Car seat expiration dates is a concept I didn’t quite grasp when I heard of it for the very first time a couple of years back. I mean, how could an item made from mostly plastic and fabric expire? It almost felt like a conspiracy of some sort, so I went digging around to learn more. I’m here to share what my research surfaced so you can use this critical child safety restraint system correctly and know how and when to get rid of it.
Related: What to Do With Old and Expired Car Seats
Car Seats Don’t Stay Useful Forever
Many of the products that modern life offers us come with a clearly indicated expiration date. Dairy products, meat, bread, flour…pretty much everything has a future date beyond which you can’t/shouldn’t use the product.
No one ever questions expiration dates on common household items… because these dates make perfect sense.But seriously, why should a piece of “dead” baby-restraining equipment ever go bad?
It doesn’t make any sense that a mere mass of plastic should have an expiration date. But car seats have expiration dates. And many car seat brands say that using a seat to carry a baby past the stated date isn’t a good idea.
But what does this date mean and when does a car seat expire? How do you find out when a car seat expires? This post answers these critical safety car seat questions and a few others besides.
What Does Car Seat Expiration Date Really Mean?
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is the mandated issuer of all car seat safety regulations. So what does the NHTSA say about car seat expiration dates? Nothing!
So where did this idea of replace your car seat after a specific number of years from the date of manufacture? Every car seat brand out there sets expiration dates for their car seats. One company says, “our car seats expire after 7 years” while another company says, “our car seats stay good for up to 10 years.” Others sell car seats with a lifespan of 6 years, and I’ve even seen 4-year lifespans.
Car Seat Plastic Maintains Its Integrity for at Least 10 Years
But do these dates actually mean anything and will using an expiration date decrease car seat safety? IMHO, the expiration date isn’t a cast-on-stone deal. It’s not like the plastic, metal, and textile used to manufacture the car seat disintegrate the same day the listed expiration date shows up. According to Graco, the plastic stays “good for at least 10 years.”
If the plastic doesn’t go bad as soon as the expiration date arrives, why then all this obsession with car seat expiration dates? Graco tells us that as car seats age, it becomes harder to know for sure the history of the seat, and “replacement parts get harder to find.”
And it’s not just Graco. One NYT article I came across when researching for this post said that all major car seat brands agreed that it takes at least 10 years for the plastic to start disintegrating.
Why I’m Angry With Car Seat Makers and Insurance Companies
I’ve yet to see any evidence-based claim that car seats can’t be used for some time post-expiration. Most car seats have a steel core, and steel is one of the toughest metals ever discovered. As for the straps and seat pad, they’re made from fabric, and yes they can fray after some time.
Do you know of any good reason why parents shouldn’t be able to continue using their car seats just because some arbitrarily determined date’s arrived? Me neither. I can’t figure out for the life of me why car seat manufacturers don’t want parents to just replace frayed straps and seat covers and keep using the seat.
Insurance companies everywhere wield lots of power, and I suspect their influence has something to do with this vague idea. I believe families should be able to pass down car seats for years instead of discarding them just because some weird rule that’s not evidence-based says they shouldn’t.
The NTHSA hasn’t formulated any standards or regulations relating to car seat expiry dates. I wonder if they know something that we the people don’t. End of rant.
The One Thing ALL Car Seat Brands Agree On
There’s one thing all car seat makers agree on. It’s that if a car seat was involved in an accident, it’s best to replace it. Now this makes complete sense to me. I mean, tons of impact energies hit the materials and components used to make car seats. And it’s not hard to see how the car seat’s overall structural integrity could get compromised in a major car crash.
But that you can’t use a car seat even for a day or a month post-expiration date? I believe you actually can. I suggest you have a CPST look it over before you continue using it. And no, I’m not advising you or anyone else to use expired car seats for any length of time. In case of doubt, just go out buy a new car seat and do what you need to do with the expired car seat.
For now, let’s work with this: car seats do expire. But…
Why Do Car Seats Expire?
It’s hard for me and I believe many other people out there to not imagine that car seat expiration dates exist as a strategy for brands to sell just one more car seat. But I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they list down these expiration dates for a good reason.
I’ve been reading around, and I put together with a bunch of reasons why car seats expire. Let’s dive right in.
1. Normal Wear and Tear and Extreme Weather Conditions
Car Seats take tons of abuse each day. You’re always strapping in baby or getting them out. And as you use the car seat, tear and wear happens. Extreme weather temperatures such as super high temperatures may also cause tiny cracks that might over time become bigger and unsafe.
Also, kids are messy and almost always manage to get little wet spills onto the webbing. Failure to wipe off these spills can cause the webbing to suffer gradual degradation. Here’s how to clean a car seat properly.
Sure some car seats offer an extremely long lifespan (up to 12 years). But NO car seat lasts forever, right?
2. Car Seat Safety Guidelines Keep Evolving
It’s the duty of car seat manufacturers to keep abreast with all the new car seat safety guidelines the main regulatory body keeps releasing. To comply with some of these new safety guidelines, brands sometimes have to retire any number of existing models.
A seat made in 2022 is safe, and a seat made in 2015 is safe as well. But since car seat technology keeps changing and mostly getting better, replacing an expired car seat is an opportunity to access better/more advanced features and technology.
Consider this recent trend: rotating convertible car seats. A few years back, car seats that didn’t need to be reinstalled for forward-facing seating didn’t exist. Today they do, and replacing your expired infant car seat is a chance to explore what’s new in the market.
If you don’t replace a car seat when it expires, odds are you’ll need tons of luck to find replacement parts for it. And don’t we all like being able to fix broken things? So, replacing a car seat allows to kick out outdated car seat technology to enjoy newer and potentially safety features and tech.
3 Improvements Modern Car Seats Offer Parents
- Ease of installation
- Smart car seats
- Better protection
1.Ease of Installation
Installing a car seat can be a real pain, which is why car seat makers are always looking to make installs simpler and faster. Some car seats such as those from Graco even come with built-in mechanisms/technologies that make it harder to make mistakes when installing.
Learn how to install a car seat here. If you’ve ever spent any amount of time trying to do a challenging install, you’ll understand why easy-to-install car seats cost way more than the cheapest models.
The best modern car seats use intelligently designed LATCH connectors that make each install super easy.
And have you ever tried strapping a child to a car seat that had twisty harness straps? Twisty straps are hard to use. Plus they tend to wind up twisted no matter how hard you try to make them lie flat on the body.
One way manufacturers have solved this problem is by creating the increasingly popular no-thread harness straps. These straps are super easy to secure, adjust, and undo.
Not surprisingly, car seats that are incredibly easy to install and with no-rethread harnesses are pricier than their frustration-packed counterparts.
2.There’s Such a Thing As Smart Car Seats
There are smartphones, smart air purifiers, smart humidifiers, and smartwatches. So, why shouldn’t there be smart car seats?
The idea of a car seat that communicates with you at certain moments may sound like taking it too far, But some car seat models come with smart features that notify you via phone when you leave your kiddo in the car.
Or when it gets too hot in the backseat. Or when they’ve been seating for longer than 2-hours. Or when the chest clip gets undone for whatever reason.
With tons of stuff to keep exhausted moms and dads permanently distracted, it’s doesn’t surprise me that some parents forget to take baby out of the backseat.
Fortunately, some car seats these days send you a notification so you can go back for baby. Because heatstroke kills babies left unattended in hot backseats. Can you believe 42 children actually died in 2017 because the caregiver forgot them in a hot car seat?
Evenflo was the first car seat brand to introduce the so-called SensorSafe chest clip back in 2015, and UK’s Cybex followed soon and adopted this hot-car-alerts tech. Today, many brands out there offer this tech in their smart car seats.
If your car just expired and you’re looking to replace it with a safer car seat, consider getting one with these innovative safety features.
Manufacturers are constantly improving the protective ability of their car seats. The best 2022 car seat most likely offers better side-impact and impact absorption compared to a 10-year-old version of the same seat. But that’s not to say all new car seats offer better protection versus those sold over the past year.
When Does a Car Seat Expire?
Each car seat model comes with its own expiration date, but most car seats expire after 6 to 10 years from the date of manufacture according to Healthline.com. Many of the car seats I’ve tested had a 7-year lifespan, but here’s a list of ultra-modern car seats with a 10-year lifespan.
Where to Find/How to Know the Expiration Date of a Car Seat
There are two places to find the expiration date of any car seat: On the car seat’s user manual and on a label on the back of the car seat. If you’re unsure of your car seat’s expiration date, contact the manufacturer for clarification.
Take a look at the picture below. The expiration date label on the back of this Chicco KeyFit 30 Car Seat says it was made in and expires in.
As you can see above, the car seat had a 6-year lifespan, and the recommended use period extended from June 2009 to June 2015. Some models state the day the seat was manufactured and the day it expires while others like the Chicco KeyFit state the month of manufacture and expiration.
Look at the Evenflo Maestro car seat below. You can see that the expiration date label shows the specific manufacturing date as well as the exact day the seat will expire.
What Do I Do With My Expired Car Seat?
1. Trade it in for recycling. Target stores hold expired car seat trade in events every year in April and September.
2. Break the car seat down and hand it over to a recycling plant if there’s one nearby that accepts car seats. Be sure to clean the plastic and to get rid of any material that can’t be recycled.
3. If it’s completely useless, tear it down, cut the harness straps, and just trash it. You cut the straps so a needy person may not take it for use.
4. As a local car seat technician if they can use it to demonstrate car seat installation and other stuff to other moms.
In case you’re interested to learn more about what to do with expired car seats, here’s a post I wrote a little while back about that question.
Is It OK to Use a Secondhand Car Seat?
As long as you’re certain that the car seat isn’t expired and has never been in an accident, you certainly can use a secondhand car seat. If there’s no way of knowing whether a car seat was in an accident or not, it’s best to buy a brand-new one. Remember, it’s your baby’s life at stake here.
Is It Illegal to Use an Expired Car Seat?
No, there’s no law that’d get you arrested for using an expired car seat. But you love your baby, and you want them to seat in the safest car seat possible.
Final Word on Car Seat Expiration Dates
Car seats typically expire after 6-10 years of use with the majority expiring after 7 years. It’s not illegal to use an expired car seat, nor do car seats disintegrate as soon as this date arrives.
But while there’s no evidence that car seats lose their ability to protect in a crash as soon as they expire, it’s a good idea to replace the car seat to access updated technology and enhanced features such as a SensorSafe chest clip and premium-quality LATCH system.