By: Kate Krantz
Safety Reviewed by CPST: Jonathan Otero
As a parent, you're constantly on the lookout for baby items that have expired, particularly with food and medication as the biggest culprits. But did you know that car seats have an expiration date as well? Whether you’re inheriting a used car seat from a friend or dusting off the one you used for your first child, many parents are shocked to learn that their child's car seat expired when they intended to use it.
In this blog, we are going to dive into the world of car seat expiration. We will address common concerns like why car seats have a shelf life, how to find car seat expiration dates, and why it’s essential to follow car seat manufacturer guidelines. We all strive to keep our little ones safe and sound, and that starts with knowing when it’s time to wave goodbye to the old and say hello to the new.
Why Do Car Seats Expire?
It might sound a bit strange at first but like anything else, car seats have a limited lifespan. This is something that car seat manufacturers, like Orbit Baby and others, understand and stand by. The focus? Safety. In fact, here are the reasons why car seats expire according to the Manufacturers Alliance for CPS (MACPS):
- “Because exposure of components to many environmental factors including food, drinks, dirt and debris, cleaners and other contaminants may cause degradation of the seat’s effectiveness.
- Because parts of the seat may be lost, installed incorrectly or damaged from potential wear and tear.
- Because instructions or labels may not be available or no longer be legible.
- Because instructions for use may have been updated or enhanced but may not be relevant for older models of the product.
- Because enhancements in technology, design, testing, materials and manufacturing may provide better protection for the child through improvements to performance, increased, ease-of-use, convenience and comfort.”
How Long Do Car Seats Last?
Car seats are not built to last indefinitely. As a rule of thumb, car seats expire 6 to 8 years after their manufacturing date, however, this can vary between different car seat brands. This is why it’s important to avoid purchasing a car seat that is older than 6-years-old or hasn’t gone beyond the date specified on your particular model.
How Do You Find A Car Seat Expiration Date?
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) , “Expiration dates are a way for manufacturers to provide consumers with guidance as to the expected “useful” life of their car seat.” More often than not, you can find the car seat expiration date on a sticker posted on the back of the shell or in some variation:
- The expiration date is embossed on the shell of the car seat.
- An official car seat expiration date is added to the sticker.
- The length of time from the date of manufacture is printed on the sticker.
Why You Should NOT Use An Unexpired Car Seat That Has Been In A Crash
The NHTSA’s mantra is better to be safe than sorry – car seats should be replaced immediately after a moderate or severe crash to ensure your little ones still receive the upmost crash protection. On the other hand, car seats do not need to be replaced following a minor crash. If in a crash, make sure you can check off all these points from the NHTSA:
- “The vehicle was able to be driven away from the crash site.
- The vehicle door nearest the car seat was not damaged.
- None of the passengers in the vehicle sustained any injuries in the crash.
- If the vehicle has air bags, the air bags did not deploy during the crash; and
- There is no visible damage to the car seat.”
And remember, NEVER use a car seat that has been in a moderate to severe crash. Stick to the manufacturer’s instructions, always.
Note: This rule does not pertain to ALL car seats. Each manufacturer establishes its own specific guidelines, so it’s crucial to consult the manufacturer for clarification.
New Vs Used Car Seats
Think of your little one’s favorite T-shirt. After so many stains, rips, and stretching from adventurous play and messy activities, the T-shirt’s material thins and doesn’t quite have the vibrant color and snug fit it once had. When all is said and done, you shouldn’t keep the T-shirt as a hand-me-down – the same applies to a car seat.
“Car seats expire because the parts and materials used to keep your child safe gradually weaken or wear down after constant use and because of exposure to heat and cold,” said Pampers in “Car Seat Expiration: How Long Are Car Seats Good For.”
So, before you inherit a car seat from a close friend or family member, consider these factors:
- “The car seat’s history: everything may look spotless on the outside, but there can be hidden damage from past crashes making it less effective or inoperable.
- Car seats can be recalled from a faulty buckle to a problem with the harness system, so if you’re not in the loop with these safety notices, it means your kiddos may be at risk without you even realizing it. To get ahead of this, we recommend registering your car seat and all baby goods with the appropriate manufacturer.
- From Consumer Reports in What to Expect, Is It Safe to Buy Used Baby Gear?: car seats have an expiration date!”
For a deeper dive into this topic, be sure to visit our additional blog post titled, “When it comes to Buying a Used Stroller or Car Seat: Is It Safe?”
Donating A Used or Old Car Seat
Imagine this: your little one’s car seat is still below the expiration date, but they’ve outgrown it in the blink of an eye. If you’re scratching your head and wondering what to do with your G5 Merino Wool Toddler Car Seat, here are some options:
- Target Trade-In: A convenient way to recycle and reuse used car seats, with a biannual two-week trade-in window and potential discounts on new baby gear.
- National Child Passenger Safety Certification Program: Donating old car seats to this program helps train future Child Passenger Safety Technicians (CPSTs) and parents, serving as an educational resource while preventing landfill waste.
- Nonprofits, Charities, and Women’s Organizations: If your used car seat is still valid, don’t hesitate to contact and donate to local women’s shelters and childcare centers, along with nearby nonprofits and charities. Helping to provide local families with access to safe seating options can make someone’s day.
Note: You should NOT donate or sell your car seat if the car seat has expired OR has been recalled, or in a crash.
Properly Disposing an Expired Car Seat
If your car seat has expired and cannot be donated, consider an eco-conscious approach by reaching out to your nearby recycling center for responsible disposal. Make sure the center is equipped to handle car seats. Prior to recycling, remove any non-plastic elements and metal, ensuring your local Department of Public Works accepts the plastic portion of the seat.
If a program doesn’t exist near you, render the seat unusable before properly disposing it and detach straps, padding, and other attachments. But wait! Before you begin dismantling, consider Consumer Reports’ list of tips from the recycling program in Ann Arbor, Michigan:
- “First, use scissors to cut off the fabric, foam padding, and harness straps from the seat.
- Use a Phillips-head screwdriver to remove as much metal as possible.
- Remove the car seat cover and any padding underneath it.
- Discard the fabric, foam padding, straps, and mixed metal-plastic pieces and small plastic pieces.
- Mark the plastic as expired or unsafe.
- Recycle the bulky plastic body and all-metal pieces.”
Unsure If Your Seat Is Expired? Ask One Of Our In-house CPSTs
At the end of the day, if you want that extra piece of mind and 110% certainty about confirming whether your car seat has expired or not, don’t hesitate to reach out to Orbit Baby’s in-house CPST team! Much like every parent, the car seat experts at Orbit Baby are dedicated to making sure your little ones ride happily in comfort, safety, and style.