Why Do Child Car Seats Expire?

Older child car seats may not meet current safety standards

Baby and Mother Strapping in Carseat
Find the manufacture date and/or the date of expiration on the back of the car seat. RyanJLane/E+/Getty

You want to protect your children, but a car seat expiration date is a head-scratcher. It's not like a car seat is a carton of milk that can sour. Learn why car seats come with expiration dates and how paying attention to them can help protect your child.

Why Car Seats Have Expiration Dates

There isn't a government regulation in the U.S. that requires an expiration date on car seats, but manufacturers decide on them based on general guidelines.

You might think it's just about selling more car seats, but there are very important safety reasons for placing an expiration date of six to 10 years after the date of manufacture.

The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that paying attention to expiration dates is among their top recommendations for car seat use. Here are five reasons that you may not have considered.

  • Technology Improves and Standards Change. An older car seat passed down from friends and family might look like it's in great condition but it may not be utilizing newer lifesaving technologies and safety standards. For example, before 2002, car seats were not equipped with Lower Anchor and Tethers for Children (LATCH). Now they are a standard feature of nearly all car seats. Expiration dates ensure that seats being used are current and up to snuff.
  • 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 car crash, and belts can become slightly elastic after years of use. Car seats are often exposed to extreme temperatures in hot and cold cars. You likely won't be able to see the breakdown with the naked eye. Crash test videos provide a chilling example of how these materials can fail in a devastating manner.
  • Models Are Only Safety-Tested for a Typical Lifespan. After a certain amount of time, manufacturers do not test seats. They can't attest to how older seats will perform in an accident.
  • Recalls. An older car seat may have been part of a recall and you may not have been notified or know where to look up this information.
  • Replacement Parts. As designs change, manufacturers don't want to maintain an inventory of older parts forever. You may not be able to get a replacement part past the expiration date.

Where to Find the Expiration Date

Most car seats have the date of expiration stamped on the manufacturer label located on the sides or the base of the car seat. Alternatively, it might show the date of manufacture. If that's the case, generally the car seat will expire six years after the date of manufacture. Only a few seats may be good for longer than that.

Date of Manufacture vs. Date of Purchase

The clock starts ticking from the date of manufacture, not the date of purchase. 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. That may be reasonable for an infant seat your child will outgrow before the expiration date. But if your family is going to continue to expand, or it's a seat that will serve your child for several years, you may want to get the newest model. This is a good reason to avoid buying used car seats, which may already be nearing their expiration date.

Does Price Matter?

Don't be deceived and think that a more expensive seat will have a longer lifespan.

That's not the case. All seats sold in the U.S. must meet current car seat standards. You can purchase several excellent car seats for less. Buying a used seat may be a bargain, but it brings risks that the seat is older or has been in a crash and should not be reused.

A Word From Verywell

Keep your children safe in your car by understanding your state's car seat laws. Be sure to register your car seats and update the manufacturer with your most recent contact information. This will keep you up to date for any recalls or other safety information.

Source:

American Academy of Pediatrics. Car Seats: Information for Families.

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