- Car Safety & Safe Driving
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
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
Car Seat Manufacturing Date Sticker
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.