Car Seat Expiration Questions Answered, Plus a Used Car Seat Check List
Question: Can I Use My Expired Car Seat?
Answer: “NO,” not according to the manufacturer. Always follow manufacturer instructions, including expiration dates. Only the manufacturer of your car seat can advise you to do something other than what is printed on your car seat labels or instruction manual.
There are many reasons that manufacturers have expiration dates for car seats:
- Plastics and materials weaken with age from prolonged exposure to light, oxygen, humidity, extreme heat, temperature cycles or even vibration
- Damage like cracks and stress marks can result from drops or crashes
- Parts can go missing, including essential ones for switching modes
- Vomit, cleaners & oxidation can damage harness and adjustment mechanisms
- Labels peel and wear, making it more difficult to find limits, instructions, model number information to check for recalls and if the seat was actually certified for use in your country
- Manufacturers want to sell you a safer new seat with the latest technology
It’s that last reason that leads some caregivers to believe in conspiracy theories. Are all the manufacturers and retailers colluding with each other to fill our landfills with perfectly good [used] car seats just to profit by selling you a new one?
Car seat manufacturers are, after all, for-profit companies. They do want to make money. They also genuinely want to keep your kids safe and, of course, avoid lawsuits. Some shorter expiration dates seem overly conservative even to me. Many today have a reasonable lifespan of 8-10 years. Consider that there is simply no way for a manufacturer to know what conditions or abuse a car seat may endure in one year, let alone six years! Yes, individual parts of a car seat may well last much longer than 10 years, maybe even 20-30 years, but the question is how long will ALL the parts together protect a child in a crash? While it’s obvious that they don’t last forever, how long a car seat is usable depends mostly upon the owner.
Consider a rear-facing-only infant seat that was manufactured 6 years ago. Perhaps it sat on the shelf and was sold a year later, being gently used with baby for about a year; then it was stored away in a cool, dry basement for 4 years. Now, baby #2 is on the way but the seat just expired. Must it really be thrown away or recycled, if car seat recycling is even available in your area? Despite the light use, we must officially advise that you still follow the manufacturer’s instructions or contact the manufacturer for guidance.
But what if?
- If you are the only owner or trust the previous owner(s) with the life of your baby
- If the seat is in good working condition with minimal wear and no loose parts
- If the seat was never in a crash, dropped or otherwise damaged
- If cleaners and solvents were never used on the harness system
- If all parts are present and working correctly
- If the manual and labels are all present
- If the seat was approved for use in your country
- If there were no recalls (or any recalls were resolved)
- If the seat was unused in a box at a retailer or stored properly for a long time
- If you are also convinced it will protect your baby in a crash
That’s a lot of “ifs“, and they may also apply as a Used Car Seat Checklist if you are considering a secondhand car seat.
It’s simply impossible for a manufacturer, a certified child passenger safety technician, journalist or online advocate to say if your own car seat or a used car seat meets all these “ifs.” We all advocate for what is safest for your child and there are just too many unknowns with an older car seat that is owned by someone else. Only the owner can decide if all these apply and if they are willing to accept any risk. A secondhand or expired car seat may well be safer than no car seat at all if you absolutely cannot afford a new one and cannot find a free distribution program in your area, but the concerns above are still valid.