Have you ever looked at a car seat and wondered why it has an expiration date? This big hunk of plastic doesn’t seem like it would “go bad.” But just like old dairy, there’s a time when the life of your child’s car seat will end.
But when is that? Is the expiration date really important, or can you push it a few months until your child outgrows it? What if your car seat was in storage for half its useful years?
This is an important subject when it comes to protecting your child. We’ve taken the time to educate ourselves about car seat safety because we want our children to be safe — and yours as well.
In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about car seat expiration dates. Let’s dive in.
- Car seats expire due to temperature exposure, wear and tear, and updated safety guidelines.
- Expiration dates are important for ensuring the car seat remains safe and effective.
- Car seat expiration dates are usually found on a sticker or embossed on the back of the seat.
- It is not recommended to use secondhand car seats, and expired car seats can be traded in, given to car seat techs, or recycled.
Why Do Car Seats Expire?
When it comes to car seat expiration dates, it’s much simpler to brush it off like it isn’t a big deal. However, the expiration date is there for a reason. And it’s not just so companies can squeeze more money from your pocket.
As odd as it may seem, car seats expire for a number of reasons. A few factors are instrumental in determining that date, including the exposure of materials to hot and cold weather, everyday wear and tear, and more (1).
Car seat manufacturers are constantly upgrading their seats in line with the newest standards. This also plays into why expiration dates exist.
1. Temperature Exposure and Natural Breakdown
Most car seats are made from a plastic shell. Plastic expands and contracts when exposed to hot and cold temperatures. Because the seat will stay in the car most of the time, it’s constantly exposed to varying temperatures.
Another factor is the metal in the car seat and unseen rust. Most frames are made of steel or other metal. If that rusts, you can imagine what happens to it in the event of an accident.
These aren’t things you can control, which is why car seat manufacturers give you an expiration date. It provides an idea of how long the seat will last and when you should start looking for a new one.
2. Regular Wear and Tear
Let’s face it: car seats really take a beating. Kids are messy, and spills are inevitable no matter how “strict” your rule is about food and drinks in the car. Crumbs and fluids like drool or juice can cause the seat’s webbing to deteriorate over time (2).
To get the most out of your child’s car seat, ensure you regularly clean and maintain it. We make a habit of cleaning out our vehicles once a week. During this time, we also clean the car seat padding.
If there’s a spill, we always try to wipe it right away, but the seat still needs a good, regular clean. Here are the steps we go through to keep our car seat clean:
- Remove the seat from the car: This may seem like a hassle, but it’s the only way to ensure the entire area is clean.
- Remove seat padding: We throw ours in the washer during weekly laundry duty. Read your car seat’s manual to ensure yours is machine washable.
- Wipe down the seat: We use mild soap, water, and a washcloth. This ensures we pick up any stray crumbs or sticky residue.
- Wipe out the cup holders: Car seat cup holders get pretty gross. Whether it’s a spilled drink or the crushed-up remains of a pine cone, it builds up.
- Wipe down the harness and buckles: This is important to prevent anything from sticking inside the buckle. You can wipe it with a damp washcloth.
- Let it dry completely: Before putting the seat pads back on, dry the seat thoroughly to prevent any mold or other wear and tear. You can dry it with a towel or let it air dry. We usually do a quick dry-off with a towel and then leave it to air dry until the pad is done.
Letting your car seat padding lay in the sunlight helps it dry quickly and helps to eliminate stubborn smells.
Editor's Note:Kristen Gardiner, CPST
3. Safety Guidelines
Car seat manufacturers tweak their products regularly to keep up with changing guidelines. This means they may retire a certain seat from production.
Once seats are retired, it gets harder to find replacement parts if something goes wrong.
If you do get lucky enough to find a replacement part, who’s to say you’ll be able to fix it correctly?
Older seats may come with outdated technology or may not have the most current safety features. To ensure your baby is completely safe, car seat manufacturers are constantly adding new technology to keep up.
- Overall Improvements: Car seat manufacturers strive to make car seats easier to install and use to help reduce user error. This is important because if car seats are not installed correctly, they can’t protect your child. Features like premium LATCH connectors and no-rethread harnesses are becoming much more common.
- Smartphone adaptable: Some car seats have smartphone adaptability to alert you if your child unfastens their seatbelt, the air temperature isn’t ideal, or you leave your baby in the car. While this may seem like overkill to some, it’s another layer of safety to protect your little ones (3).
- Patented technology: Car seat manufacturers constantly innovate new ways to keep your child safe. Whether it’s better side-impact protection or shock absorption, car seat tech changes regularly.
Those are just a few reasons why paying attention to car seat expiration dates is vital. We’re all about getting the biggest bang for your buck, but this is an expense we won’t mess around with.
The Importance of a Safe Car Seat
We know from experience that kids can get pretty expensive. Talking about buying a new car seat can certainly make any budgeter panic. As tough as it may be to look at the price tags on car seats, this expense is necessary.
In the United States, motor vehicle accidents are a leading cause of death in children (4). The proper use of car seats has shown that car crash injury risk is reduced by 71% to 82% for the youngest among us.
Be sure to adhere to any height and weight guidelines to ensure your child will be properly protected in the event of a crash. In rear-facing car seats, when the top of your child’s head is less than one inch below the top of the headrest, it’s usually time to upgrade. In forward-facing car seats, you’ll want to watch for when the top of their ears reach the top of the headrest. Always check your manual.
How to Find the Expiration Date of a Car Seat
Regardless of the brand, you should be able to find an expiration date right on the back of the seat. Some manufacturers may also include the expiration date inside the instruction manual. The date is typically printed on a sticker or embossed on the back of your child’s car seat.
Car seat expiration dates will vary but typically range from six to 10 years. Remember, though, you shouldn’t wait until the day of expiration to grab a new seat for your child. We recommend starting to shop for a new one a month or so before the seat is due to expire.
Are Used Car Seats OK?
Say you’re scrolling through Facebook Marketplace and see someone advertising a car seat for sale. You’re in the market for one, and they’re offering it for a great price. You may be tempted to inquire about it, but are secondhand car seats safe to use?
Experts don’t recommend it because you don’t know what the seat has been through. Sometimes it’s impossible to tell just by looking at a car seat whether it’s been in a crash or has been cleaned or maintained correctly.
Sellers may say the car seat was “gently used” and has never been in an accident, but that may not be true. Unless you know and genuinely trust the person you’re getting the car seat from, it’s safest to purchase it new (5).
What to Do with an Expired Car Seat
Once your child’s car seat is expired, you have a few options. And no, you don’t necessarily have to toss it in the trash. Here are some of the most common ways to dispose of an expired seat:
- Trade it in: Some big box stores, like Target, hold “trade-in” events throughout the year. You can take in your expired or unusable seat and trade it in for a discount on a newer seat, a stroller, or other items in the store. Many times the old seats are then recycled (6).
- Give to car seat techs for demonstrations: For car seat technicians to give demonstrations, they need a seat to work with. Expired car seats are useful for this as long as they’re intact (7).
- Recycle if able: Because seats are mostly plastic, you should be able to break them down for recycling. You may have a recycling facility near you that accepts car seats (find a facility here). Ensure the plastic is clean and free of unrecyclable materials beforehand.
- Break down for trash if unrecyclable: If your child’s seat is in bad shape, it may be best to pitch it. Write “expired” with a permanent marker on your seat and cut the harness straps before you throw it out to ensure no one grabs it to re-use.