January 14, 2019
When it comes to baby items like onesies and baby toys, hand-me-downs are prized by most parents. After all, who wouldn't want to save money and be able to reuse an item that's still in good condition? But some baby gear might require a more discriminating take in order to keep your little one safe. For example, even if it looks like it's in mint condition, a car seat may be rendered useless thanks to its expiration date.
Why Car Seats Expire
Benjamin Hoffman, M.D., FAAP, CPST-I, chair of the Council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention for the American Academy of Pediatrics, explains to Parents.com that car seat expiration dates exist for two reasons: "First, the materials—plastic and webbing—are exposed to tremendous stress in the car: very hot and very cold," Dr. Hoffman notes. "Over time, they can degrade with micro cracks and things along those lines. The plastic expands and contracts with the temperature variations. Further, the exposure to kids: drool and other fluids, juice, Goldfish crackers can cause the webbing to degrade over time."
Aside from that everyday wear and tear inflicted on a car seat, "technology is constantly improving," Dr. Hoffman explains. "Car safety seats evolve," he says. "For example, we have much higher weight and length limits for harnesses both rear and forward-facing [now versus in the past]. In addition, the guidelines and federal regulations change."
Given these constant shifts, the assumption is that after 6+ years, there will be significantly better and safer seats that are easier to use, Dr. Hoffman says.
Where to Look for the Car Seat Expiration Date
"Some manufacturers have a specific expiration date on the seat," Dr. Hoffman says. Major brands like Graco and Britax are known to display that information.
But if you don't see a date listed, you can assume that the expiration date is 6 years from the date of manufacture, Dr. Hoffman advises.
What to Do With an Expired Car Seat
Given the possible risks involved with using an expired seat, making sure it is disposed of properly is crucial. "We want to make sure that an expired seat will not be used again," Dr. Hoffman says. "We recommend cutting the webbing and removing the padding so it cannot be used. Some communities have car seat recycling programs, and in many communities, the plastic shell can be recycled. Check with your sanitation department. Please never just leave expired seats on the street, or give to a friend, or sell via consignment. We want to get them out of circulation, and make them unusable."
Though recycling centers that accept car seats are limited, you can check recycleyourcarseat.org, which will tell you where these centers are, by state, with basic information for each. Other resources include:
Car seat expiration dates matter. "It is important to follow manufacturer guidelines," Dr. Hoffman stresses. "If they would not trust the seat past a certain date, then neither should we. It is never OK to use an expired seat, and never OK to make modifications to a seat, unless it is something the manufacturer specifically approves of. If there is ever a question, families should call the manufacturer for clarification."