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We, parents, know how the importance of checking the expiration dates of just about everything –  food, medicines, milk, vegetables, and more. But do you know how long are car seats good for?

Like most things, these child-safety seats have expiration dates, too.

While there are laws regarding car seats, not a single one of them focuses on expiration dates. On the brighter side, most manufacturers have committed to communicate this information voluntarily.

However, since there are no federal regulations yet about car seat expiration dates, we should always be vigilant in keeping ourselves informed.

Why Do Car Seats Expire?

Some may see car seat expiration dates as nothing but a ploy to get you to buy a new one. But that’s not the case. The reality is that these limits give your little one the best possible protection during a crash.

So why do car seats expire in the first place? Here are a few reasons why and I assure you; they all make sense.

Recalls

Car seat recalls are not common but they do happen. Occasionally, companies recall car seats to better protect your baby. Companies often recall models after finding faults in a model or if a feature needs improvement.

An older car seat may have been part of a recall especially if it has been passed on to you (never a good idea). Unfortunately, the fact that it was recalled may not be passed on to you as well.

Wear And Tear

Nothing lasts forever, and neither do car seats. The majority of its components are made of plastic, which becomes brittle over time.

A lot of factors contribute to a car seat’s wear and tear. These seats are used for at least a year, especially infant car seats, and have faced with different weather conditions. Heat, cold, humidity, and age can make plastic brittle.

What makes a worn-out car seat dangerous is that the hairline fractures are not seen by the naked eye. An accident can force these unseen cracks to shatter, and we wouldn’t want our precious kids sitting on it when that happens.

Outdated Models

Car seat technology evolves at a rapid rate. The top-of-the-line model you bought two or three years ago may already be obsolete today.

Manufacturers, on the other hand, will not keep an inventory of spare parts of an outdated model forever. As such, finding replacement parts for discontinued car seats will be extremely difficult.

Rust

Rust to metal is brittleness to plastic.

Metal is also another major component of most car seats. Usually, they reinforce the entire seat while holding the different parts in place. The bad news? These metal parts are hidden, most of the time.

An expired car seat may already have rust buildup which is not visible to you. In a sense, it’s like a bomb that’s set to explode anytime soon.

Missing Pieces

Just as car seats go through wear and tear, losing small parts and pieces here and there is inevitable.

It can happen to any car seat although a convertible is probably the most susceptible. That’s because switching from one mode to another – from rear-facing to forward-facing and back – requires moving parts.

You may not notice it since the car seat looks as if it’s in pristine condition on the outside. Little did you know that some parts are missing which can reduce the seat’s effectiveness.

Tech And Safety Enhancements

Manufacturers consistently make better and safer car seats. And with better models come newer technologies. A good example is the LATCH (Lower Anchor and Tethers for Children) technology, only available since 2002.

What I’m trying to get at is that it’s always best to buy new car seats after one expires. A model beyond its “best by” date will not have the same safety features and structural integrity of brand new models.

Back To The Question: How Long Are Car Seats Good For?

Most car seats will last a good six to ten years. Still, its longevity may vary depending on the model and the manufacturer. Another factor that you have to consider is the time when you bought your car seat.

You’ll find the expiration date printed or stamped somewhere on the seat. If not, you can consult the instructions manual. And if you still can’t find the expiration date, reaching out to the manufacturer is the best route.

Manufacture Date vs. Date Of Purchase

This is a straightforward concept that most parents get confused with. At the same time, this could be a life-saver when you know the difference between the two.

I did mention that most car seats are good for six to ten years. So does that mean that you can expect your newly-bought car seat to last that long?

Not really.

You may have bought the car seat brand new, but for all you know, it was released three years ago.

My point is, the lifespan of a car seat starts NOT from the time you purchased it. It starts from when it was released. You wouldn’t want a car seat that’s about to approach its end-of-life.

Register Your Car Seat

I talked a little bit about occasional manufacturer recalls. Registering your car seat is one way to get recall notifications in the most timely manner. Aside from that, you can also receive safety notices from them, which is always helpful.

You can register a seat in two ways.

You can go to this page of the NHTSA to register. Or, you can fill out and mail (no postage required) the registration card that came with your car seat to:

US Department of Transportation

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Office of Defects Investigation

Correspondence Research Division (NVS-216)

Room W48-301

1200 New Jersey Avenue SE.

Do note that the process doesn’t stop after you’ve registered your car seat. If ever you received a recall notification, act. Contact the manufacturer to learn more about it and get the repair done.

You can also visit NHTSA’s website to find out if your car seat has ever been recalled. This is important especially if you have a second-hand car seat.

Risks Of Using An Expired Car Seat

Let me tell you this from the get-go:

Nothing good will come out of using an expired car seat.

Trust me. You don’t want to get in that situation where it’s already too late. An expired car seat is extremely dangerous because there’s just no way to tell how bad its condition is. Unless you bring it to an expert with all the high-end technology for examination, you’re better off throwing it away.

Below are the risks of using an expired seat to give you a better idea.

Damaged And Missing Parts

Toddlers use things haphazardly, and car seats are not an exception. Together with wear and tear, components are sure to get lost and damaged over time.

What you need to understand is that a car seat part, no matter how small, is vital to keep your baby safe at all times. Even a single piece that’s missing or damaged can significantly reduce a car seat’s effectiveness.

To make things worse, you wouldn’t be able to tell if a piece has been damaged or missing unless you get in an accident.

A Car Seat’s Unknown History Can Be Terrifying

You may have gotten your car seat for free from a friend or relative. Or perhaps, you got it for a very low price at a garage sale. While you know that it’s already used, you take it home and have your baby used it.

Happy ending? Not quite.

A used car seat, regardless if it’s expired or not poses a risk especially if you don’t know the history of it. It might have been involved in accidents previously and is no longer safe to use. So that you know, even the slightest bit of crashes can compromise the structural integrity of a car seat.

Outdated Models May Not Live Up To Current Standards

Car seats go through a lot of tests and safety checks before they’re allowed to be sold in the market. Manufacturers, on the other hand, continue to make innovations and advances in technology to keep up with the latest standards.

A car seat that’s been released a few years ago may not have the same features it should have today. Sure, it may have passed inspections and is not yet expired. But the problem is that it may not be as efficient in keeping your little passenger safe compared to newly-released models.

How Long Do Popular Car Seats Last?

Although car seats typically last six to ten years, it may vary depending on the manufacturer or model. Here’s a guide to get you started on what to expect with different car seat companies. I’ve also included links if you need further information.

If you decide to contact the manufacturer either by phone or through their website, always prepare the following information: date of manufacture, model number, and serial number.

Chicco

  • Six years from the date of manufacture.
  • The expiration date is printed on a label located on the seat and the base.
  • You can also contact them here.

Britax

  • Six to ten years depending on the model. Link
  • The manufacture date can be found on the child restraint/booster seat serial label.
  • Contact Britax here.

Graco

  • Six to ten years depending on the car seat model. Link
  • The expiration date of a car seat is stamped into the bottom of each seat.
  • Contact Graco here.

Safety 1st

  • Six to eight years depending on the model. Link
  • The contact information for Safety 1st can be found here.  

Maxi Cosi

  • Maxi Cosi car seats can last up to ten years. It’s also worth noting that they offer both a 24-month warranty as well as a lifetime warranty. Link
  • You can reach Maxi Cosi here.

UPPAbaby

  • Seven years. Link
  • The label with the expiration date is located on the bottom of the seat and the base.
  • UPPAbaby can be contacted here.

Baby Trend

  • These car seats last up to six years.
  • The ‘Do not use after’ date is located either on the back of the seat or under the seat cover.
  • Contact Baby Trend here.

Orbit Baby

  • Seven years
  • The expiration date can be found on the back of the base and under the rear cover flap of the car seat.
  • Contact Orbit Baby here.

Evenflo

  • All Evenflo car seats expire after six years except for a few models being eight years. Link
  • The model number and date of manufacture can be located on a white label on the bottom or back of the seat shell.  
  • Contact Evenflo here.

Diono

  • Eight years in harness mode and ten years in booster mode. Link
  • The expiration dates may be embossed on the shell of the seat, on a label and/or in the manual.
  • Diono can be reached here.

What To Do With An Expired Car Seat

Alright. So you’re finally convinced that you should stop using your old car seat.

Perfect!

Before you decide to throw it out, you may want to consider doing the following first.

BabyEarthRENEW

Help make a difference with BabyEarthRENEW.

This program is geared towards properly recycling not just car seats, but also strollers and high chairs. Although you pay for shipping, you’d at least get a $5 coupon to use the next time you shop with them.

What’s nice about the program is BabyEarth takes care of dismantling your old car seat. All the usable parts are then sent to accredited recycling centers. Other components such as plastics, metal, foam, and fabrics are shipped to developing countries. These materials are to be used by the recipients for construction projects.

You help yourself by getting rid of the old car seat. You help the environment since they won’t end up in landfills. You also help a global community.

Isn’t’ that nice?

Local Stores And Recycling Centers

Shops and recycling centers in your area will be more than happy to take your expired car seat. They may charge you a little for it but rest assured that it goes to charity and nothing else.

Instead of you expired car seats gathering dirt and dust, might as well recycle them and help your local community. Just phone them in to get the details.

Expired Car Seat Trade-In Events

Trade-in events are also a very good way to dispose of your old car seats.

Target, for instance, has partnered with Terracycle for a trade-in event just recently. It’s not a year-long event though so keep that in mind. The bonus? You get a 20% discount on your next car seat purchase.

If You Must Throw It Away, Do It Responsibly

If the first three options are not appealing to you, then throw them away by all means.

However, make sure that you do the following:

  • Make the car seat unusable.
  • Remove and cut the foam, padding, and fabric
  • Cut the harnesses and straps
  • Separate the plastic components from metal
  • Label them ‘DO NOT USE. EXPIRED’.

The goal here is to make sure that no one else can sell/reuse your old/expired car seat.

Conclusion

You may be saving a lot of money by using car seats that are expired. But in the process, you’re risking the lives of your precious passengers. Never let yourself overlook quality and safety over savings.

Forget about phrases such as ‘It looks fine’ or ‘I think it will still work.’ When in doubt, get rid of it.

Better be safe than sorry.