If you’ve ever looked at the bottom of your car seat, you may have come across a sticker that gives it a “do not use after” expiration date. What’s up with that? Can a car seat really expire? It may seem weird to you (and it did to me at first) because it’s not like it’s food. And you can come up from under the table, because no, it’s not going to self-destruct in an explosion like a James Bond movie. In fact, there are some very good reasons why manufacturers put these expiration dates on them, and it’s not just to scam you out of your money and force you to buy a new one.
It’s Not a Marketing Trick
If you’re anything like me, the first thing that comes to your mind is that it’s just the car seat manufacturers trying to scare you into buying a new, expensive car seat every few years. Truthfully, these expiration tags are not required by law, and it obviously does help improve the car seat manufacturer’s bottom lines. But in fact, experts agree that these guidelines are good and should be followed. So, why is this?
#1: Materials break down over time: Most car seats are made out of plastic, which is generally fine. But plastic does wear down over time, especially when exposed to extreme temperatures. Leaving it in the hot car in the middle of summer, or out in the freezing cold over night over time, those materials will start to fatigue and lose strength. Metal, out of sight, can become rusty over time.
Not only that, but if you’re using the seat daily, the constant installing and removing, latching and unlatching, and driving over rough and bumpy terrain takes a toll on the seat.
If your safety seat has materials that have worn down, it can be extremely dangerous in the event of an accident.
This is a video demonstrating a crash with a dummy in a 10-year-old car seat. See how the straps simply break away and he goes flying out? Yeah, that’s what can happen.
#2: Safety standards change over time: The safety standards for car seats are constantly evolving, and manufacturers are changing the ways they crash and safety test the seats. It’s very possible that the seat you’ve had sitting in the garage for 5 years between kids no longer meets current safety standards. For example, new rules came into effect regarding the LATCH system in 2014.
If you want to make sure that the seat you’re using meets all safety standards and technologies, you really shouldn’t be using an expired one.
#3: Replacement parts become hard to come by: Once a car seat is expired and no longer in production, it can become nearly impossible to find replacement parts for it. If you lose a part, the padding becomes damaged or something just needs to be replaced, you just might not be able to find it.
How Do I Tell if My Car Seat is Expired?
All seats expire. However, there is no standard for this, and different types of seats (boosters, rear-facing, etc) will have different lifespans depending on various factors. You really have to check the seat itself. Don’t worry, it’s easy to do!
All of the big car seat manufacturers put either a sticker or stamp somewhere on the seat listing the expiration date. It should also be listed on the registration card that came with it. It’s probably listed somewhere in the manual, too, although it may just be listed as a “recommended usable lifespan.”
Sometimes you have to calculate the expiration date yourself, but most of the time you’ll find a sticker or stamp somewhere on the seat itself telling you when it is. If you can’t find a sticker or stamp at all on the seat and you don’t know when you bought it, or it wasn’t bought new, you should consider it unsafe to use, period.
What Do I Do With an Expired Seat?
If your car seat turns out to be expired, you should immediately stop using it. You could possibly find a place to use it around the house; remove the harness and use it for a place for baby to sleep, perhaps. Or you could donate it somewhere for use in demonstrations.
If you can’t find anything useful to do with it, truthfully, it should be destroyed, and you certainly shouldn’t let anyone else use it either. What I would do is remove the straps and harness, and do whatever you can to make sure it’s completely unusable. Write on it with a black sharpie something like, “EXPIRED – DO NOT USE” and dispose of it with the rest of the trash.
Now, Go Check Your Car Seats
Armed with this new information, the first thing you should do is go check your seats to make sure they haven’t passed the expiration date. Come on, go do it! I realize that throwing something away that seems perfectly fine to the naked eye, and probably cost you a pretty penny, isn’t the easiest thing to do. But please, do it; it’s just not safe to be using an old, expired seat.
Do you have any questions, comments or concerns on the topic of car seat expiration? Let me know in the comments below!
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