Why Do Car Seats Expire?

Driving Your Baby in the Safest Way Possible

Expiration dates on car seats might seem counterintuitive, but they are there to keep children safe.

While they might seem ubiquitous for babies and toddlers, car seats for children have actually been the law of the land only since 1985. They were originally designed to allow little ones to see out car windows and to keep them from crawling or walking around while the car was in motion. Safety in a collision was a secondary consideration. Now there are a wide variety of car seats, from infant recliners to convertible seats and booster seats. Many of these car seats come with a manufacturer-printed expiration date, anywhere from six to 10 years from the date it was manufactured, not purchased. Expiration dates on car seats tell when you should stop using them, primarily due to the risk of the plastic degrading or due to changing technology that can make older seats obsolete.

Car Seats Gone Bad

You might be wondering how something made of metal, cloth and plastic could expire. After all, it's not as though you're going to eat it. The truth is that although expiration dates are determined by the manufacturer of the seat, they're more than a gimmick to sell seats. The expiration date on a car seat marks the time when the plastic could start to degrade due to extreme shifts in temperature and weather.

Remember, your child's seat is in the car through summer, winter, bumpy roads and spitting-up babies. This kind of everyday use can cause the plastic in seats to become brittle over the years, making it less resilient in an accident. Additionally, car seat technology is always changing. While a five-year-old car seat might not be expired, newer seats are likely to be safer, easier to install and more comfortable for your baby or child.

When It's OK to Pass Them Down

Car seats are a single piece of equipment that can save your child's life in an emergency situation. Car seat technology has continued to evolve in ways that keep babies and children safer in the event of a crash. With that being said, it can be safe to reuse a car seat, provided that several factors are true:

  • Clean history: First, and most important, you need to know the entire history of the car seat. It cannot have been in any crashes. Any car seat that has been in an accident, even a minor one, must be replaced. It's done its job; let it go. 
  • Current expiration date: The car seat also must be unexpired, with all parts present and in good working order. Look for the expiration date of the car seat on the bottom of the seat, on a label giving the seat's model number or in the owner's manual. You can also call the manufacturer to ask when the seat expires. 
  • Recalls fixed: If any part of the seat has been recalled in the past, the issue must be corrected before the seat is safe to reuse or pass down. 

If you aren't sure about any of the above factors, it's always better to play it safe and buy a new seat. Your child's safety isn't something to take lightly.

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