Why Do Car Seats Expire and How Can You Tell?

The Facts About Car Seat Expiration

car seat manufacture date
Find the manufacture date and/or the date of expiration on the back of the car seat.. Image courtesy Jennifer White

Question: Can you explain what a car seat expiration date is all about? Do they really expire, or is that a ploy from manufacturers to make more money?

Answer: Car seats expire. They really do. And no, they won't suddenly grow mold like that forgotten tuna sandwich in the fridge or self-destruct like a gadget from an indulgent spy movie.

Marketing Ploy or Necessary Safety Precaution?

Car seats expire with good reason.

It isn't just about the manufacturer's bottom dollar, it's about keeping your baby safe. That's a fact to which the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) wholeheartedly agrees, and paying attention to expiration dates are definitely among their top recommendations for car seat use.

There are several valid reasons why you need to stop using the car seat once it passes the expiration date.

  • 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. A good example: 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. 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. And 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.
  • Only Tested for a Certain Period. After a certain amount of time, manufacturers do not test seats. So they can't attest to how older seats will perform in an accident.

Where to Find the Expiration Date

Most car seats have the date of expiration stamped on the manufacturer labels 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 a few years longer than that. This aspect of car seat expiration is one strong reason not to buy used car seats.

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. 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.

Does Price Matter?

Don't be deceived 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.

Don't forget: Register your car seats and update the manufacturer with your most recent contact information. Curious about car seat laws by state? Alphabetical listings: Alabama - Hawaii | Idaho - Montana | Nebraska - Oregon | Pennsylvania - Wyoming

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