Car seats expire – for real. However, it is a sneakily quiet expiration, unlike the milk in the fridge that goes bad. It is up to the parents to figure out when a car seat will expire. However, this is a vitally important task, particularly if the car seat was not bought new, or you are using it over the course of multiple children.
It’s All About Necessary Safety Precaution
While I was initially skeptical when I heard that car seats expire, imagining that it probably had more to do with marketing savvy on the part of car seat manufacturers than anything, I quickly realized that there’s much more to it than that. In fact, it isn’t just about the manufacturer’s bottom dollar, it’s about keeping your baby safe; a fact to which the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) wholeheartedly agrees.
There are several very good reasons why you need to stop using the car seat once it passes the expiration date.
- Technology Improves and Standards Change. A good example of this is that back in 2002 car seats were not even equipped with Lower Anchor and Tethers for Children (LATCH). Now however, they are a standard feature in nearly all car seats. I can attest, over the use of two children now, that the LATCH system is much sturdier than the old seatbelt system. Simply put, car seat expiration dates ensure that seats being used are current and up to the most recent safety standards.
- Materials Wear Down. Car seats were not made to last forever. Over time the seat base can develop hairline fractures which may shatter in a crash, and belts can become slightly elastic after years of use. Crash test videos provide a chilling example of how these materials can fail in a devastating manner. Warning: even though the video uses a crash test dummy, it is sickening to watch.
- Only Tested for a Certain Period. After a certain amount of time, manufacturers do not test seats. They cannot attest to how older seats will perform in an accident.
How to Locate the Expiration Date
Most car seats have the date of expiration stamped on the car seat base. Alternatively, it might show the date of manufacture. If that’s the case, generally the car seat will expire 6 years after the date of manufacture. Only a few seats may be good for a few years longer than that. It is very important to check the materials that come with the car seat to figure out the proper expiration date.
Date of Manufacture vs. Date of Purchase
A tip when buying a car seat, remember that the clock starts ticking from the date of manufacture, not the date of purchase (because materials age whether or not they are being used). If you find a great deal on a car seat because it is the previous year’s model, understand that it has a shortened life compared to the newest release.
Not About the Price Tag
Don’t be deceived that a more expensive seat will have a longer life time. In fact, many of the most expensive (Britax, for example) appear to have the same life expectancy as cheaper brands. However, they may have additional benefits that would justify the price difference.