How Long Are Car Seats Good For?

All car seats have expiration dates. Here's how parents should check for one and dispose or trade-in their old car seat.

Child in car seat

Rob And Julia Campbell/Stocksy

The first time Shubhangini Prakash and her husband placed their newborn son in a car seat was, of course, when they left the hospital shortly after his birth. As he got older, though, he hated sitting in a car seat, often crying and throwing his arms in the air to resist.

Despite the common opposition, car seats are crucial for children's safety while traveling in a vehicle. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), car accidents are one of the leading causes of death for children, but the use of car seats reduces the risk of injury by 71-82% compared to seat belt use alone.

Car seats provide a secure and snug fit, preventing children from being ejected from the car in the event of an accident. Rear-facing car seats, in particular, also distribute the force of the impact across the child's body, reducing the risk of injury to the head, neck, and spine.

But for maximum protection, car seats need to be installed properly and in good shape. That means not using it past its expiration date. Here’s everything parents need to know about their child’s car seat expiration date and how to replace it when necessary. 

How Do I Find My Car Seat’s Expiration Date?

Look for the car seat expiration date in the manual or on the car seat itself (it’s usually on the bottom or the back of the seat).

When Do Car Seats Expire?

All 50 states and U.S. territories require car seat usage. Most kids stay in a car seat until they're at least 8 years of age, so investing in safety, comfort, and quality is key. “Because we knew from the start we would be having two kids, we wanted to invest in the quality of the car seat so it would stand the test of time,” says Prakash. 

But how long is that test of time? Although there's no government regulation in the U.S. that requires an expiration date on car seats, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises parents not to use a car seat past its expiration date. Accordingly, most car seat manufactures set their own expiration dates.

So, how do you tell if your car seat is expired? All car seats have either a date of manufacture and/or an expiration date written on them. Look for the date in the car seat manual or on the car seat itself (it’s usually on the bottom or the back of the seat).

Car seats with a manufacture date typically offer instructions on how to find the expiration date. Keep in mind, most car seats expire after about six years, which is helpful information for families that are planning for or expecting multiple kids.

Why Do Car Seats Expire?

Over time, the materials in the car seat can degrade and weaken, reducing the effectiveness of the car seat in the event of a crash. Exposure to sunlight, extreme temperatures, and regular wear and tear can all contribute to the deterioration of the car seat.

Don’t forget about the food, drinks, and cleaning products that come in contact with the car seat. This can impact the webbing, buckles, adjusters, and other parts over time, as can dirt that makes its way into the car seat. 

Also, standards change over time. "Newer car seats are designed to meet updated safety standards, so an expired car seat may not provide the same level of protection as a newer model," explains Laura Purdy, M.D., MBA, a board-certified family medicine physician, who is licensed to practice in all 50 states. On that note, it’s imperative that parents select car seat options that have been tested and certified by safety organizations, such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to ensure that the minimum safety features are met. This NHTSA finder tool helps compare options.

Recalls also play a role. In these cases, the manufacturer will typically reach out to the registered owner. But parents can also find that information by calling the manufacturer, contacting the NHTSA vehicle safety hotline at 888-327-4236, or visiting the NHTSA website.

And never continue using a car seat that has been in a moderate or severe crash, says the AAP. Some car safety seat manufacturers suggest replacing them even in minor crashes. The NHTSA says a minor crash would mean all the below scenarios apply:

  • The car could be driven away from the crash site.
  • The door nearest to the car seat wasn’t damaged.
  • No one in the car was injured.
  • The airbags didn't deploy.
  • The car seat doesn’t have any visible damage.

Do Car Seat Seat Bases and Booster Seats Expire?

Seat bases and booster seats should also be checked for expiration dates and replaced when appropriate. The same scenarios described above hold true for these, including car accidents. Dr. Purdy notes the materials may have been stressed or compromised and therefore reduce their effectiveness in protecting the child.

How To Dispose of an Expired Car Seat

You shouldn't sell, donate, or give your expired car seat to someone else. You need to dispose of it properly.

It's unfortunately difficult to recycle car seats, according to Joe Colella, director of child passenger safety at Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association. This is due to the nature of the materials used and limitations of most recycling centers in the country. 

“Currently, no state law offers guidance or policies regarding disposal of expired car seats, but some state legislatures are hoping to develop recycling programs. It is being worked on and there’s progress, but it will take time,” adds Colella.

Luckily, some retailers like Target and Walmart have car seat trade-in programs where families can bring in their expired, damaged, or old car seat, and they'll recycle it in exchange for a coupon. Other major retailers are also incentivizing (with coupons or discounts) the proper trade-in of expired car seats.

If it's not possible for you to trade it in, you can try and contact your local recycling center to assist or opt for a mail-in recycling program like

Or you may be able to toss it in the garbage. In that case, it's recommended you cut off all the padding, straps, and fabric of the car seat and remove any metal. Then discard the metal and plastic pieces and mark the plastic base of the car seat as unsafe so that it is discarded by sanitation authorities.

Dr. Purdy also notes the guidelines for disposing of an expired car seat may vary by location, so parents should check with their local waste management agency for specific instructions.

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