One misconception surrounding car seats is that they never expire. As long as it’s still functioning correctly, anything related to car seats is okay for you to use. Unfortunately, that isn’t correct—like a gallon of milk or a batch of bananas, car seats have an expiration date you should pay attention to—and for good reason.
You might not contract food poisoning, but you will put your child’s safety at risk by ignoring them. Here’s what you should know about the expiration date of your car seat.
When Do Car Seats Expire?
Car seats are expected to expire 6 to 10 years from the manufacture date. New technology standards, changing regulations and Wear & tear are common reasons why car seats expire.
Why Do Car Seats Expire? – Car Seat Expiration
While there isn’t any government regulation for car seats to have expiration dates, most companies still include them for a very important reason: the safety of your child.
Each year, new car seat technology and standards are released. While it might be a little unnecessary to keep up with new technology and models every year, an older car seat that’s been passed down from child to child could be ten or fifteen years out of date.
For instance, while LATCH, Lower Anchor and Tethers for Children, is a standard safety feature today, you probably wouldn’t find it in a car seat before 2002.
You also have to consider that the materials in your car seat, no matter how durable, will wear down over time. After years of use, seat belts can become more elastic and hairline fractures can form in the seat base. You won’t be able to see most of this deterioration with the naked eye, but crash tests have shown how timeworn car seats end up crumbling in collisions.
There are also recalls to think about. Like any product, manufacturers sometimes make recalls for car seats or certain parts on them. If your car seat is older, you might not always be notified that it’s been a part of a recall.
Past a certain date, manufacturers even stop testing car seats. If they aren’t currently selling a car seat from ten years ago, there’s no reason for them to continue testing it. What this means is that, in older car seats, the manufacturers may no longer be able to vouch for their safety. There are no guarantees that an expired car seat could still protect your child in a crash.
Even if an older car seat appears to be in great shape, that expiration date is there for a reason. In the event of a crash, an expired car seat may fail while a new model holds up.
How Do You Know if the Car Seat is Expired?
The expiration on a car seat is generally easy to find. Most companies will stamp the date of expiration on the manufacturer label, which is located on the side or base of the seat.
Sometimes, a company might only include the date of manufacture instead of expiration. In this case, a good rule of thumb is to assume the car seat will only be good for six years after the manufacturing date. Keep in mind that it doesn’t actually matter when you purchased the car seat—the countdown begins after the date of manufacture.
If you’re still unsure how long to use the seat for, you can always check the owner’s manual or call and ask the manufacturer about its expiration.
Warning Signs That Your Car Seat is No Longer Safe to Continue Using
It’s important to remember that, while it’s a good idea to follow the expiration date, not all car seats might last that long. A car seat that suffers through extreme weather conditions all the time or has already been in a collision might not hold up until the expiration date.
If you see signs of deterioration in your car seat, it might be time to replace it—regardless of what the expiration date says. Here are a few warning signs to watch out for:
- The car seat begins to rust
- The seatbelt, straps or harness are beginning to wear down and become elastic
- You start to notice cracks along the seat base
- Different parts of the car seat begin to break
In a rare case, the company might even recall the car seat or parts of it before its expiration. It’s crucial that you send back any recalled car seat or parts so that they can be replaced for safer ones.
While you can hopefully expect that your car seat will last as long as it’s supposed to, ignoring the warning signs could place your child at risk.
How to Dispose of an Expired Car Seat
When your car seat does expire, it might seem easiest to just chuck it out with the trash and never worry about it again. However, many experts actually advise against this. Even if you know the car seat is no longer safe, that might not stop someone else from finding it in the trash and trying to reuse it for their child.
To prevent someone else from unknowingly using an expired seat, the best way to dispose an expired car is to dismantle the car seat before you throw it out. You can do so by first removing the foam, padding, and fabric, and then cutting off the straps and harnesses. The plastic parts of the car seat can even be recycled.
It might seem invasive, but chances are that nobody’s going to try and put it back together. Some companies may have their own disposal process or allow you to mail the expired car seat back so that they can recycle it.
Although expiration dates might vary from company to company, you should always trust that your car seat has one. Anybody who tries to tell you that their car seats will last forever shouldn’t be trusted.
If you can’t locate the expiration date on the sticker, you’ll have to check the owner’s manual or call the manufacturer. Regardless of how immaculate an expired car seat may appear, you should never ignore its date of expiration.
Not only could an expired seat fail in the event of a crash, but it also means you may be missing out on new, safer technology that could make all the difference.
Thanks fir the article. Can you provide source information for the statement “crash tests have shown how timeworn car seats end up crumbling in collisions”? Thanks much in advance!
Hi Andrew, thanks for the question. I looked over our research in writing this article and saw the source material we pulled. Since you’re asking the question and knowing that this is a contentious topic, I’m not comfortable with the information to share. I appreciate data-driven decisions and conclusions based on empirical data. During my years in this field, I honestly don’t think I’ve seen much in the way of empirical data around this.
I know there are folks that are skeptical about expiration of children’s car seats. We are not in that group here at Elite Car Seats. I respect the perspective of those that won’t be satisfied until they see lots of data and I would also love to have it. Meanwhile, since such data either doesn’t exist or is seemingly had to find, we side with the manufacturers in whose hands we’re putting our family’s safety in the first place.
While car seatbelts endure temperature extremes and years of use and some experts say they don’t need to be inspected or replaced for at least 10-15 years, the thing to realize with children’s car seats is that the expectations are that a child will relatively quickly outgrow the seat and there’s not a great incentive for a manufacturer to potentially “over-engineer/over-build” the car seat to last 10-20+ years. This helps them keep costs lower and their products more affordable for the consumer that already has many expenses in raising their family.
That being the case, they use materials and construction practices that are aimed at getting around 6-10 years of life out of their product. In our opinion, this needs to be seriously heeded. We also know from many other industries, that similar practices and best practices have been put into place. Examples include safety pads, helmets, and similar equipment for a variety of sports and other safety situations.
I know you likely don’t need to be convinced and simply asked for data, but I felt like this was a good opportunity to state our position and the reasons why we believe and advocate as we do. Warm regards … Joanne