Depending on the manufacturer, car seats expire between six and ten years from the date of manufacture. They expire for several reasons, including wear and tear, changing safety regulations, and recalls. You can check the sticker on your car seat or the owner’s manual to confirm the expiration date for a specific model.
While some parents would rather err on the side of caution, others believe that the expiration system on most car seats is a commercial stunt so that manufacturers can get more people to buy new products. If you’ve just purchased a car seat or are planning to, that product’s lifespan is among the critical factors to consider.
When I gave birth to my first child, I got two perfectly acceptable used Britax car seats from my in-laws: A b-Agile 3 stroller and a B-Safe 35 infant car seat. At first glance, there was nothing wrong with them. All components were intact, looked elegant, and were super sturdy. However, they were manufactured about six years earlier. Since I had no access to the manual, I had to do extensive research to find out that the seats were at the edge of expiration, as indicated by the company.
On various parent online forums, there’s a popular idea that the concept of car seat expiration is a planned obsolescence by manufacturers. But, during my research, I discovered much more about the expiration of car seats, which I will share with you in the rest of this article, along with my experience using those Britax seats at the edge of expiration.
What’s The Lifespan Of Car Seats?
Generally, most manufacturers specify that the expiration for their car seats is six years, counting from the date the seat was manufactured. However, some brands, like Maxi Cosi, have a longer lifespan, such as ten to 12 years.
According to Manufacturers Alliance Child Passenger Safety, the critical idea behind car seat expiration is the degrading components that can interfere with the performance of the seat. Experts have studied how plastics used for car seats can become brittle when constantly exposed to the elements.
Manufacturers put these lifespan limits so that you only use their product within the time the seat can effectively transfer crash energy to the seat belt or LATCH system.
Why Do Car Seats Expire?
Like most other baby gear, car seats expire due to wear and tear on materials over time, lifespan expectancy drawn from manufacturer safety testing, and the need to be in tune with the evolving safety standards.
A typical car seat comprises fabric, webbing, plastic, and padding. These materials can break down and weaken over an extensive time of usage. You may have used your car seat up to the expiration date, and it still looks sturdy. Still, exposure to the elements can compromise its safety integrity rather than just aesthetic appearance.
Also, technology and data recommendations from agencies like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Department of Transportation regarding car seats are constantly improving. Old car seats that have passed their expiration date may not conform to the latest safety standards.
You may be cynical and believe that car seat expiration dates exist to support a billion-dollar baby gear industry wanting more money from you. But there are essential safety reasons behind limiting the life of your car seat.
How To Know If A Car Seat Is Expired
Check the owner’s manual or the company’s website to determine if your car seat has expired. Most brands have a web page with all their models’ safety information and expiration dates. Also, you can check the sticker stamp on the product itself. The location of this tag varies depending on the brand and model.
Some brands will tell you the expiration date directly. Others will only disclose the date of manufacture, which means you have to calculate how many years have gone by for its recommended usage.
Here are a few examples:
|Car Seat Brands||Where To Find Expiration Date|
|Graco||Expiration dates are printed on a stamp at the bottom or back of the seat.|
|Chicco||Provides an expiration date on the seat and the base.|
|Britax||Use the serial number and instruction manual to find the date of manufacture. This gives you the expiration date of the seat based on calculation.|
|Evenflo||Date of manufacture (DOM) label on the product.|
Is It Safe To Use An Expired Car Seat?
When car seats expire, it means that the structural integrity of that seat can no longer be relied on to provide optimal safety for your child, even though the outward appearance doesn’t look like it. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents not to use a car seat past its expiration date.
However, the reality is that some parents cannot immediately afford a new car seat. So, using an expired seat is better than not using a car seat at all. Still, replacing the expired seat as soon as possible is crucial.
Another safety implication for using an expired car seat is that your insurance company can use it against you when a car accident happens, especially when the company says there is comparable negligence.
Is It Illegal To Use An Expired Car Seat?
Currently, NHTSA has no known regulation that prohibits parents from using an expired car seat, and many states don’t directly outline clauses for car seat expiration in their laws. However, many states’ car seat laws require parents to use the car seat per the manufacturer’s instructions.
So, suppose the manufacturer has an expiration date, and you’re using it beyond that date. In that case, it means you’re not using the product per the manufacturer’s instruction, which indirectly violates the state’s car seat law.
So, technically, using expired car seats is illegal. But there’s a low chance that a police officer will inspect your car seat specifically for an expiration date when you’re pulled over, except it looks very old.
However, suppose you get into an accident with an expired seat. In that case, getting a ticket for the expired car seat is possible, or getting charged with endangering a child because you knowingly used an expired seat.
The best thing is to look at the specific car seat laws that apply to the state you reside in and confirm if there are any stipulations for expired car seats. I have written another comprehensive article presenting car seat laws that apply to all states in the U.S.
What Should I Do With An Expired Car Seat?
If you have expired car seats, throwing them in the dumpster is not ideal because someone else can pick them up and use them. Most manufacturers recommend writing on the seat with a permanent marker (“DO NOT USE – EXPIRED”) before disposal.
Here’s a quick step-by-step process to follow when planning to dispose of an expired car seat:
- First, remove all the foam padding and loosen the straps and fabric.
- Use a screwdriver to remove as much metal as possible.
- Dispose of the fabric, foam, straps, and mixed metal/plastic pieces.
- You can recycle the remaining plastic and metal pieces in the appropriate bins.
- Remember to mark the plastic base as unsafe.
Meanwhile, baby stores and big-box retailers such as Target and Walmart often have car seat recycling or trade-in programs where you can get rid of your expired car seats. You can check my recent article for extra ideas on what to do with expired baby gear.
What Car Seat Has The Longest Expiration Date?
The average car seat has an expiration date between six to ten years. So, the product with the most extended expiration date on the market should have a lifespan of ten years or more. That being said, models from Maxi-Cosi immediately come to mind because, according to the manufacturer, their Magellan® XP All-in-One Convertible model expires 12 years after manufacture.
Over To You
Now that we have reviewed the several layers of car seat expiration, I would love to hear from you.
How long have you been using car seats? Do they still feel sturdy as they approach the expiration date? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.
P.S.: You may have an older car seat, lost the manual, and the sticker stamp has faded. You can check out my article, where I listed all the popular car seat brands and models along with their expiration dates as recommended by the manufacturer.