It’s not everyday you find great deals on baby gear, so when you come across a bargain, it can be super tempting to jump on it. An amazing car seat at a rock-bottom price? Yes, please! But buyers beware: Pay attention to the car seat expiration date. Unlike the “Best If Used By” date on your box of Cheerios, here’s why an expired car seat is a safety issue you don’t want to overlook.
Why Do Car Seats Expire?
Do car seats expire? Yes. As to why do car seats expire—now that’s a slightly more complex answer. It might seem like just a ploy by baby gear manufacturers to sell more car seats, but it actually makes sense when you think about it. Car seats are mostly made up of hard plastic, which can deteriorate over time. (Remember those plastic slides and water tables from your youth that looked seriously sketchy by the time your parents finally tossed them?) According to Libby Nye, a certified child passenger safety technician with Saving Loudoun’s Littles, a nonprofit group dedicated to car seat safety, here are several factors that contribute to car seat expiration.
• Deterioration of materials. Heat, cold, sun, humidity and age can affect plastics and make them brittle and, eventually, unsafe.
• Rust. It can form on metal parts in unseen areas and affect how the seat performs in a crash.
• Discontinued models. When production of a seat is discontinued, replacement parts are no longer manufactured and can be difficult to find.
• Advancements in technology. Thanks to a focus on research and development, technological breakthroughs happen at a rapid clip these days, and manufacturers want to make sure their products meet updated safety standards and best practice recommendations.
• Missing pieces. Over the years, car seats go through considerable wear and tear: The pads get washed over and over, and belts are switched from rear-facing to front-facing and possibly back again. It’s no wonder small parts and pieces often get lost, which can reduce the seat’s effectiveness.
How Long Are Car Seats Good For?
Most car seats last between six and 10 years, but car seat expiration dates vary by manufacturer. The expiration date is often printed on the seat itself; if not, check the instruction manual for each car seat you own or give the manufacturer a call. Here’s a helpful guide to car seat expiration dates for several different car seat brands:
- Britax: six years for infant car seats, nine years for booster seats
- Chicco: six years
- Cosco: six years
- Diono: eight years for car seat harnesses, 10 years for booster seats
- Evenflo: six years (except when otherwise noted)
- Evenflo Symphony: eight years
- Evenflo SafeMax: 10 years
- Graco: usually seven or 10 years, depending on the model
- Maxi-Cosi: Car seats are designed for 10-year use but don’t expire
- Recaro: six years
- Safety 1st: six to eight years, depending on the model
Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, you’re using an older-model car seat, maybe one that’s been passed down from your older child or is a secondhand model you’ve purchased. In some states, it could be considered illegal to use an expired car seat, depending on your interpretation of the law. For example, Virginia is among the states to have “proper use” clauses, meaning one could argue expired car seats don’t meet Department of Transportation safety standards, says Nicholas Krukowski, a certified child passenger safety technician and owner of Adiona Safety Seats in Loudoun County, Virginia. And anyone found violating the law would be subject to a $50 fine. But there’s no law currently in place that expressly prohibits the use of expired car seats. If you’re unsure where your state stands on the issue, contact your local police station or CPST technician.
On the flip side, maybe you’re wondering, “Is it illegal to sell an expired car seat?” Similarly, it’s not explicitly illegal to sell an expired car seat. That means you have to be super-vigilant about buying used car seats—and it’s why many experts advise against using secondhand ones altogether. If you’re looking to save money on baby gear and are willing to forgo some of the fancy features, a great option is to choose a reasonably priced model, like Cosco, Evenflo or Safety 1st, which can retail for under $100. The good news: Because all car seats are regulated for safety, a more expensive model isn’t any safer than a cheaper one. You can also consider including a car seat on your baby registry.
How to Tell If a Car Seat Is Expired
There’s no easy way to spot an expired car seat just by looking at it (unless, of course, you can visibly spot broken or missing parts). In terms of how to tell if a car seat is expired, the best way is to look for a small white sticker somewhere on the seat that contains information like the manufacture date, serial number, model number and car seat expiration date. Other brands have this information imprinted somewhere on the plastic shell. Since the expiration date can sometimes be difficult to locate, here’s how to find the expiration date on a car seat for several of the major brands:
- Britax: A white sticker should be located near the top of the seat alongside your child’s head, under the fabric padding.
- Chicco: There should be a white sticker located on the back of the car seat.
- Cosco: The car seat expiration date is likely imprinted into the plastic on the bottom of the seat or a white sticker on the back of the seat, depending on the model.
- Evenflo: A white sticker should be located on the bottom or back of the car seat, depending on the model.
- Graco: There’s likely an expiration date imprinted into the plastic on the bottom of the seat.
- Maxi-Cosi: Check for the car seat expiration date imprinted into the plastic on the bottom of the seat or a white sticker on the back of the seat, depending on the model.
- Peg Perego: Look for a white sticker located on the bottom of the seat.
- Recaro: A white sticker is likely located on the side of the seat, under or near the fabric padding.
- Safety 1st: Look for the the car seat expiration date imprinted into the plastic on the back of the seat.
How to Dispose of an Expired Car Seat
If you find yourself with an expired car seat on your hands, you’ll likely want to dispose of it (because who has the room to store all this baby stuff?). While the obvious solution seems to be to chuck it in the trash, experts caution against this. “You’ll want to dismantle and dispose of it so that someone doesn't salvage it and unknowingly reuse it when it’s past its prime,” says Hayden Little, a certified child passenger safety technician and owner of Tot Squad, a baby-gear services company in Washington, DC. “Start by removing and discarding the foam, padding and fabric. Cut the harnesses and straps. Remove any metal parts and recycle the plastic pieces.”
Don’t feel like dealing with the car seat disposal yourself? Some communities have car seat recycling programs: Check here to see options in your area. Some retailers—like Target—even host car seat trade-in events at various times throughout the year, offering a special discount on your new seat purchase.
Published September 2017