Does a car seat have an expiration date?
Updated: Feb 1, 2021
Starting a new family isn’t exactly cheap. Raising children requires you to make many small investments (bottles, diapers, pacifiers,...) and a couple of larger ones (crib, stroller, car seat,...) that will help you to make your life as parent a lot easier.
Luckily you can purchase or inherit used products to reduce the costs or you can reuse some of your first baby’s gear for other siblings that are on the way, right? Well, for car seats this is a bit of a different story, here’s why:
Although not required by law, car and booster seats have a useful life date or expiration date on them. Calculated from the date of manufacture, they last between 5 to 10 years. Key factors that determine the lifespan are material deterioration and changes in standards and regulations.
We’ve heard it more than once, people claiming this is just a big conspiracy to force parents into purchasing more than what they really need. But is this the case or do car seats actually expire? If they do, why is that and then what do you do with an expired car seat?
In this article you will find answers to all of these questions as we will dive deeper into the details of the so-called “car seat shelf life”.
Expiration dates on car seats. All you need to know!
In more and more countries around the world it is common practice for car seat manufacturers to provide an expiration date for their products. Considering the relatively high price of these items, it’s no wonder that many parents rather look for a used one so they don’t have to break the bank to safely transport their children by car.
After all, most of these second hand car seats only show little traces of use, so what could possibly be wrong with them? This brings us to the following question:
Do car seats really expire?
Yes, besides the useful lifespan of about 5 to 10 years as provided by the manufacturer, car seats also physically expire. This means that the car seat no longer has the same physical properties as it had during product testing. Therefore, manufacturers can't offer the same guarantees as with a new product.
That said, this doesn’t mean that when a car seat passes its expiration date, all the used materials all of a sudden turn bad. There just needs to be a clear boundary and this is more about the legal side of things rather than the car seat turning bad. Here’s why:
Considering the fact that this is a safety product, car seat manufacturers make sure not to have the world filled up with liabilities. For example: if there is no expiration date on the car seat and the seat is being used by 3 different children, you might be looking at a lifespan of about 15 years or longer.
During this time, a lot can happen to the integrity or the overall usability of the car seat and if the seat appears to malfunction in a crash, then who is to blame? Therefore, car seat manufacturers rather provide a lifespan in which they can assure proper functioning of their product. After that, it is the responsibility and liability of the user.
Do backless booster seats expire?
This is a common question and it doesn’t surprise us all that much. After all, when your child is using a backless booster seat, there isn’t much that could break since there is no back or head support and your child is restrained using the car seatbelt. So, do they still need an expiration date with so little to break?
Yes, just like car seats, backless booster seats also have an expiration date on them ranging from 6 to 10 years of useful life. Backless booster seats that are expired should no longer be used and have to be discarded to ensure it is not used beyond its expiration date.
Purchasing a backless booster seat won’t break the bank anyway so instead of taking unnecessary risks it is better to make that small investment and make sure your child is safe.
What causes a car seat to expire?
To determine the expiration date of car seats, manufacturers base themselves on the following factors: Advances in technology, updates in standards and the reliability and performance of the product. A car seat that has been in an accident has also expired.
Advances in technology
As we all know so well, technology is ever evolving and products are continuously being improved because of that. Screens get a better resolution, cars become more efficient and car seats are becoming safer by each new model.
On the one hand this happens through the development of new materials that are lighter, more shock absorbing and less toxic for your child and the environment.
On the other hand, advances in technology allow us to implement smarter features, like the Maxi-Cosi Air Safety Technology, that help to reduce or prevent injury as the result of an accident.
Because technology continuously improves, overall standards have to be adapted accordingly.
For example: the modern day LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren) and ISOFIX (International Standardisation Organisation Fix) systems are updated standards that came to life because of the advances in technology.
Both these systems reduce the room for error during installation, making car and booster seats that don’t have this system less reliable and therefore outdated. To ensure that everybody uses the safest possible car seats according to the latest standards, expired car seats should no longer be used.
In a way, standards assure that related products out of the same era are optimized for each other to give the best possible result in terms of usability and safety.
Product reliability and performance
Under the influence of the elements, just about any material you can find in the world starts to degrade over time. Unfortunately the materials used in car seats are no exception to that rule.
Car seats have to deal with quite intense changes in temperature, often going from freezing, when the car is parked outside at night, to very hot, when parked in the sun on a warm summer day. Add the influence of UV radiation to the equation and you can rest assured that the plastic parts will lose their strength and become brittle as time passes by.
Just look at the steering wheel or the dashboard of a 15 year old car that has been parked outside and you will know exactly what I mean. That said, the plastic can last much longer than the provided useful life of the car seat but without an expiration date car seats might be used beyond the point where the material retains its needed strength and flexibility.
Fun fact: Beverage crates, that are also made out of PP like car seats, have a guaranteed lifespan of 20 years and last up to 30 years in all weather conditions before they start to crack. This is not to say that expiration dates are useless but you can be sure the plastic still does its job, even when your car seat comes close to the end of its useful life as provided by the manufacturer.
More importantly, besides the slow degradation of the plastic, there is also an increased chance that the safety or instruction labels become hard or impossible to read or user manuals get lost, this increases the chances of human error.
Also, if car seats are being passed on from one family to another, there is virtually no way of knowing whether the car seat has been in an accident or if it has been stored or handled in a way that might have caused damage.
There might be little cracks in spots that are invisible to the eye but that can have a devastating effect in case of a crash. A good example for this is the motorcycle helmet. If you just drop it by accident, you should no longer use it as internal damages might cause it to be less reliable in a real accident.
Finally, we all know how messy children can get. Food, drinks and cleaners can also have an influence on the way that parts like the buckles or adjusters work. So, even if the car seat looks fine at first sight, there is a chance that some of the parts are on their way to underperform according to the testing standards.
Car seats that have been in a moderate or severe accident should be discarded as the impact of the crash can have a negative influence on its performance in case another accident occurs.
They are designed to withstand the forces of an impact only once, for the simple reason that there is no way to set a standard as to how much of a repetitive beating they should be able to take before they are considered unsafe for further use.
Of course, when you have a minor fender bender and the car is still operational then there is no need to replace the car seat. If you have been in an accident and you are not sure if you should replace the car seat, you can always contact the manufacturer and ask them for advice.
How do I know when my car seat expires?
To find out when your car seat expires you have a number of options. It can be printed on the back or the bottom of the car seat, you can find it in the user-manual, via a search on the manufacturer's website with the car seat serial number or you can email or call them and ask for it.
The best time to check out what is the useful life of your car seat is right at the beginning before you install it. When the product is fresh out the box it is easy to turn it around and have a look at the back or bottom.
Here you will be looking for either a sticker or an embossed text, stating something like Date Of Manufacture (DOM) or DO NOT USE AFTER.... In case this is not mentioned you should be able to find a serial number through which you can find the expiration date on the manufacturer’s safety info webpage.
In case there is no end of life date you can just add up the useful life to the DOM and that will be the date your car seat is going to expire.
Once you have the date, the easiest and best practice is to set an alarm in your calendar for when the car seat is about to reach its end of life date. This way you never have to look for it again as you will get your agenda notification, thank you technology!
Is it mandatory for manufacturers to provide a car seat expiration date?
Up to 2021 there is no law that states car seat manufacturers are obligated to provide an expiration date on their car seats. However, on certified car seats you will always find an expiration date as this reduces the risk of using car seats that are missing important features or labels.
That said, it is recommended by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that car seat manufacturers provide this kind of information. Given the fact that some bigger brands started offering this, the other brands just followed along to provide the same level of service and information to their customers.
This is not only in the customer’s interest but it is also beneficial for the manufacturer since they reduce the chances of being sued because of product failure. This way they can set clearer safety standards for their car seats.
Is it OK to use an expired car seat?
This seems like a very straightforward question with a simple answer. In a perfect world the answer would be:
No it is never OK to use an expired car seat because there is no way of knowing whether the car seat still performs in accordance with the safety standards as issued by the car seat manufacturer. Using an expired car seat puts your child at risk in case of a car accident.
HOWEVER, we must not forget that purchasing a new car seat isn’t something that just any family can afford. The sad truth is that for many families it is hard enough to make the ends meet and they often have to rely on second hand and more affordable or even free car seats.
That said, in this case it is better to use an expired car seat than no car seat since less protection is still better than no protection at all. Of course this doesn’t mean that it’s OK to go for the expired car seat and purchase a more expensive smartphone with the savings you made.
Is it OK to use an expired car seat base?
The base of a car seat is an integral part of the car seat that holds the car seat in place. Since it is seen as one and the same part, car seat bases have an expiration date too which you can find on the bottom, the users manual or the manufacturer website. This means:
It is not OK to use a car seat base after it expired because the proper functionality of this part plays a big role in the overall safety performance of the car seat. By using an expired car seat base, you are not adhering the manufacturer standards and you may be found guilty of breaking the law.
We know it feels tempting to purchase a used car seat base for the second car so you can cut down on the costs but a car seat is not the item to safe upon, especially if it means you aren’t respecting the safety measurements.
Could I get in trouble for using an expired car seat?
The chances that you will get pulled over by a police patrol to check if the car seats have not expired are close to nil and there is no official regulation that directly states you cannot use a car seat beyond its expiration date. However, strictly seen it is a different story:
There are laws that state that children within a certain age must be restrained in car or booster seats in accordance with the car or booster seats instructions and standards. Not adhering to the instructions or using an expired car seat can put your child at risk which means you are braking the law.
Basically this means that if your car seat has an expiration date, that this is the standard as provided by the car seat manufacturer and you should only use it within the provided life span. Anything beyond that is considered as not according to the standards or not safe.
So, in case of a severe accident with injuries or fatalities there will be an investigation to understand what went wrong and what could have been prevented. If it appears that your child is in a much worse condition because the use of an expired car seat rather than the use of a car seat that meets the standards, you will most likely be in a lot of trouble besides the fact that your child is not OK.
In other words, it is not worth the risk just looking at it from the perspective of your child’s wellbeing.
Is it illegal to sell an expired car seat?
All over the world second hand goods are being sold in garage sales or on online platforms. Many people don’t even realize that what they are selling can have implications to the safety and health of potential buyers. This is definitely the case with expired car seats so one might wonder, is it not illegal to sell these?
The short answer is no, it is not illegal to sell an expired car seat because purchasing an expired car seat doesn’t necessarily mean that you are going to use it. However, from a decency perspective it is something you should never do as the car seat is no longer safe for use.
It should be common sense that you don’t sell a car seat, knowing that the it has reached its end of useful life. Many people know this but unfortunately it happens that some parents are poorly informed about the risks or they just forgotten about it and do it anyways.
In other cases it could be that there is no other financial option than to purchase a used car seat. If this is the case, you should always check the expiration date before you buy. But be aware of the fact that you won’t be able to tell if the car seat has some underlying issues because it has been in a severe accident.
What to do with an expired car seat?
Once the car seat has reached the end of its useful life, it is time to make sure that it will no longer be used. Not by you, nor by anybody else. For this you have two options:
You can either recycle it or bring it back to your wholesaler for a trade in.
Recycling your car seat:
The good news is that car seats are becoming more and more recyclable because the way they are built. Taking apart the different materials for separation and recycling becomes easier with every new model they make.
This way your old car seat will find its way back to someone else after it has been recycled and formed into a new, up to date and reliable model. This way your old car seat can protect the life of another child for another 5-10 years. Here’s what to do to start this process:
Remove all the padding from the hard plastic shell and mark the shell with “expired” or “do not use”. Cut the straps so they become unusable. Separate all the hard plastic and metal parts. Ask your city council if they accept it in the standard recycling or if you should bring it to a recycling plant.
The polypropylene plastic can be fully recycled for many times before it becomes useless. This way you can help to reduce the amount of waste and create a better future for your child.
Trading in your car seat:
If all of this “taking apart” and “recycling” scares you off a bit, there is also the option to trade-in your car seat so someone else can do the recycling for you. Often times this is the more pleasant and efficient solution as you don’t have to dismantle anything and you will receive a discount coupon for your next purchase, which you will most likely need anyway. Win win!!!
Here’s how this works:
Retailers like Walmart or Target have temporary trade-in programs, check at what times they do this so you don’t miss the boat before you need to purchase your next car seat. Go to your retailer store and bring back the car seat. Collect your coupon via the app and use it for your next purchase!
You can trade in all types of car seats, ranging from infant car seats over to booster seats and it doesn’t matter if they are expired or damaged. Usually the coupon can be used for another baby gear item and if you don’t need anything else you can always give it away to friends or family.
Can I purchase a used car seat?
As there is no law to prevent people from selling a used or even an expired car seat, there is also no law stating you can’t purchase a used car seat, but should you? This is what the NHTSA advises.
The NHTSA recommends not to purchase a used car seat, even if it's not expired. You won't know if the car seat is accident free, if it has been stored correctly and if it will perform in accordance to the manufacturers safety standards. The recall status on a used car seat is often overlooked.
The biggest issue with used car seats is that you can’t tell from looking at it if the product is still fully intact. Micro cracks as the result of an impact can already have weakened the plastic. During the next impact this will be a weak spot that can make a huge difference on the outcome of an accident.
If you know the people you are purchasing from personally, say friends or family, then at least you will be more certain about its history. Still you will need to check if it isn’t expired and if there have been any recalls.
Then the question arises, is it worth the risk for the amount of money that you are saving?
Can I reuse my current car seat for a second child?
After reading all the above you might thing that it won’t be a good idea to reuse the car seat for your second or even third child. Luckily this isn’t the case.
You can reuse your current car seat for your second or third child as long as hasn’t surpassed its expiration date, it hasn’t been in any moderate or severe accident and it doesn’t show any signs of malfunctioning. Also make sure that all the safety instructions are at your disposal.
Knowing that a car seat can last anywhere from 6 to 10 years depending on the brand and model, there is a chance that you can use your car seat for multiple children. For example: children will usually outgrown the infant car seat in one year or less. So, by the time your next child is born, the infant car seat will become available again and it will still be safe to use it.
There you have it, now you know everything there is to know about the expiration of car seats and you are able to make well informed decisions. If you know someone that has these questions too, please share and help us spread the love. Stay safe and thanks for reading!!!
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