When you transport your small children, you want to ensure that they are always safe. That’s why you invest in a high-quality car seat for your vehicle. However, many people don’t know that car seats expire, rendering them less than adequate. So, why and when do car seats expire?
In this guide, we evaluate why car seats expire and we show you how to find the expiration date. We also look at the laws of driving with an expired car seat and show you what to do when it’s time to get a new one.
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When Do Car Seats Expire?
Most car seats expire after 6 years. However, this can vary depending on the make and model of the seat, so it’s always best to check the expiration date on the sticker on your car seat. This expiration date shows consumers how long the car seat can be used safely for road protection.
After these years, the plastic may start to become brittle, and the seat may not be able to withstand a crash as well as it did when it was new.
Why Do Car Seats Expire?
Car seats expire due to the materials and construction used in their manufacture. After a certain number of years, the hard plastic and other materials used can begin to break down, which can lead to reduced safety for the child sitting in the seat. That’s why it’s important to check the expiration date on your car seat and replace it if necessary.
Here is some more detailed information about why car seats expire:
1. Material Deterioration
The main reason that car seats expire is because the materials begin to deteriorate. Most car seats today are made from a hard plastic material that can easily break down over time.
Whether it’s been exposed to UV rays or higher temperatures, this plastic isn’t going to last. Even cold weather and humidity can affect the quality of the plastic material, making it more brittle over time. As the plastic wears down, it’s no longer able to provide adequate protection for your child.
Beyond regular deterioration, the car seat can also expire early if it’s been in an accident. The impact of a collision can cause irreparable damage to the car seat, forcing you to get rid of it earlier than anticipated. In fact, it’s recommended that you opt for a new car seat after any major accident just to be safe.
While the majority of the car seat is made from a plastic material, there are still areas that contain metal components. You might have metal buckles and adjusters that are also subject to wear.
Over time, rust and corrosion can start to form on these metal surfaces. Again, the deterioration leads to an unsafe situation if an accident occurs.
3. Model Discontinued
Car seat companies are regularly upgrading the models and discontinuing others. The expiration date of the car seat takes these upgrades into consideration.
Your child’s car seat goes through a lot of abuse. Whether you are consistently washing the pads because of spilled juice or the belts get switched around too many times, you are going to need those replacement parts.
You may be able to find some replacement parts for a few years after discontinuation, but that won’t always be the case. The manufacturer will eventually stop selling any replacement parts you may need, making it necessary to upgrade. If small parts and pieces get lost or you find yourself in need and you can’t get them, the car seat becomes worthless.
4. Technology Advancements
Why are car seat models discontinued? In most circumstances, it’s because the manufacturer has found new and better materials or methods.
Technology continues to advance at alarming rates. For manufacturers to stay ahead of the competition, they must continue to move with the times. Additionally, all of these upgrades bring us closer to a safer and more advanced car seat for child protection.
How to Find Car Seat Expiration Date?
Today’s car seats should all contain an expiration date on them. However, manufacturers don’t always put them in the same place, making it difficult to determine when the car seat might expire. Usually, the expiration date is clearly listed on a sticker that’s adhered to the shell. It could also be embossed on the plastic shell.
Additionally, not every car seat company adds the actual expiration date on the sticker. In some cases, you may only see the length of time from when it was manufactured, leaving you to figure out when it would expire.
Here are a few of the top manufacturers, with information on where to find the expiration date information.
- Britax: There should be a white sticker attached to the top of the seat near the child’s head. You may need to pull back some of the fabric padding to see it.
- Chicco: This company also uses a white sticker with the expiration date. It should be found on the back of your car seat.
- Cosco: This manufacturer uses two different methods, depending on which model you choose. It could be on the bottom of the seat, imprinted directly on the plastic. Otherwise, you may find a white sticker found on the seat back.
- Evenflo: Look at the back or bottom of the car seats. You should notice a white sticker with the expiration date printed on it.
- Graco: Most Graco car seats have the expiration date in the same place. You should find it on the bottom of the car seat, imprinted in the plastic.
- Maxi-Cosi: It depends on which model you have. Some of them contain a white sticker adhered to the seat’s back. Otherwise, it might be imprinted directly into the plastic bottom.
- Peg Perego: Almost all of these car seats have the expiration date in the same place. Take a look at the bottom of your car seat for a white sticker with the information.
- Recaro: Unlike the other brands, this manufacturer chooses to use the side of the seat. If you peel back a little of the fabric padding, you should find a white sticker with the information.
- Safety 1st: Take a peek at the back of the car seats. There should be an expiration date imprinted directly on the plastic material.
If you think it’s best to save money on a secondhand car seat, we must advise against it. Even if the car seat is only a few years old, the materials could have already degraded. You also have no guarantee that the car seat is accident-free. After many accidents, it’s recommended to replace the car seat because the integrity might be compromised.
If you must purchase a secondhand car seat, at least evaluate the expiration date given by the manufacturer. You should also check that all of the pieces are intact and not worn out.
Is It Illegal to Use an Expired Car Seat?
This is a tricky question. For now, the NHTSA states that there are no regulations about using an expired car seat. Additionally, the majority of the states don’t have anything to say about the practice.
With that in mind, there are car seat laws in most states. In these laws, you are told to use the car seat under the manufacturer’s guidance. That language means you are supposed to follow all of the recommendations, which include the expiration date. If you were to get pulled over, the officer would have every right to check the car seat, although they typically don’t.
What’s even more important is what will happen if you attempt to use an expired car seat and get into an accident. You could be putting the life of your child in danger. Overall, it’s wise to upgrade your car seat once it hits its expiration date.
What Can Be Done with an Expired Car Seat?
So, what should you do with this expired car seat? You want to get rid of it, but also know it’s not wise to sell it to someone else. Additionally, you don’t want to stick it in the trash because it’s going to take up valuable landfill space.
Your safest bet if you plan to throw it away is to at least dismantle the parts. This way, someone won’t be tempted to use it if they find it in the trash. You can take off all of the padding and fabric, along with the belts and buckles. These can be disposed of separately from the recyclable plastic and metal components. You should also cut the harness and straps, so they can’t be reused.
However, there’s a better solution than throwing it away. Throughout the year, many retailers will offer a car seat trade-in program. You can take it to a local store, such as Walmart or Target, to get credit for a new car seat. Even if you don’t need a car seat anymore, you might use this opportunity to get the credit and purchase something new for a loved one. Car seats make fantastic baby gifts and are often appreciated by new mothers.