One of the most confusing moments as a mom was when I noticed the expiration date on my baby’s car seat. Why do car seats expire? That was the first question that popped into my mind.
A car seat isn’t a jar of baby food or a bottle of baby lotion. At the time, it didn’t make sense for me to see a “don’t use after…” date on this baby gear. Strollers don’t expire, after all.
For a while, I thought it was just a marketing strategy. A trick companies use to sell more products. But the truth is that car seats and boosters do expire and changing the car seat as soon as it expired can help protect your child.
Why Do Car Seats Expire?
Seeing an expiration date on a car seat may be awkward and confusing at the same time. But if there is a Best Before written on it, there must be a reason. So I did my research and found not one but five reasons to replace the baby gear on or around the expiration date.
1. Wear And Tear
Even the sturdiest car seat is not made to last forever. If you use the unit frequently, it wears out faster and you might not be able to see the damage with the naked eye. I’m not talking about a few stains on the fabric, but on micro-fractures on the car seat’s base.
The base is usually made of plastic, and the daily hustle and bustle can cause it to crack. More often than not, these are hairline cracks almost impossible to detect at a simple inspection. Yet, they weaken the whole structure of the seat and may cause the base to shatter in the case of an accident.
Another element that suffers the daily wear and tear is the safety harness. The belts can become elastic after years of use, failing to provide adequate protection.
Moreover, car seats are exposed to extreme heat and cold if left in the car in the hotter and colder months. These temperature fluctuations also have a negative impact on the seat’s structure, and there are many crash tests that demonstrate how car seats can devastatingly fail their purpose after years of use.
2. Limited Safety Testing
According to Federal and international regulations, all infant car seats and child boosters available on the market have to pass specific safety and crash testing. But the manufacturers are not required to conduct these tests after the product has already been released.
Due to these regulations, most manufacturers test their products for safety for a typical lifespan, which corresponds to the expiration date stamped on the product.
What this means is that manufacturers don’t know how their product will perform after this time, therefore they can’t guarantee your child’s safety in the case of an accident.
3. Replacement Parts
Another reason why car seats expire is that after a certain amount of time, the manufacturers stop producing replacement parts for the specific model. This shouldn’t surprise; after all, manufacturers release new models almost every year, and it would be unmanageable to keep an unlimited stock of replacement parts for all old models released.
Replacement parts for the specific car seat models are usually manufactured for the interval of time between the production date and the expiration date. Past this date, you may not be able to get a replacement part.
Despite all the testing conducted before a new model is released, some car seats have fabrication defects that can affect your child’s safety. When this happens, the companies usually recall their products and refund or replace them.
Yet, if you didn’t register the car seat with the company after the purchase, you won’t be notified about the problem.
For this reason, it’s good practice to change the car seat after the expiration date.
5. Technology Advancements
Last but not least, there are the technological advancements that change the safety standards. Thanks to research, manufacturers gain a more thorough understanding on how to keep babies safe on their journeys.
For instance, the models before 2002 were not equipped with the LATCH system, a safety installation system that is now a standard on all car seats.
The design of the harnesses also changed, to improve safety and to lower the risk of SIDS. That’s not it, also the shape of the seats and the features regarding comfort improve constantly.
The expiration date, therefore, ensures that parents use car seats which comply with the new regulations and safety standards.
Where To Find The Expiration Date?
The first thing to know before searching for the expiration date is that all car seats expire. There is no exception to this rule, and if you can’t find the necessary information on the unit (maybe because you received the car seat from someone or you didn’t buy it new), you should just assume the car seat is unsafe to use.
To find the expiration date, look for the manufacturer label located either on the sides or on the base of the car seat. The expiration date should be stamped on it.
If the expiration date is not stamped and all you can find is the date of manufacture, add up six years from that date to figure out when your car seat will expire.
Some car seats may have a longer lifespan but in this case, the manufacturers usually stamp the exact date on the label.
If you’re unsure, just contact the manufacturer and ask for the information.
Things get trickier if you don’t know when the car seat was manufactured and can’t find the label with the expiration date on the unit.
In this case, the safest thing is to replace the car seat with a new one. As for the old seat, just repurpose its use or dispose of it.
How Is Calculated The Car Seat Expiration Date?
Car seats expire, but how is the expiration date calculated? Well, in the US, there isn’t any Federal regulation in place to require a specific calculation of the expiration date. Manufacturers use either general guidelines or their testing results to decide it.
Typically, a car seat will expire after six to ten years from the date of manufacture, and according to the NHTSA, you should stop using the car seat near or on the expiration date.
It is important to emphasize that the expiration date is determined by the date of manufacture and not by the date of purchase. In fact, this is one of the reasons why older models come at a bargain.
While you can invest in an older model, we recommend you to do so if your child will outgrow the infant seat stage before the expiration date. If you plan to expand your family and plan to use the same baby gear, invest in the newest possible model.
Because car seats expire, I also recommend avoiding investing in a used car seat. When it comes to the baby’s safety, just invest in quality and buy a new seat.
How To Dispose Of An Expired Car Seat?
The expiration date on your car seat indicates the unit is no longer safe to use for its purpose. But this doesn’t mean you can’t repurpose it. For instance, you can remove the harness and turn the car seat into a tiny armchair for your toddler to use around the house.
Alternatively, you can donate the car seat to be used for demonstrations, either to teach parents how to latch the seat or to secure the baby or to be used in crash tests.
If you just want to dispose of it, cut off the harnesses and destroy the seat as much as you can, then just dispose of it with the rest of the trash.
Do Expensive Car Seats Last Longer?
A common misconception is that an expensive car seat has a longer lifespan than a cheap car seat. However, this is far from the truth.
According to the Federal regulations, all baby car seats sold in the US must meet specific standards and they all expire after 6 to 10 years from the date of manufacture. Similar laws are also in place in Europe and in other parts of the world.
This means you can buy that affordable car seat without compromising on safety. What you’ll compromise on is the quality of materials and perhaps on your child’s comfort.
However, I can’t emphasize enough that you should avoid buying a used car seat. Not only it may get tricky to figure out its lifespan, but you’ll also risk investing in a seat that has been involved in a car accident.
Do you still wonder why do car seats expire? As highlighted above, it’s not a marketing strategy. Manufacturers don’t stamp the expiration date to sell more units or the newest models. They do so to help you keep your child safe and sound.
I know, disposing of a car seat that seems in perfect conditions is hard. It’s even harder if you bought an expensive unit.
But if you just checked the label and noticed that the seat may no longer be safe, just repurpose its use and go buy a new one. After all, your child’s safety should come first!