car Seat Laws

child being placed in car seat

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The laws vary in all 50 states regarding car seats. You will want to check the guidelines for your state to ensure compliance with the law. In general, all states require that car seats be used following the manufacturer's directions. This intentionally vague condition allows the state government and police officers to interpret changing guidelines as they see fit.

Consequently, you could be ticketed for not following the law if you get into an accident with an expired car seat. Police officers will more than likely not stop a car just to check a car seat expiration date.

Another aspect of the law that must be followed has to do with age and height requirements for children that use car seats. Different states have different regulations for front and rear facing car seats and use of boosters for children. For instance, several states require children to be rear facing until they are two years old.

Other states only require rear facing until children are one year old. However, children that pass the height and weight requirements for the car seat may then be turned from rear to front facing, even in states where children are required to be rear facing until the age of two, as some children grow faster and larger than other children. The children may be very uncomfortable in a rear-facing seat if they outgrow it before they turn two.

The purpose of the law is to make parents think about safety and not to turn children around to front facing as soon as they turn one. Again, you will want to check with your local and state government for regulations concerning front and rear-facing child seats along with height and weight requirements beyond the manufacturers recommended guidelines.  

Car Seat Expiration Dates

child seating in car seat

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One large and expensive item that has an expiration date is a car seat. Some people pay particular attention to these dates, and other people do not consider them useful. Regardless of which side of the debate you may believe, car seats have expiration dates printed on them which means the seat should not be used after this date.

The expiration date of a car seat is easy to find as it is printed on either the back or side. If you do not see an expiration date, but the seat has a manufacture date, you can assume that it would expire approximately six years later. Some car seats may even be ten years from the manufacture date. An excellent way to find out would be to call the company and give them the model number. With this information, the customer service agent would be able to tell you the exact date of expiration.

Why do car seats have expiration dates? This legality almost seems counter-intuitive. After all, it seems as if plastic lasts forever. Our oceans are covered in plastic waste that has not degraded, and it washes up onshore in massive waves of debris that cover beaches from one end to the other.

Our marine mammals are dying because they ingest plastic waste that they cannot digest nor remove from their systems. We are always told to recycle plastic due to the thousands of years that it takes to break down. So how can car seats be so fragile as to expire in only six to ten short years?

There are several excellent reasons for car seats to have expiration dates.

  1. New Technology – Car seat safety is always improving. Since the primary function of a car seat is to keep children safe in the event of a crash, new safety features are continually being developed by manufacturers and included in new model car seats that can have one or more combination of safety features. The more features the seat has, the more it will cost.
    1. impact protection
    2. Seat belt guides
    3. Chest pads
    4. Extra padding
    5. 5-point harness
    6. Childproof clips
    7. Lateral headrest
    8. Multiple harness slots
    9. Larger height and weight capacity
    10. Stain resistant comfort fabrics
    11. Head support for infants
  2. Evolving Car Safety Features – Along with the car seats improving, automobile manufacturers are also continually improving car safety. LATCH, or Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, have been included in most newer cars over the last decade. These anchors can also now be found in middle seats and third-row seats.

    An additional LATCH hook can be found behind the car seats as well to anchor the back part of the car seat and prevent it from moving forward in the event of a collision. Some manufacturers have even started installing their child safety seats in different models, independent of car seat manufacturers. All this means that child safety seats must keep up with the changing car technology and vice versa.

  3. Manufacturer Recalls – While manufacturers attempt to make car seats as safe as possible, they do occasionally learn of defects after the car seat has entered the market. All current and past recalls can be found by going to the manufacturer's website or by searching the internet. The best way to remain informed about any issues regarding your car seat is to register the seat with the manufacturer. This is quickly done online or by calling the company. By having expiration dates, manufacturers can ensure that old car seats with defects are taken out of circulation.

  4. Manufacturer Replacement Parts – As manufacturers continue to refine and alter their car seat models, they stop making parts for past models. Therefore, replacement parts become more difficult to find for older car seats. Besides, manufacturers would not have to be responsible for continuing to make the part for older model seats.

  5. Accidents – Buying or being given a car seat means that you do not know the history of the seat. It could have been in an accident, which means the safety of the seat has been compromised. Unlike used cars, there are no clearinghouse lists that contain information regarding cars seats that have been in accidents.

  6. Plastic Breakdown – Car seat manufacturers have determined that plastic degradation begins after about ten years. Parents rarely remove car seats each time they exit the car. Once left inside the vehicles,  the plastic and styrofoam are exposed to extremes in temperatures. During the summer, the temperature inside of cars can quickly reach over 120 degrees Fahrenheit. In winter, temperatures can dip below zero. The constant temperature changes can take a toll on the plastic and Styrofoam that make up the parts of the car seat.

Car Seat Disposal

two children at car back seat

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Car seats that have reached their expiration must be put in the trash. Thankfully, there are ways to recycle many parts of the car seat. Some retailers have trade-in programs where you can deposit expired car seats and get a discount on a new one. This trade-in is a great option since the retailer will then recycle the car seat, and you can get a safe new one at a discount.

If you do not need a new car seat and want to recycle the one you have, you will first need to disassemble it. You can remove any parts that come off, such as harnesses, padding, and hardware. These can be recycled through a local textile and metal recycler. After you have nothing but the plastic bucket seat left, you should write the word "expired" in permanent marker across the front and the back.

This notice will alert anyone that the seat can no longer be used. Then you can check with your local plastic recycler to see if they will recycle the seat. If they do not, you can place it in a trash bag and send it to the landfill.

Conclusion

child seating in car seat sticking his tongue out

Image source: Pexels

Many new parents find car sear expiration dates confusing. To compound the issue, many grandparents, who probably had their children before car seats were even required, also balk at the thought of car seat expiration dates. The fact remains that car seat expiration dates must be followed or you can risk getting cited for misuse of safety equipment, or you risk the safety of your children if you get into a car accident.

While it may seem like a waste to dispose of a perfectly good car seat, it is impossible to tell the actual condition of a used car seat. For these and many other reasons, the answer to the question, “Do car seats have expiration dates?” is yes, and you should replace any expired car seats that you might own as soon as possible.

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