Yes, baby equipment is expensive, so it’s a common practice that parents save their car seat for the next child. You might even borrow it from your relatives and friends once their kids are grown, and they no longer need it. But, is this a good idea?
These seats, no matter how intact, could be of no use because seats have expiration dates.
How is that possible? What is there to expire?
In theory, car seats cannot become nonfunctional all of a sudden, but the materials can degrade over time and be less effective in the protection of your child. Also, as the regulations change, the child restraint systems become more advanced and optimized, so your device must follow the current standards.
In this article, we’ll discuss everything about car seat expiration to help you understand better why it is significant for your child’s safety.
Table of Contents
- The Legal Side
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Final Thoughts
The Legal Side
Since I’m a CPS technician, I get a lot of different questions about car seats. The most common one, when it comes to the expiry dates, is whether there are some federal laws in the United States preventing you from using an expired seat.
No, there are no official regulations preventing you from using an expired car seat in the USA or Canada. However, some state laws indicate that you must use the seat in compliance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
Therefore, you could be charged for not following the manufacturer’s instructions about the expiration date.
Is Car Seat Expiration a Conspiracy?
It’s by no means surprising that consumers are sometimes suspicious, doubting large corporations, and feeling robbed or tricked. But, when it comes to the car seats, let me assure you, this is not the case.
The main reason why car seat manufacturers have started putting expiration dates on their devices is to prevent the parents from buying a used car seat with suspicious background, with a part missing, or not in good shape.
These are all the practices that considerably change the concept of child passenger safety. You could seriously, and I cannot stress this enough, impede the safety of your child if you decide to use a faulty car seat. For this reason, it is best to buy a new car seat that has been tested to the latest standards and federally approved for use.
Why Do Car Seats Expire?
After I explain that there are no laws obligating the manufacturers to limit the use of the car seats with an expiry date, the next big question follows:
Why, then, car seats expire?
It is true that car seats are designed to last and provide adequate protection after a long period of time. However, like any other product, car seats are prone to degradation, and over time they can lose some of their properties.
Also, the more advanced the seats become, the more rigorous the laws will become, so an expired car seat might not meet the current standards.
It is hard to list the concrete reasons why child restraint systems expire, but I tried to organize the logic behind this practice into a simple list. Here it is:
1. The Sun Exposure
Most car seats are made of plastic. In the car, they are constantly exposed to harmful sun rays through the windows. Now, the best convertibles cover the period of eight to ten years. Imagine a piece of plastic left in the sun for ten years. Is it still the same?
Of course not!
The plastic degrades over time, and an expired car seat could easily break or fail to deliver in the case of an accident.
2. Wear and Tear
Imagine using the same chair for ten years. Is that chair as comfortable as it was when you bought it? Did the foam flatten? Maybe it’s a bit worn out and shabby?
Car seats are basically chairs where your baby sleeps, sits, drinks. Many car seats are built to grow with your little one, and during that period of time, they wear off.
Yes, you can wash the pads, refresh the seat a bit, but don’t forget that these are safety devices. They have been rigorously crash-tested to provide the maximum level of protection. If the materials or the design change, they can lose some of their properties.
3. Technology Evolves
Do you think that car seats nowadays are just as safe as they were twenty years ago? Traffic safety is essentially a science, and as we get more instruments to keep people safe, we level up the regulations accordingly.
Tests and regulations that we apply to the car seats nowadays wouldn’t have been applicable 50 years ago. Therefore, as the industry gets more advanced, old seats should be put aside.
4. Labels and Instructions Become Illegible
The key to children’s traffic safety is the proper installation of child restraint systems. Parents sometimes cannot install the seat correctly, even with the manufacturer’s instructions. After ten years or more, you might lose the instructions, or the ink could fade, and you won’t be able to install the seat properly.
Also, if you bring the seat to the airplane and the sticker on the side of the device faded, they won’t be able to confirm your seat is FAA-approved, and you won’t be able to use it.
5. Unknown Background
When you buy a used car seat in good condition, you might think it’s completely functional, but you don’t know that for sure.
Official recommendations advise the consumers never to use car seats that have been in crashes.
When the car seat expires, it’s hard to find it in the base and check the background. For all you know, it couldn’t have been in crashes, then repaired. It could have been used by many families, etc.
This is the most dangerous practice because these seats won’t provide adequate procession to your child, and that’s the whole point of child restraint systems.
What to Do With an Expired Car Seat?
When your car seat expires, you should immediately stop using it. Then you should dispose of a seat in a way that will prevent anyone else from re-using it.
Graco suggests removing the covers and cutting the harness straps so that it really becomes unfunctional after the expiration. Then you can give it to a "trade-in" program where they are being recycled.
How Long is the Expiration Date of My Car Seat?
Each car seat has the date of manufacture portrayed on the sticker on the back of the seat or in the bottom, so check that first.
Then you should refer to the manual you got from the manufacturer and see the useful life or expiry date for that type of seat. Finally, see how many years from the date of manufacture passed.
Or, if you’re too lazy to do all this, here is a table where you can find the expiration date of the leading car seat manufacturers’ car seats:
Bear in mind that the useful life varies from one type of car seat to another. So, for example, not all Graco seats can be used for 7-10 years. On the contrary, Graco booster seats can be used for ten years, but harnessed seats with a plastic belt guide can be used for seven.
The year span presented in the table above shows the useful life when all seats from a certain brand are considered.
Secondhand Car Seats
Car seat manufacturers do not recommend buying secondhand car seats, nor do the official recommendations. But, used car seats are not that bad. There are many useful sites where you can rent or buy a car seat from a parent and still keep your child safe.
However, to avoid faulty car seats, I recommend following my simple three-step process to car seat safety when buying used car seats.
#1. Step One
Before you decide to rent or buy a used car seat, ask the seller to take a picture of the date of manufacture.
Then check online the expiry date for that exact type of car seat from that exact manufacturer; if it’s still usable, you can proceed to step two.
#2. Step Two
Ask the seller if he/she has registered the car seat. Check if that car seat has been recalled or if it has been in crashes.
Car seat manufacturers keep the data of the registered car seats, so you can easily find out useful information.
#3. Step Three
If the first two steps have been successful, take the car seat to an inspection station where they check it to see if it has all the necessary parts and can be installed correctly.
If you follow these steps, you will do some backup research and make sure the car seat you bought for your baby is as good as a new one. Information is power, so use the data that is at your disposal.
Here are some educational videos you can watch to learn more about the matter and get more reliable information:
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it okay to use an expired car seat?
It is by no means okay to use an expired car seat. This car seat may fail to deliver and put your child in danger in the case of an accident, which is completely against the child passenger safety practice.
Do hospitals check expiration dates on car seats?
Hospitals are not obliged to check your car seat safety. What they need to do is ensure you have a car seat to take the baby home safely.
They probably won’t check if your car seat expired, but, regardless, you shouldn’t use it for your child’s sake.
Where to find an expiration date on a car seat?
A car seat expiration date can be found in the user’s manual or car seat instructions. Rarely will you find a car seat expiration date displayed on the sticker, on the bottom of the car seat.
Usually, that’s where the date of manufacture is shown, so you can check online for how many years that car seat is good for and add it to the date of manufacture.
How long are car seats good for?
That depends on the manufacturer and the type of car seat.
The rear-facing and forward-facing car seat may have a useful life of 6 years to 8 years on average, while the booster seat may last for ten years, or even twelve.
Why do car seats expire?
As I have previously explained, there is no concrete reason why the car seats expire. It’s simply because they are constantly used, exposed to sun, and maintenance products.
So after a while, the materials degrade and lose their initial properties. This can seriously affect their performance and create unsafe conditions for your child.
For this reason, the manufacturer estimates how long the seat is supposed to perform in accordance with the standards. This is usually around 6 years for most plastic baby seats.
That was all about car seat expiration. I’m sure you all give your best to keep the little ones as safe as possible.
With that in mind, you should follow the official recommendations about checking the car seat expiration dates and disposing of the expired seats properly.
Don’t forget that car seats are simply products, and all products have an expiration date. You wouldn’t use an out-dated computer, then why would you use a child restraint system that expired?
I hope this article gave you access to some new data, and you understand better the whole car seat expiration matter.