Generally, car seats expire between 6 and 10 years after the date of manufacture. Here are the reasons why.
1. Wear and tear
Your car seat may be one of the most-used pieces of baby gear you own, perhaps rivalled only by the crib. With each supermarket, day care, or play date run, you’re likely buckling and unbuckling your baby numerous times.
Food or drinks spilled on, or cleaning agents used on, or dirt gathered in webbing, buckles, adjusters and other parts may prevent them from working safely after some time.
Seats that are constantly left in the car and exposed to extreme changes in temperature, or seats stored somewhere that has fluctuating temperature will begin degrading more quickly, as will seats that are used in very hot or very cold countries. Your seat may be baked in the sun while your car is parked and get tiny cracks in the plastic that you can’t even see.
Degrading plastic can interfere with the performance of a car seat. The ability of the shell to maintain integrity and transfer crash energy to the seat belt or LATCH system could be compromised.
For instance, using a conventional 5-point harness car seat forward facing during a forward crash, the restraining forces are first experienced by the harness strap, then transferred to the shell of the car seat before being transferred to the seat belt or LATCH and finally to the car. If the plastic is degraded, the shell could potentially break during that transfer of energy.
All of this takes a toll on the fabric and parts of a car seat, so it stands to reason that the seat — designed to keep your child safe — won’t last forever. And without a doubt, you want to make your child’s safety remains intact.
2. Changing safety regulations and standards
In addition to the materials aging, the standards could have changed since your car seat was manufactured.
Transportation agencies, professional medical associations and car seat manufacturers are constantly conducting and evaluating safety and crash tests. This is a good thing for parents everywhere.
Also, technology is forever evolving. (Don’t we know it. Why is our two-year-old laptop already outdated?!) This means that car seat safety stats can be improved with as new features, materials, or technologies are introduced. So newer car seats may be easier to install and have increased safety performance.
If the regulations change, an older car seat may no longer be in compliance. Often car seats can continue to be used to the end of their life. But if a car seat had no expiration date, it may allow you to continue using a car seat that is no longer as safe as the new standards require.
3. Manufacturer testing has its limits
When a manufacturer tests a car seat, they don’t assume you’ll still be cramming your 17-year-old in it and driving them to their senior prom. So it stands to reason that they don’t test car seats to see how they hold up after 17 years of use.
Even all-in-one car seats — ones that transform from rear-facing to forward-facing to boosters — have weight or age limits, and car seat generally ends by age 12 (depending on child’s size). So car seats aren’t usually tested beyond about 10–12 years of use.
It’s tempting to be cynical and believe that car seat expiration dates exist to support a billion-dollar baby gear industry wanting to get more money out of you. But actually, there are important safety reasons behind limiting the life of your car seat.
While this doesn’t mean you can’t take your sister’s car seat when your nephew outgrows it — or use baby #1’s car seat for baby #2 a couple years later — it does mean that there’s a certain time frame within which this is OK. Check your seat’s manufacturing or expiration date by looking at its label, usually at the bottom or back to the seat.
Avoid compromising the safety of the seat. After all, your baby is the most precious cargo your vehicle will ever transport.