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Expired Car Seats – The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly!

Car seat expiration

Have you ever thought much about the expiration date on your child’s car seat? Most people don’t, but you should. All car seats have them and for good reason.

An expired car seat has seen too many years to be considered safe and manufacturer’s are not only required by law to include them, but they expect you to stop using them past that point.

But why? 

Is it because they want you to go out and buy a new seat just so they can make more money? No! Car seats are made with sturdy materials, but the components definitely age over time. Plastics break down and weaken with age. Metal can rust. Fabrics become worn and more prone to ripping.

Car seats are generally subjected to years of extreme temperature changes, as well as sunlight damage. Think about how much wear most car seats see from winter to summer and back again as your child grows.

Expiration dates keep your children safer. Even if a seat is stored in a box in a climate-controlled room, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t aging. Beyond that, over the course of time, technologies improve, safety standards get upgraded, and car seats from the past become obsolete.

When we know better, we do better, right?

So… just like you check and change the batteries in your smoke detectors (you do, right? If not, do it now!) you should also check your child’s car seat expiration date and change it out, if necessary.

So where do you look for this elusive date? Most car seats have a sticker placed on the bottom, side, or back with the expiration date printed on it or it will be stamped right into the plastic. Generally you will find the expiration date in the vicinity of the serial number.

Your seat “might” only have the manufacturer’s date, in which case you will need to check your car seat manual to figure out how many years it is good for. If you can’t find that information, it is handy to know that most car seats are good for 6 years.

Of course, with the invention of all-in-one seats, we are seeing seats that have been made to last as long as 10 years. But, every manufacturer’s dates can vary, so check carefully or call the manufacturer with the information if you don’t know. If you are in doubt, use the 6 year guideline.

While we are on the topic of being able to fully trust the car seat that our child rides in, let’s also address the use of secondhand seats.

In the interest of saving money, it can be very tempting to grab a seat from a thrift store or online yard sale, or accept one from a friend of a friend of a friend. But…

The truth is, you DON’T know the history of a car seat that you buy secondhand or one that is passed around from family to family. And that means you don’t know if it has been washed per the manufacturer’s instructions or ever been in a car accident.

Even minor fender benders that don’t visibly alter the look of a car seat can damage its frame or inner parts or put stress on the straps that make them unreliable in the event of a future crash. This is why so many manufacturers insist that a car seat is considered unusable after a crash.

One thing we can all agree on is that you need to be able to TRUST your child’s car seat to do its job. Otherwise, what’s the point? 

So, don’t skimp in this area. If you do decide to accept a secondhand seat from a trusted friend that fully knows and can verify the history of the seat that they are offering to you, still make sure to check that expiration date! If it is missing, politely decline!

So, now the question is likely to arise… What do you do with an expired car seat?

Well, first and foremost, don’t try to resell it or leave it where someone else might pick it up and try to use it. In fact, it is common practice to fully cut the straps, remove the cover, and mark the seat with permanent marker with XXX “Expired! Do NOT USE!” XXX

If you have a way to recycle the various components, then that is a great option for keeping at least parts of it out of a landfill. These means that you will need to break it down as much as you can.

Unfortunately, most places don’t have the option to recycle whole seats, but check to see if that is a possibility where you live. If you must throw it away, then know that that is better than continuing to use it, but before doing that there is one last potential option.

Occasionally, large retailers, such as Target or Walmart, will have a couple days each year that they will have “buy backs” for old, expired car seats. Usually in these cases, they will give you credit towards their store or at least credit towards buying a new car seat or other baby gear.

If you can find one of these programs in your area, that is a great way to get rid of your expired car seat! It might even be worth storing it in your garage or attic until one of those special days comes around.

So, now that you have it fresh on your mind, go out and take a peek at the expiration dates on your car seats or at least put it on your to-do list! (And check your smoke detector batteries while you’re at it!) And keep those babies safe!

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