Milk has an Expiration Date and so Does Your Car Seat!

May 27, 2006 (Updated Aug 31, 2006)

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The Bottom Line Know when you child's car seat expires and destroy it when it does.

I dare say that most people who are parents now never rode in a car seat as children. Many of us didn’t even use the car seat belts when riding around town. We scrambled to ride in the “way back” of the family station wagon. Times have changed. In many places you can’t leave the hospital unless you have an approved child safety seat.

While car child safety has definitely improved dramatically in the last 30 years we still have a long way to go. Use of car seats is at an all time high, but proper use stills remains only in the 10 - 20% range; yet everyone believes they are using them correctly. Education is key. Loose and twisted straps, improperly secured seats and children who do not meet the height and/or weight limit for the seat they are riding in are common mistakes. Something often overlooked is the expiration date of the car seat.

Car Seats Expire?
I am amazed at how many parents are unaware that car seats have a life limit. Most manufacturers put a limit of 6 years on their car seats, but not all. The best place to find this information is inside the instruction manual that came with your car seat. If you can’t find the information (or the instruction manual) call the manufacturer and find out. And don’t forget to ask for another manual, most companies provide them for free.

Once you know the life span of your car seat you need to check out the seat. On the car seat you will find a sticker or label with the make and model of your car seat along with the date of manufacture. Car seats expire from their date of manufacture, not the date you received the seat or first installed it in your car. It is important enough to repeat - most car seats are good for no more than 6 years from the date they were manufactured.

What Does the Expiration Date Mean for You?
So often I hear people excited that they purchased a car seat that claims it is the only one they will ever need. These 3-in-1 car seats (like the Cosco Alpha Omega or the Safety 1st Intera) can be used rear facing for infants, forward facing for toddlers and as booster seats for young children. However since you will have at most 6 years of use and most children should be in a booster seat until they are at least 8 these all-in-one car seats should not be the last one you buy. By then, your child may only need a booster seat, but it is important to remember that these seats will expire before you child is ready to go without it. This also means that the expensive high weight limit car seat (such as the Britax Regent) that you buy with the idea of using it for all of your children will probably only make it 1/2 way through your second child, if you’re lucky, before you need to buy another one.

Resist the urge to register for a convertible car seat for your baby shower. It is tempting to ask someone else to purchase the seat for you, and how nice to have the seat sitting in a closet ready to go. But if you use an infant carrier for your baby don’t be surprised to find out that your shower gift is almost two years old before you get to use it, that’s 1/3 of its lifespan gone. Instead consider buying (or asking for) a convertible car seat for your child’s first birthday, even if it needs to be an early birthday present.

Watch Out for Sales
Car seats can be a very expensive investment and it is great when you can find the seat you want at a great price. Just make sure you know what you are buying. Like nearly everything else in the world car seats get updated on a regular basis. And while you may not care if your cover is “so last year” you may not be getting as big of a bargain as you think you are.

If the car seat of your dreams is on sale for $175 instead of the regular $200 make sure you check it. It isn’t unusual to find that even the latest and greatest car seat has been sitting on the shelves for 6 months before you bring it home. If you are getting last years model your bargain car seat may already be 18 months old before your child sits in it for the first time. A new $200 car seat purchased from a reputable dealer will probably cost you about $2.85 per month over its 6 year life, but the discounted seat costs $3.25 per month over its life. Also that 18 months of life used sitting in the store may mean you need to buy a second replacement car seat. That $25 off sale price may not be such a savings after all.

It’s Just a Ploy
It seems that many parents are convinced that car seat manufacturers put an expiration date on their seats just so we have to buy more seats. After all, the cover may be faded but the rest of the seat looks fine. The problem is that it is the damage that you can’t see that can prove fatal for your child. Over time the plastic shells degrade and the harnesses can wear. The conditions in cars (extreme heat and cold) hasten the break down of these critical components. Not sure? Take a look at this crash test video of a 10 year Britax car seat:

Most of us have ridden in older cars. When cars are new all of that plastic is supple and gives but as cars age the plastic becomes brittle and cracks much more easily. The same is true with car seats. It isn’t pretty when the plastic console in your car cracks, but it can be life threatening when those cracks develop in the shell of your child’s car seat. While regular visual inspection is an important part of car seat safety that does not replace following the manufacture’s expiration date. An expired car seat should be destroyed and replaced immediately.

Final Thoughts
You wouldn’t let your children drink milk that was 2 weeks past its expiration date, and you probably at least glance at the date on a bottle of medicine before you give your child a dose. Shouldn’t you take the same care with your child’s car seat?

My Other Car Seat Reviews
Safety 1st Apex 65
Graco Turbo Booster Safe Seat
Britax Regent
Britax Marathon
Evenflo Triumph
Graco Comfort Sport
Evenflo Comet Booster
Cosco Opus 35

More Advice
Child Car Seat Safety - It's Not What You Have but How You Use It

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