Car Seat Expiration Dates: Keep Your Baby Safe

Pay Attention to Expiration Dates: A Tragic Tale

Shawn Stewart Marc and his step-father were driving through Ottawa, Canada, in their grey Chevrolet on a wet and dreary day. Their car was rear-ended, but the accident was considered a minor one. Unfortunately, two-year old Shawn was killed in the accident – a result of severe head trauma. No one else was injured in the accident, which sparked an investigation. The toddler was strapped into a seven year old Alpha-Omega Elite car seat, which was expired.

After the investigation was complete, police determined that inadequate protection to the head area and the expired car seat were aggravating factors in the child’s death.

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

This infant seat appears to be "new," but it is really seven years old. This seat is no longer safe for use - it will have to be destroyed.
This infant seat appears to be "new," but it is really seven years old. This seat is no longer safe for use - it will have to be destroyed. | Source

Count the Cost: An Expired Car Seat Isn't Worth It.

In a quest to save money, many parents try to “buy used and save the difference.” This idea is wonderful for many baby items: clothing, toys, and a few other infant care items are safe to purchase from garage sales or thrift stores. There is one baby safety item parents should never skimp on: child safety seats for the car.

Every car seat has an expiration date. In general, car seats are no longer safe to use once they are 5 to 6 years old. Nearly every car seat manufacturer stamps an expiration date on the bottom of the car seat.

Please note that all types of car seats have expiration dates: from the rear-facing infant seat to the backless booster seat used with the car’s own seat belt. Be sure to inspect all infant and child seats purchased from craigslist, eBay, garage sales, or thrift stores.

If you come across a car seat at a thrift store or garage sale, check the expiration date to be sure it will not expire during the time period your child will use it. In addition, carefully question the former owner to determine if the car seat has been in a car accident: car seats should be replaced if any significant strain has been placed on the plastic!

Car Seat Expiration Stamp

This car seat has a difficult-to-see expiration date - stamped into the plastic is the warning, "Do not use this car seat after December 2010." Click to enlarge.
This car seat has a difficult-to-see expiration date - stamped into the plastic is the warning, "Do not use this car seat after December 2010." Click to enlarge. | Source

Car Seat Manufacturing Date Sticker

The date of manufacture on this car seat is listed as 092304, or September 23, 2004. Click to enlarge.
The date of manufacture on this car seat is listed as 092304, or September 23, 2004. Click to enlarge. | Source

Where is the Expiration Date Located?

All car seats manufactured after 2003 will have an expiration date placed on the child safety seat. Search the car seat for a sticker on the back, underside, or top of the car seat. The sticker will generally state a date of manufacture, expiration date, model number, and serial number. In some cases, a sticker will not be present. It might have come off due to age, or simply peeled off during cleaning. Most car seats also carry a fabric tag stamped with the expiration date, or have the expiration date molded into the plastic.

The rear-facing infant seat at the right does not have a sticker stating the expiration date. There is also no tag attached to the seat with this information. On the bottom of the car seat, there is an expiration date stamped into the plastic. This is very hard to see, so parents need to inspect used car seats very carefully to locate the expiration date on some models.

If an expiration date cannot be located, a date of manufacture is sufficient. Simply add six years to the date of manufacture: if the car seat is older than six years, do not use it. The car seat at the right has a sticker containing the car seat model information in addition to the stamped expiration date: there is more than one way to verify a car seat's age!

If a date of manufacture and expiration date cannot be found on the used car seat, it is possible to contact the company to determine the general age of the car seat make and model. Do not use any child safety seat which lacks this information - it isn't worth a child's life!

Straps Beak on Expired Car Seat

Why Do Car Seats Expire?

Car seats seem very sturdy. Expensive models may look well cared-for and have a “like-new” appearance. This can be very deceiving, as the plastic material used in infant and child safety seats can degrade over time. Car seats sit inside cars throughout the year, which means they are exposed to temperature extremes. On a 90°F day, the inside of a car will reach 108°F, even with the windows cracked. If the windows are closed, the car can reach 115°F. Likewise, car seats are exposed to sub-zero temperatures in northern climates.

The temperature changes stress the plastic in the car seat frame, and can also cause deterioration of the harness straps. The video at the right demonstrates the weakness in the straps of a ten year old car seat: the straps are so weak, they break easily and the child-sized dummy flies out of the safety seat.

How to Dispose of a Car Seat

Since car seats are only “good” for about six years, parents will need to dispose of used car seats. Currently, there is no universal trade-in system for the seats, so many used infant seats end up in landfills. There are a few other options, however, to prevent all of that plastic from ending up in the local dump.

Try contacting a local car seat safety education program: the program may be able to use the expired car seat in educational programs. Sometimes police departments or local community colleges offer safety courses for parents, and are appreciative for donations (these car seats are never used in a real car, but are used for demonstration purposes only).

Another option is to check the Babies R Us website: the company offers a “car seat trade-in day” every once in a while. This program encompasses many baby items: parents can trade in old cribs, baby swings, and car seats. In exchange, the company offers a discount (in 2011, a 25% off coupon was provided for parents to purchase new baby items).

If donation to a training program or a local trade-in program is not available, the car seat will have to be discarded as garbage. Unfortunately, many people will see a car seat set out with the trash, and pick it up for use. There are many people who are unaware that car seats have expiration dates.

To prevent an unsuspecting person from taking and using the unsafe car seat, consider taking the following actions:

  • Cut the harness straps to make the seat unusable.
  • Saw the plastic body in half, rendering the seat completely unusable.
  • Disguise the car seat by placing it inside a garbage bag.

When You Can't Afford a New Car Seat

Many police departments have a child safety seat distribution program. This helps parents obtain new, safe car seats for their children. It is not worth sacrificing your child’s life or safety for a few dollars saved – be sure to purchase a new car seat or to contact your local police department to find child safety seat distribution programs to obtain a new seat for low (or no) cost.

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Comments 36 comments

ThePracticalMommy profile image

ThePracticalMommy 5 years ago from United States

Thanks so much for sharing this! My daughter is just about out of her infant car seat, and I was between spending money on a new one or taking my aunt's 10 year old carseat for free. I'll definitely be buying one now knowing the information you shared about car seat expiration dates. I'll trade in the infant car seat at Babies R Us. I've used that program before for a stroller and it was worth it.

Voted up and sharing!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 5 years ago from Western New York Author

Thanks, Practical Mommy! I almost sold our son's infant seat on craigslist when I realized it was expired. I didn't even know car seats had an expiration date when I went to list it for sale! I did some research and found out that the seats become weakened and dangerous as they age, so it really isn't worth the risk. I do wish there were more recycling programs to take the seats. I hate putting that plastic in a landfill - I'm going to hang onto ours until our local Babies R Us has another trade-in day.


Dawn Conklin profile image

Dawn Conklin 5 years ago from New Jersey, USA

Hi Leahlefler,

I had no idea to be honest that they expired! My daughters both had new seats so I guess that was quite fortunate they did. My younger daughter had a new one mainly because I had to throw her sister's out for being funky! We have a booster seat that is about 6 years old as it is the same age as my younger daughter, she will probably be in it at least another year or 2. 4'9" is the magic number.

I voted you up!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 5 years ago from Western New York Author

I have an (almost) six year old who is in a booster seat (he's about 4 feet tall) and a four year old in a five-point harness car seat (he's really tiny for his age - 31 pounds, so he won't be moving into a booster seat for quite some time). I'm waiting to buy him a booster seat until he's heavy enough to go into one, since he may be in one for a LONG time. I don't want it to expire while we're waiting for him to grow into it! Thanks for the comment, Dawn!


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

My gosh... I had no idea that car seats had expiration dates. This is really good to know- especially since it is so common to buy a used car seat! I'm so glad you wrote this.


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 5 years ago from Western New York Author

I didn't realize there was an expiry date, either, until I noticed it on the bottom of our infant seat. I am glad I realized the gravity of the situation before I listed it on Craigslist! We're going to trade it in at a Babies R Us event - we'll use the 25% off coupon and safely dispose of the expired seat! Thanks for the comment, Simone!


Hyphenbird profile image

Hyphenbird 5 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

I had no idea that car seats have an expiration date. And my son is only eight years old. I should know that! My heart is truly shuddering at the thought of that precious baby Shawn dying because of a defective car seat. Those poor parents must have been devastated. I cannot thank yo enough for this lifesaving article. I feel sick but am glad to be educated.


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 5 years ago from Western New York Author

When I first learned that car seats expired, I thought that it might be a ploy by the manufacturers to sell more car seats - but the plastic really does break down and older car seats are dangerous - I really liked that Youtube video because it demonstrates (with a dummy) how the straps can simply snap! Very scary, but I felt like it was good information to share. My older son is six, and I had absolutely no idea that they expired (until I did some research)!


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

Like the others who have already left comments, I had no idea that car seats had expiration dates. This is important to spread the news especially when it can save lives. Up, useful and interesting + will tweet this and add it to FB so that others can learn. Thanks!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 5 years ago from Western New York Author

Thanks, Peggy! I've been trying to spread the word to my local Mothers of Preschoolers group, because a lot of moms try to save money by buying a used car seat at a thrift shop or garage sale. While some car seats may be safe through these venues, there are many that are expired and could pose a hazard!


Moon Willow Lake profile image

Moon Willow Lake 5 years ago

I didn't know either. I wonder why this information isn't prominently posted in all stores where they are sold? Thank-you so very much for spreading the word!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 5 years ago from Western New York Author

It is amazing, isn't it - they don't really "advertise" the fact that the seats expire. The information was so difficult to find on our seat that I wouldn't have noticed it! Another parent informed me where to find the expiration stamp, which proved that our infant seat was expired. Thanks for the comment, Moon Willow!


LindaSmith1 profile image

LindaSmith1 5 years ago from USA

I did not know this, but I am going to share it with those that read my disability blogs.


princesswithapen profile image

princesswithapen 5 years ago

Hi Leah

Not many of us were aware about how car seats expire and how important it is to check the same for the safety of children. I'm passing this hub around to friends hoping that it will save a life. This hub is not only informative but also very practical. Great stuff!

Princesswithapen


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 5 years ago from Western New York Author

LindaSmith1, I was very surprised when I learned of the expiration date - it makes sense with the environmental wear on the plastic, but there is little notification about the "shelf life" of a carseat when you purchase one! I hope the article helps your readers!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 5 years ago from Western New York Author

Princesswithapen, we will look for a booster seat for my youngest son soon, and we will definitely check any expiration dates, particularly if the seat is a hand-me-down. I wish there were more recycling programs to help keep the discarded seats from the landfill!


ThePracticalMommy profile image

ThePracticalMommy 5 years ago from United States

Congrats on the Hub of the Day! I did buy a new car seat as I had mentioned a few weeks ago. It was well worth saving my daughter's life in the event of an accident, heaven forbid.

Well done! :)


jacqui2011 profile image

jacqui2011 5 years ago from Leicester, United Kingdom

Congratulations on such a fantastic hub and being chosen for Hub of the Day which is so well-deserved. I really had no idea that car seats and booster seats have expiration dates. I just checked my daughters booster seat and found that it had an expiration date of last year. I am so grateful and glad that you wrote on this topic. Every parent should read this. Voted up, useful and interesting.


howardyoung profile image

howardyoung 5 years ago from California

Thanks for the insight on car seats. Many of the safety features in cars, such as seat belts and air bags also wear out and need replacing every ten years due to the excessive interior of the car.


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 5 years ago from Western New York Author

Thanks, PracticalMommy! I'm glad you found a new car seat - I checked my older son's booster seat the other day and it is still within the expiration date, but he only has one more year. My younger son's car seat should be OK until he outgrows it, but we won't be able to "hand down" my older son's booster seat to him.


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 5 years ago from Western New York Author

Jacqui2011, we were shocked when we learned of the expiration dates, too - they are only "good" for about six years. I'm glad you checked your daughter's seat - we went through all of our child safety seats and discarded the expired ones!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 5 years ago from Western New York Author

howardyoung, I never thought about the seat belts and interior safety devices in a car - we will have to keep tabs on that as our vehicle is 5 years old. We'll have to have everything inspected and/or replaced when the car hits that 10 year mark!


brsmom68 profile image

brsmom68 5 years ago from Alberta, Canada

In addition to car seats "expiring", please also note they are to be disposed of if they are involved in an accident. Several years ago my sisters were in an accident and my niece's seat had to be replaced. The seat looked fine, but the safety features had been compromised from the impact. Do not just presume car seats are fine; take them to your local health unit and have them checked over. This is one expense no one should skimp on.


genupher profile image

genupher 5 years ago from NorCal

Wonderful topic. I had wondered why there was an "expiration" date. It is good to know that there are practical reasons for the date and not having it simply as a mode for making money. Thanks!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 5 years ago from Western New York Author

brsmom68, that is a very good point - car seats that have been involved in an accident are no longer safe for use. Everyone should have them looked over by a police department or health department, or simply buy a new one. A child's life is not worth the risk!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 5 years ago from Western New York Author

genupher, I also wondered if the expiration date was simply a ploy to sell more car seats, until I found the tragic story of the little boy in Canada who died because of an expired seat (and the video demonstrations of the weakened plastic). There is a reason for car seat expiration dates - and it isn't worth risking a child's life to save a few pennies! We will have to replace our older son's booster seat next year (our state requires children to remain in a booster seat until they are eight years old).


cheatlierepeat profile image

cheatlierepeat 5 years ago from Canada

This is very useful information. I often wondered why car seats expired and if it was a ploy to sell more. Thanks for sharing this and educating us on such a huge child safety issue.


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 5 years ago from Western New York Author

Thanks for the comment, cheatlierepeat - it is definitely not a ploy and the plastic does weaken over time! I am glad the hub was helpful to you!


TahoeDoc profile image

TahoeDoc 5 years ago from Lake Tahoe, California

Wow, so weird that I saw this! I am taking my kids x-country for t-giving and my mother-in-law borrowed a booster seat for one of my boys so I'd only have to provide one. I had her take pics of the manufacturer's tag. Produced in 2003, and looking mighty used up. I don't know if they believed me that car seats have an expiration date. I'm sure they thought I was crazy for buying and having new seats shipped to their house, with plans to donate them to family or charity as we leave. I will leave the tags with the seat and a statement that they have not been in an accident. No amount of $$ will stop me from doing the right thing for my boys. Plus, there are some very good models in the $50 range (Graco, for example), available on Amazon. I used the IIHS website to review 'recommended' vs. 'non-recommended' seats.

Great job and great choice for Hub of the Day.


randomcreative profile image

randomcreative 5 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Great information, especially for new parents! Congrats on getting Hub of the Day!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 5 years ago from Western New York Author

TahoeDoc, we had something similar happen. My parents live in California and my mom once picked up a car seat from the side of the road near a dumpster, in "perfect" condition. It had soda spilled on the seat, and she presumed someone was just too lazy to clean it. In reality, it was expired and the person was trying to discourage people from taking an apparently good-looking expired "freebie" that would be dangerous in the event of an accident. It is best to cut the straps and disguise seats when throwing them away, otherwise someone might try to take it, thinking it is still good for use. Good for you for buying new ones and having them shipped!

A child's life isn't worth saving a few bucks!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 5 years ago from Western New York Author

Thanks, randomcreative! It is good advice for new parents, and for parents with more than one child who are "handing down" items - handing down clothes is fine, but check those car seats before re-using them!


Bob 5 years ago

Personally, I don't believe a word of it. There is no way that plastic deteriorates in 5 or 6 years. I volunteer at a place that see's these seats all the time. Many of them look brand new yet they have supposedly expired. Also, all of these car seats have a padded liner. And your example says it was a minor accident. The cop looks at the car seat and sees the expiry date and says it was a factor. What factor? According to the article it isn't certain that it was. Was the car seat damaged in any way? Plus it says it was only 65 days past the expiry date. ( Transport Canada, the federal agency responsible for regulating car seat manufacturers, launched its own investigation into what role, if any, the restraint may have played in the boy's death.

The results of the investigation are still not known)

So if the accident had happened 1 day before the expiry it wouldn't have been a problem? Get real. These expiry dates are simply a way of making people buy new products to keep companies in business.


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 5 years ago from Western New York Author

Bob, you have a very good point. According to the car seat manufacturers, the plastic doesn't really begin to degrade until the seat is approximately 10 years old (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/11/business/11short... the same time period that a car's interior begins to see plastic break down. On the other hand, I wouldn't want to chance my child's life by waiting a full ten years to see the plastic break down. The seven-year "rule" has a lot to do with changes in technology and safety advances, too.

There is no federal requirement or standard regulating the expiration dates of car seats: they are decided upon by the manufacturers. Nearly all manufacturers have the same "seven year" limit - I doubt they sell a lot of car seats due to the rule, though - most children outgrow their car seats before they expire, particularly the infant seats (these are only used for one year).

I have a feeling the dates stems more from liability: as the car seats age and newer technology comes out, no car seat manufacturer would like to be sued for a fatal accident caused by an older-generation car seat.


TolovajWordsmith profile image

TolovajWordsmith 23 months ago from Ljubljana

I had no idea car seats have an expiration date. Sellers sure never mentioned that tiny detail! Of course, if we are dealing with plastics, the structure can become questionable much sooner than in few years. It is the 'weakest chain' rule here to apply, actually.

I hope more concerned parents will read this article and do the right thing. Thank you!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 23 months ago from Western New York Author

When we had our second child, I didn't realize there was an expiration date. A friend told me about it, and we looked to verify our infant seat was still within dates. I am glad we checked!

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